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North Carolinians Hit Hard by Harsh Flu Season

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ, Diabetes Leave a comment  

The NC Department of Health and Human Services released new figures about the total flu-related deaths in NC – the count has increased to 114, with 15 new deaths during the week of Jan. 11. Adults 65 and older have taken the hardest hit this flu season; doctors recommend everyone get the flu shot, especially children, elder adults, and those with asthma.

This year’s strain, H3N2, is particularly dangerous, and a mutation of the strain has limited the effectiveness of the flu shot. However, doctors still recommend the flu shot because it can make a difference in many cases. Common complications caused by the flu are sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu can cause inflammation around the heart, dehydration, and can worsen medical conditions like asthma and diabetes.

If you have a chronic medical condition like asthma or diabetes, talk to your doctor about preventative care, like the flu shot, and also about a management plan if you contract the flu. The CDC recommends influenza antiviral drugs for high-risk patients; antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms, reduce the amount of time you have the flu by up to two days, and can prevent complications like pneumonia. Antiviral drugs are most effective when administered within two days of getting sick, but using them later can still be beneficial. In addition to getting a flu shot, take other precautions like washing your hands frequently, and sanitizing common areas and office workstations with disinfectants.  If you do contract the flu, it’s best to stay home to avoid spreading the illness to others.

The Dilemma of Diabetes for Low-Income Patients

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Patients with diabetes know that managing their condition is a daily challenge of monitoring and medicating their condition. Some diabetics face an added hurdle because they face daily food insecurity; low-income diabetics wrestle with being able to afford medication and healthy food. A recent study looked at a group of Boston-based Type 2 diabetics of varying financial status. The group with food insecurity that also tried to cut back on their medication was half as likely as the more financially secure group to manage their diabetes.

Patients with food insecurity were 97 percent more likely to have high blood sugar and high levels of “bad” cholesterol, which indicates that their diabetes was not under control. Researchers determined that addressing access to both medication and food could play a role in improving patients’ ability to manage diabetes. Patients and doctors need to look at the whole picture and identify if a patient’s basic needs are being met in addition to having access to medication.

Put Down that Perfume! An Asthmatic Will Thank You

Lisa Feierstein Allergies, Asthma, Breathe EZ 1

Have you ever experienced sensory overload? You may be able to recall a moment when a stranger walked by and your nose scrunched up in response to their overpowering perfume. Or maybe you had to leave a cosmetics store because the scented lotions and perfumes were too strong. For some, a strong scent can be more than an annoyance. It can cause headaches, dizziness, sneezing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, or even hives.

Asthmatics with a fragrance sensitivity react to strong scents in a similar way that they would react to allergens. Strong fragrances can act as irritants that worsen asthma symptoms and make it difficult to breathe. Perfumes aren’t the only culprits; detergents, soaps, candles and cleaning products can also trigger a reaction. Identifying which scents are “safe” can take a little trial and error. Start by trying unscented or fragrance-free cleaning and cosmetic products. If you notice that a coworker wears a perfume that causes you to sneeze, wheeze, or run for cover, talk to your supervisor about educating the office on fragrance sensitivities. An air purifier or fan could also help lessen the scent. If all else fails, see if you can move to a different space in the office or alter your work schedule so you spend less time in contact with the problematic perfume.

How Asthmatics Can Manage Indoor Air Quality in the Winter

Lisa Feierstein Allergies, Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

North Carolina has famously high humidity levels and high humidity can lead to mold, mildew and dust mites in the home. High humidity can also make breathing more difficult for those with allergies. The drier, less humid winter months bring a new set of challenges for managing asthma symptoms affected by indoor air quality.

Year round, the target humidity level indoors is 35 to 55 percent. It may seem intuitive to counteract the drier air by using humidifiers, but that can create condensation and mold in days when the temperature dips below 30 degrees. While high humidity can cause mold, low humidity can make the house feel too cold and you’ll be inclined to increase the heat. Low humidity can also dry out hard wood floors and building materials. If you notice growing gaps in floorboards, that could be a sign of low humidity levels.

The first step to managing indoor humidity levels is to monitor these levels either with a portable weather station or the controls on your HVAC system. Newer thermostats, like Sensi, provide humidity readings and thermostat schedules that can be adjusted through a smartphone app. Your HVAC system or portable weather station may provide both indoor and outdoor readings to help you make comparisons. By monitoring and comparing humidity levels, you’ll have a better starting point for deciding whether or not to add or reduce humidity levels in the home. Finding the right humidity level is an important step in helping you breathe easier indoors, especially if you have asthma or allergies. For additional help managing humidity and indoor air quality, contact your HVAC technician or an indoor air quality specialist.

Implantable Pump Could Reduce Diabetes Treatments

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Consistently taking medication and monitoring blood-sugar levels can be a big challenge for diabetics. A new implantable pump could make a big difference in the treatment plan for many individuals with diabetes. Intarcia Therapeutics Inc. is a Boston-based startup that has developed a pump, about the size of a matchstick, that can be implanted into the patient’s abdomen. The pump continually delivers a small amount of exenatide, which controls blood-sugar levels, for up to a year. The results of a study of 520 patients using the pump and oral medicines showed promising results by significantly lower blood sugar.

The pump is called the ITCA 650, and only requires a five-minute procedure to insert the device. Intarcia Therapeutics Inc. is receiving some funding support from Servier, a French pharmaceutical company. Regulators will review the device in early 2016 before it can go to market.

What Asthmatics Need to Know About the Flu

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…until you get the flu. The downside to the Holidays is that it coincides with flu season, and some unlucky individuals will have to skip some of the festivities in order to recuperate. The flu can cause more complications for the very young or old, and for individuals with diabetes, heart disease or asthma. If you have asthma, you’re at a higher risk of experiencing respiratory problems associated with the flu.

Individuals with asthma should get the flu shot each year as a preventative measure. Some people argue that the flu shot can make you sick or that the effectiveness of the flu shot is a gamble. Some individuals do experience short-term flu-like side effects like aches or a low-grad fever, but it could be their body building antibodies against the flu. It’s also possible that they were already coming down with the flu when they got the shot. Researchers track global flu viruses during the year to identify what will be the most effective combination of vaccines. Although researchers are thorough about developing the vaccine, there isn’t one vaccine they can develop that will work for everyone. But, doctors still recommend a flu shot as the best preventative measure against the flu.

If you do come down with the flu, call your doctor about how to manage your asthma symptoms so they don’t get worse. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine that will reduce your flu symptoms, and they may alter your asthma action plan to compensate.

How Asthmatics Can Breathe Easy Over the Holidays

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

Both the changing seasons and Holiday traditions can pose challenges for asthmatics, but there are a few small adjustments you can make to breathe easy during the Holidays.

Mold is an asthma trigger to watch out for in the winter. Wet leaves and fireplace logs are two common offenders for generating mold. To reduce your contact with mold, keep wet leaves away from your home’s foundation, windows and doors. Leave logs outside until you need them to reduce the amount of mold that takes up residence indoors.

Scented Holiday candles, air fresheners, and live Christmas trees can also be asthma triggers. An artificial tree is a great alternative to a live tree, but if live trees are a tradition, you can make a few adjustments to avoid an asthma attack. When you’re tree shopping, avoid purchasing a tree that has a yellow dusting of pollen. Once you bring the tree home, wipe the trunk with a diluted bleach and water solution (20 parts water to one part bleach) to get rid of mold.

When you venture outside, layer up to prevent an attack brought on by cold air entering your lungs. Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf for an extra barrier against the cold.

For more on managing indoor air quality, keeping humidity levels in check, and how to filter particulates, check out our post on indoor air quality.

The Surprising Health Benefits of Hook Worms

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

Remember that scene from “Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom” when Willie Scott has to wade through creepy crawly bugs to save Indiana? Most of us can empathize with Willie’s feelings of disgust, but you may be surprised to learn about a worm that could improve your health. Sounds as far-fetched as an Indiana Jones movie, right? Maybe not…

Scientists in Australia conducted a clinical trial where they used hookworms to improve symptoms of celiac disease. Researchers infected 12 study participants with hookworm larvae and gave the participants increasing doses of gluten over the course of a year. As the study progressed, study participants were able to eat up to a medium-sized bowl of spaghetti without experiencing negative health effects. Normally, a patient with celiac’s could experience symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting from eating that much gluten.

The worms had a positive effect on study participants because hook worms can reduce the immune response to inflammatory illnesses. These findings are also promising for sufferers of other inflammatory illnesses like asthma and Crohn’s disease.

Holiday Meal Planning for Diabetics

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I bet you have a favorite Holiday dish, maybe something that you look forward to all year. Friends and family bring their A-game when baking and cooking for the Holidays, but it can be challenging for diabetics to enjoy the festive food while staying on track with managing their diabetes. A little planning will help you enjoy your favorite Holiday foods in a healthy way.

Meal Time Madness

One aspect of Holiday meals that could throw off your diabetes management plan is that Holiday meals often include more food than usual, and might happen midafternoon. Your family might skip lunch, eat midafternoon, and skip dinner as they recover from food comas. To keep your glucose levels on track, consider eating a snack at your normal meal time.

Select Healthy Substitutions

You don’t have to pass on pie to stay on track with a healthy diet during the holidays. There are small changes you can make to still enjoy Holiday meals, but cut back on calories. Try fat-free or lite alternatives to sour cream and mayonnaise, cut back a little on the amount of sugar you put in desserts, and consider steaming veggies or sautéing with low calorie alternatives to oil like soy sauce.

Sample, Don’t Stuff!

When it’s time to eat, stick to your favorites, don’t feel obligated to try everything. If someone insists you try their famous mashed potatoes, just take enough for two bites. If you’re inclined to try it all, make sure veggies take up the most real estate on your plate. Every little bit helps!

How to Manage Your Asthma in the Winter

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

Old Man Winter’s arrival means you’re out of the woods for allergy season…only to be greeted by another slew of potential asthma triggers. Winter can also be a tough time for asthmatics because the cold weather forces us indoors where we’re surround by asthma triggers like pets, mold, dust mites and dander. Venturing outdoors can also bring on an asthma attack if the cold air irritates your lungs.

As you work with your doctor to identify asthma triggers you can take some steps to reduce the risk of asthma attacks. In the bedroom, you can encase the mattress in an impervious mattress cover and use mite-proof covers for pillows to reduce interactions with dust mites. Keep your home cool and dry to ward off mold and mildew; be sure to run the exhaust fan after you shower.

It’s cold and flu season, and these illnesses can exacerbate your asthma symptoms. Take precautions by frequently washing your hands and consider getting a flu shot. If the cold air outdoors is an asthma trigger for you, workout indoors and cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when you’re outside.

How E-Cigarrettes are Making Your Asthma Worse

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

Double Threat of Vaping: Popcorn LungCigarettes used to be marketed as a trendy and cool, but they’re increasingly being replaced by e-cigarettes. The CDC found that over 263,000 teens who had never smoked a cigarette before tried e-cigarettes in 2013, which is three times the amount of teens trying e-cigarettes in 2011. Since there’s no tar in e-cigarettes, some consumers believe that e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, but this isn’t entirely true.

Most e-cigarettes do contain nicotine, which can cause inflammation in the lungs. Particles in the vapor and flavoring in the e-cigarettes can also irritate the lungs, which is a recipe for trouble for those with asthma. These factors can exacerbate asthma symptoms and potentially bring on an asthma attack.

Healthier Eating Could Reduce Asthma Symptoms

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Eating healthy isn’t just good for your waistline, a new study shows that children with asthma can experience reduced symptoms by avoiding certain fatty foods and incorporating omega-3 fish oils to their diet. Asthma is the top reason children miss school, and obese children don’t respond as well to their asthma medicine. Dr. Jason Lang, a Pulmonary Pediatrician at Nemours Children’s Hospital, is conducting the study and hopes to extend it through May 2016. Children in the study keep a food journal and also take an omega-3 supplement, and showed notable change in their asthma management and experienced a reduction in asthma attacks.

Interested in keeping your own food journal? MyFitnessPal is free online tool and mobile app that let’s you track your meals, calorie intake, and exercise. You can also incorporate more omega-3s in your diet by eating seafood like salmon, sardines, trout, fresh tuna and halibut. Some foods are fortified or enriched with omega-3 fatty acids like eggs, milk, yogurt, bread, pasta, and walnuts.

New Test Provides Quicker Detection of Enterovirus

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Quite the stir erupted in September with the spread of a respiratory illness most dangerous to asthmatics and children. Doctors initially struggled testing for the disease since the Center for Disease Control didn’t have a recommendation for a test. As of Oct. 14, the CDC issued a press release about a new, quicker lab test. Initially we may see a rise in confirmed cases, but keep in mind this is due in part to the more rapid test results.

Most CDC-confirmed cases of EV-D68 this year have been among children, especially those with asthma or a history of wheezing. Doctors recommend frequent hand washing to prevent the spread of the disease, and those that contract the illness should avoid contact with others. There is no vaccine to prevent EV-D68, so these preventative measures are especially important in keeping the illness from spreading.

Keep Your Child from Getting and Spreading Enterovirus D68.  Avoid close contact with sick people. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Cover Your coughs and sneezes.  Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.  Clean and disinfect surfaces.  Stay home when you’re sick.  For more information, see

Artificial Sweeteners Could Increase Risk of Diabetes

Lisa Feierstein Breathe EZ, Diabetes Leave a comment  

For years, diet sodas have been touted as a healthy alternative to regular sodas, but scientists recently found that artificial sweeteners may be a risk factor for diabetes. Scientists studied a control and experimental group–mice drinking plain water, and mice drinking water that contained artificial sweeteners. They found that the mice consuming artificial sweeteners showed marked glucose intolerance because the artificial sweeteners alter the balance of gut microbes.

Researchers also conducted a trial with 400 people and discovered that those who consumed artificial sweeteners had “markers” for diabetes like higher blood sugar levels and glucose intolerance. Scientists leading the study said that artificial sweeteners may exacerbate glucose intolerance and diabetes; instead of being a healthy substitute, artificial sweeteners could make diabetes worse. The sweeteners used in the study were saccharin, sucralose and aspartame. Next time you reach for a diet soda, consider a potentially healthier alternative like sparkling water.

Proactive Legislation Improves Air Quality in NC

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Air quality is easy to take for granted until we experience first-hand the effects of poor air quality. You can probably relate to driving with the windows down to let in the crisp, fall air, but that enjoyment abruptly ends when the exhaust of another vehicle wafts through your car. Fortunately, North Carolina is ahead of the curve on improving air quality, which is especially important for asthmatics.

Triangle Air Awareness, a public-private partnership between the North Carolina Division of Air Quality and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, hosted their End of Ozone Forecast Season Luncheon last Friday to give the audience a snapshot of the state of North Carolina’s air quality. Speaker Sushma Masemore, PE, Division of Air Quality at the Department of Natural Resources, explained that the Research Triangle Region is meeting federal air quality standards. Masemore said that the NC legislature was ahead of the curve by enacting the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, which was an early action state mandate to control air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Air quality has an effect on a variety of illness, like acute bronchitis, explained keynote speaker Dr. Kim Lyerly, professor of Surgery, assistant professor in Immunology, associate professor of Pathology, Duke University School of Medicine. Thanks to the Clean Smokestacks Act, Dr. Lyerly and his research team found a reduction in death rates for emphysema, asthma and pneumonia in NC. The research team, which published their findings in the International Journal of COPD, discovered a tight association between a reduction in pollutants and improvement in death rates related to air quality.

“The take home message for us is that we had such a forward thinking state…that they strictly adhered to a policy that reduced emissions in NC,” said Dr. Lyerly.

We will likely see even higher EPA standards in the future, but based on the proactive CSA, NC is up to the challenge.

Getting a Grip on Diabetes and Depression

Lisa Feierstein Breathe EZ, Diabetes 1

Diabetes and its relationship to depression is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Doctors and researchers don’t fully understand the relationship between diabetes and depression, but they do have some insight on how diabetes and depression can cause and exacerbate symptoms of each other.

Let’s start with diabetes. Managing diabetes can at times be overwhelming, it can lead to other health problems, and ultimately these stressors can cause symptoms of depression. On the flip side, depression can lead to diabetes if as a result of depression, an individual starts making poor eating choices, exercises less frequently, and/or smokes. These actions plus weight gain are all risk factors for diabetes. As depression worsens, it can affect a patient’s ability to focus and communicate clearly which in turn can make managing diabetes harder.

Since diabetes and depression often go hand in hand, it’s key to address your physical and mental wellbeing. Taking the right medications, seeking therapy, and healthy eating combined with frequent exercise are just a few methods to manage both depression and diabetes. If you need assistance managing your diabetes, call one of our caring professionals to handle your insulin pump, Continuous Glucose Monitor and testing supply needs.

Americans with Diabetes on the Rise

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The number of Americans with diabetes and the cost of are on the rise according to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014, from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. In 2010, 26 million Americans had diabetes—that number rose to 29.1 million in 2014, or 9.3 percent of the U.S. population. Of those 29.1 million with diabetes, 8.1 million people have undiagnosed diabetes.

These statistics are troubling since the CDC estimates the total cost of diabetes has increased from $174 billion in 2010 to $245 billion in 2012, or a 41 percent increase in costs. These costs include medical expenses, disability, work loss and premature death.

Eat Better, Breathe Better

Lisa Feierstein Allergies, Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  

You’ve probably heard it before—fiber-rich foods are an important part of a balanced diet. There’s a reason the saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”—we all want to “stay regular.” Scientists recently discovered another reason to have a fiber-rich diet and surprisingly enough it’s related lung health.

Researchers studied mice on three different diets—low-fiber, regular chow, or food with fiber supplements—and found that the mice with a high-fiber diet had a stronger resistance to asthma-like attacks. When mice on the low-fiber diet were exposed to dust mites, a known allergen, they experienced increased airway inflammation. The high-fiber diet mice showed a lesser asthmatic response to the dust mites.

Fiber supports gut bacteria that in turn produces anti-inflammatory molecules. When these molecules enter the bloodstream, they help regulate the immune system, which is important because an over-reactive immune system negatively affects allergies and asthma. Need more fiber in your life? Try foods like nuts, apples, bulgur wheat, kiwis, and chia seeds.

Increased Risk of Asthma Linked to Childhood Obesity

Lisa Feierstein Asthma, Breathe EZ Leave a comment  
Obesity Weight Scale

Photo by Shutterstock.

Doctors have long warned the public that obesity is linked to comorbidities like heart disease, adult onset diabetes and sleep apnea. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Southern California discovered another obesity-related health problem for children—asthma.

The researchers reviewed the health records of 623,358 children and found that overweight and obese children were about 1.5 times more likely to develop asthma than children at a healthy body-mass index (BMI). The overweight and obese children with asthma also experienced more severe asthma symptoms, had to visit the doctor more frequently, and had to take more medicine.

The Kaiser Permanente Southern California study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, also stated that asthma affects one in 10 kids in the U.S. and the amount of children with asthma has more than doubled in the past 30 years. If your child has asthma, it’s important that they adhere to their treatment plan. This study also reveals another reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to encourage your children to stay active and choose healthy foods.

Local Schools Required to Provide Students with EpiPens

Lisa Feierstein Allergies, Asthma, Breathe EZ, Children's Health Leave a comment  

North Carolina students with allergies have reason to feel a bit more secure this fall. Effective Nov. 1, Governor Pat McCrory signed a law requiring K-12 schools to carry epinephrine autoinjectors (EpiPens) for students. Principals are also required to select at least one person at the school to be trained annually on how to identify allergic reactions and use EpiPens.

Although the state won’t fund the purchase of EpiPens, both public and private schools can apply to take part in a free distribution program called EpiPen4Schools. The program is run through Mylan Specialties and Bioridge Pharma, and participating schools can receive up to four EpiPens a year. Teachers can also receive training on recognizing allergy symptoms through advocacy groups like the Food and Allergy Research and Education (FARE) group.

In November 2013, President Obama signed the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Law, which provides funding incentives for states with their own epinephrine laws.

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