December 2016

6 Ways to Avoid Holiday Health Pitfalls

December 21, 2016

From Nancy: As the holidays approach, we tend to travel more, eat poorly and drink too much. So what can we do to stay healthy during the long and eventful season?

Get ample shuteye

Lifestyle plays a big part in avoiding seasonal viruses so we need to get enough rest during the busy holiday season. The average adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep to regenerate the immune system and build better defenses against incoming colds, viruses and bacterial invasions. Good news—studies show that we can catch up on lost sleep. So if you go to sleep late one night and the next night you go to bed early, your immune system will work its way back on track.

Don’t go hungry

We tend to get off of our healthy eating routine this time of year. One suggestion is to not go to holiday parties on an empty stomach. Have a snack (like a nutritious and filling apple with peanut butter) before leaving the house. If you are staying with a relative or traveling for the holidays, make sure to incorporate super-foods like blueberries, oranges, broccoli and sweet potatoes into your diet to give you the vitamins and minerals you need.

Lay (a little bit) off the liquor

The easiest way to avoid a hangover is by watching your alcohol intake. If you realize the next morning that you have overindulged, try drinking coffee or water and taking OTC meds like Tylenol or Advil.

Keep a friendly distance

Viruses tend to spread when we gather in large groups. If someone with an upper respiratory infection or a cold sneezes on you, chances are, you’ll also get sick. Since respiratory droplets travel 6-12 inches in the air, keep a healthy distance between you and others who might be under the weather. Additionally, washing your hands frequently (especially after shaking hands at a party) helps.

Prepare before your trip

While airlines do the best that they can to clean airplanes and keep the air fresh, it is not enough. When people with an infection sneeze and cough, their respiratory droplets circulate and recirculate around the plane. Even though your immune system fights most viruses, if there is one that is new to you while flying, odds are you will get a cold 3-5 days later. Make sure to sleep well, eat well and incorporate some vitamin-packed super-foods into your diet before traveling.

If you are going to a remote destination (including the Caribbean), make sure to hand-carry all of your medication. If your checked luggage is lost or delayed, there may not be any pharmacies available to quickly refill your meds. Talk to your doctor about packing a carry-on “travel kit.” I always advise my patients, based on their specific needs (medical conditions, children, allergies, etc.), exactly what they should bring in their travel kit. You should also ask your doctor and your children’s doctor if all immunizations are up to date before a trip.

When all else fails…

People ask me all the time if doctors that come to your hotel room are better than a those at local clinic. The answer to that is specific to the vacation destination. In sunny Florida, a local doctor’s office or medi-clinic is a good choice. If you are outside of the USA and unsure of the level of local medical care, the hotel calls may be a better option.

For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at

What to Do Next Time You Have a Cold

December 07, 2016

Board Certified Internist Dr. Nancy Simpkins breaks it down.

From Nancy: As the seasons change and fall is upon us, many people will begin to cough and sneeze, whether it’s your significant other, coworker or child. As we close all of the windows and spend more time indoors, the viruses multiply and spread easily person to person by respiratory droplets.

So is it a cold? Allergies? A sinus infection? And how do you know when you need to see a doctor?

The average adult will get between two and three colds a year. Many different viruses such as adenovirus, echovirus and rhinovirus can cause colds. When a certain strain of a virus gets into your body and your immune system has never seen that specific strain of virus, you will get sick. There are many mutations of viruses, which is why you continue to get colds and cannot build immunity to all cold viruses.

Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you get a cold.

You may need to see a doctor

A common cold—which includes a runny nose, cough, sneezing and a low-grade fever—lasts between 5-7 days. After that, if you are not better, it’s time to see your doctor. After a week, 90% of viruses have taken their natural course. If it’s been over a week, your doctor has to decide if it’s a bacterial sore throat (like strep throat), a sinus infection, bronchitis or something else. Let’s break it down. When your body develops a cold, your immune system works overtime to fight the virus that has entered your system. While your immune system is fighting the virus, bacteria can sneak into the system. So, as a result, a cold, strep throat, bacterial bronchitis or a sinus infection can occur. These all require antibiotics. An uncomplicated cold is a nuisance, but there is no high fever and no extended cough. Strep throat makes swallowing painful and it usually comes with a fever and swollen neck glands. A sinus infection causes facial pain, headache and painful eye movements.

Don’t hesitate to get medical advice

It can potentially be very dangerous not to see a doctor. Any untreated bacterial infection, like strep throat, that is untreated with antibiotics, can go on to damage the heart or the kidneys. In the past, before we had antibiotics, patients would develop rheumatic fever secondary to an untreated strep throat or would develop kidney failure. A sinus infection is dangerous because the sinuses are the entry to the brain, and an untreated sinus infection may eventually cause meningitis.

It might be allergies

Allergies have a few common symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose with clear liquid discharge and an itchy throat and/or mouth. If you’re not sure whether it’s viral or allergic, you can try an over the counter anti-histamine such as Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec. If the over the counter anti-histamine takes away your symptoms and you otherwise feel well, there should be no need for medical attention.

Antibiotics aren’t always the right move

Very frequently, patients will come into my office and want antibiotics for a clearly viral cold, but antibiotics do not work for viral infections. More importantly, people develop resistance to antibiotics the more that they take them. So if you take them unnecessarily then, when you need them, they might not work.

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