Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Eating Strategies for Diabetics

The holidays have officially begun. In the weeks ahead, Christmas, New Year’s, and finally the Super Bowl in January will offer us numerous opportunities to gorge on special holiday foods. Not surprisingly, most people will gain weight. Many diabetics look ahead to the holiday season with mixed feelings, so much great food, but so many diet restrictions.

Between mid-November and early January, average-weight adults typically gain 1 pound, while overweight adults gain 5 pounds. During the rest of the year, most people will maintain this new weight, slowly gaining weight every subsequent year. These unwanted pounds can increase high blood sugar levels and lead to real health problems.

Food-oriented gatherings make maintaining a disciplined eating plan difficult. With all the sugary and carbohydrate-laden foods, diabetics often find this time of year particularly challenging. The best way to dodge the eating pitfalls of the holidays and avoid gaining weight is to adopt a good eating strategy.

How can a diabetic enjoy special holiday foods without gaining weight? Use these tips to eat, drink, and be merry. You will be glad you did. By keeping your blood sugars controlled, you will keep your energy level up for all the holiday festivities!

Holiday survival guide for diabetics

Select and savor festive foods
This is the time of year for special foods. To ensure you enjoy this time, selectively eat foods that you do not usually eat during the rest of the year, like your grandmother's secret recipe for stollen. Eat slowly to savor the experience and make every bite count - you will be less likely to mindlessly eat something without noticing. It is easier to control your eating habits when you truly experience the food.

Plan ahead - overeating is spontaneous, not planned
Before going to a party, visualize yourself eating a single serving of each special food, and not going back for seconds. Remind yourself that you do not have to taste everything that is being served. Pick the most incredible foods and savor every bite! Overeating is not planned behavior, it is spontaneous. By removing spontaneity, you will be able to enjoy the holidays without binging.

Having diabetes shouldn't stop you from enjoying holiday celebrations. Planning now, before the holidays arrive can help you to commit to a healthy season while you enjoy the season packed full of cheer and holiday parties.

Revamp holiday recipes for you
Celebrate the holidays by making delicious and nutritious recipes that fit into your diabetic meal plan. The recipe below is so tasty, colorful, and healthy that it will become one of your holiday favorites.

Broccoli Garden Salad
4 servings
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup nonfat light vanilla yogurt
½ cup roasted chopped peanuts
1 cup chopped apples
3 cups broccoli florets
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup sliced cauliflower
½ cup sliced green onions
Toss all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
1 cup is equal to 1 carbohydrate exchange (15 gm carbs)

How to survive a holiday party……..

Plan ahead - do not skip meals beforehand
First, go prepared. Do not save calories all day long by skipping meals or snacks. If you arrive famished, it will be difficult to stop eating once you start. Be good to yourself. Eat a sensible breakfast. For lunch, have something like a lean turkey sandwich, salad, and fruit. Before the event, have a light snack. The idea is to save calories by eating low-calorie, low-carbohydrate foods that are filling, not by skipping meals.

Consciously think about what you eat
Be mindful of what you eat. During these situations, people tend to eat unconsciously. To break this cycle, avoid munching on the mints, nuts, and hors d'oeuvres when you first arrive. Instead, ask for a no-calorie, low-carb beverage like sparkling water. When you have socialized for a while and are ready to eat, take a few moments to assess the food options. Categorize them into:
High-calorie foods - fried foods, desserts, cheeses, dips
Low-calorie/Low-carb foods - fruits, vegetables, non-fried foods.

Select 1 or 2 high-calorie foods and then fill the rest of your plate with low-calorie, low-carbohydrate options. Be sure to sit down and enjoy your food. Order another calorie-free beverage and socialize. If you are still hungry later, repeat the process.

Opt for activity instead of additional eating
Also, engaging in an activity like taking a stroll around the neighborhood or simply standing during the party is another good choice. If people are dancing, join in! By keeping your body moving, blood sugar levels will stay down. Being prepared and mindful of what you eat in social situations will not only allow you to feel better about your choices, but it will also keep your blood sugar levels and weight down.

Other helpful tips for Healthy Holiday Eating include:
Keep Counting Carbs
Carb (carbohydrate) counting can be a great way to control blood glucose levels and weight.  If you’re going to attend a holiday dinner offer to bring a dish, such as dessert, that you know the carbohydrate content.

Make One Trip to the Buffet Table 
Make only one trip to the buffet table and remember to load up on salad and vegetables first.  Avoid creamy dressings, foods with breading and condiments that are high calories and fat.

Socialize Away from the Table 
The most popular socialization area is usually in the kitchen or near the food table. Many times people talk and eat, without realizing what they are consuming. This is a dangerous behavior that can lead to overeating and surprisingly high blood glucose levels.

Bring your own beverage
Bring your own carbohydrate-free beverage if you don't want to have plain water and aren't sure whether diet or sugar-free drinks will be offered.

Limit or avoid alcohol
Studies have shown that alcohol stimulates food intake and can also increase feelings of hunger. Having your judgment impaired and stimulating your appetite is a recipe for failure if you are trying to follow a diabetic diet or weight-loss plan.

Continue Exercise and Record Keeping 
Exercise is important especially during the holidays. Find a way to work physical activity into your schedule, whether it is with a quick exercise video, mall walking, or a trip to the gym. This will really help keep your blood glucose levels controlled and decrease weight gain.

Join a support group 
Many people find it helpful to talk to other people with diabetes to find out what they do when they have a problem. You can find out, for example, what others do to make better food choices during the holidays or how they fit exercise into a busy day.

Below are two delicious recipes anyone with diabetes can enjoy!

Yield: 12 to 14 slices
Source: "1,001 Delicious Desserts for People with Diabetes"

-  3/4 cup ground reduced-fat graham crackers
-  3/4 cup ground gingersnap cookies
-  8-1/4 teaspoons Equal for Recipes
   or 27 packets Equal sweetener, divided
-  4-5 tablespoons margarine, melted
-  2 packages (8 ounces each) fat-free cream cheese
-  1 cup canned pumpkin
-  2 eggs
-  2 egg whites
-  2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-  1 teaspoon ground cloves
-  1 teaspoon ground ginger
-  2 tablespoons cornstarch
-  1 cup light whipped topping
-  Chopped toasted pecans, as garnish

Mix graham cracker and gingersnap crumbs, 1 teaspoon Equal for Recipes, and melted margarine in bottom of 9-inch springform pan; reserve 2 tablespoons crumb mixture Pat
remaining mixture evenly on bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese until smooth in large bowl; beat in pumpkin, eggs, and egg whites. Mix in remaining 7-1/4 teaspoons Equal for Recipes, spices, and cornstarch. Pour mixture into springform pan.

Bake at 300 degrees F. just until set in the center, 45 to 60 minutes; sprinkle with reserved crumbs and return to oven. Turn oven off and let cheesecake cool in oven with door ajar for 3 hours.

Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (1/12 of recipe):
Calories: 213, Fat: 9.8 g, Saturated Fat: 4.3 g, Cholesterol: 47.2 g,
Sodium: 444 mg, Protein: 12.1 g, Carbohydrate: 18.2 g

Yield: 1 cup
Source: "Mr. Food Every Day's a Holiday Diabetic Cookbook"

-  1/2 cup light mayonnaise
-  1/3 cup low-fat (1%) milk
-  1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
-  1 tablespoon lemon juice
-  1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-  1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
-  1/4 teaspoon salt
-  1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-  1 large head romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients except the romaine; whisk until smooth and creamy.

Place the romaine in a large salad bowl and toss with the dressing. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (1 cup):
Calories: 55, Fat: 4 g, Cholesterol: 6 mg, Sodium: 193 mg,
Carbohydrate: 2 g, Dietary Fiber: 0 g, Sugars: 1 g, Protein: 2 g

Yield: 5 servings (1 cup each)
Source: The New Family Cookbook for People with Diabetes Book I

- 2 teaspoons margarine
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- One 16-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 2 cups Homemade Chicken Broth OR canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or ground nutmeg
- 1 cup fat-free milk

Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan.
Saute the onion until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the pumpkin, broth, sugar, salt, and cloves; stir to mix well. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Puree until smooth in a blender or food processor.
Return to the saucepan. Add the milk; heat thoroughly but do not boil. Serve at once.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
Calories: 89; Protein: 4 g; Carbohydrates: 15 g;
Cholesterol: 1 g; Sodium: 318 mg; Fat: 3g

Great success can happen when you have the support from family, friends and from other people with diabetes.

Grace C. Eaton, LPN
PHMG Patient Centered Nursing Team
Diabetes Self-Management Support
Certified Smoking Cessation Instructor
PinnacleHealth FamilyCare of Lower Paxton

Monday, November 19, 2012

Diabetes and Smoking: A Deadly Combination

Smoking is bad news. It is the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States, accounting for nearly half a million deaths each year. Smoking increases your risk of incurring a number of Diabetes complications.

The Effects of Smoking
Everyone knows smoking causes lung cancer, and more people die of lung cancer each year in the U.S. than any other type of cancer. But did you know that smoking can affect the health of your heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, muscles and joints, and more?

Those with Diabetes are three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke, but add in smoking and that risk multiplies.

That's because smoking….

  • Decreases the amount of oxygen reaching tissues 
  • Increases cholesterol levels and the levels of some other fats in your blood 
  • Damages and constricts blood vessels 
  • Increases blood pressure 
  • Smoking increases your blood sugar levels and decreases your body's ability to use insulin, making it more difficult to control your Diabetes. 

When blood vessels are constricted, the amount of blood circulating in arteries and veins is limited. This can lead to peripheral vascular disease, which can worsen foot ulcers and contribute to leg and foot infections.

In addition, smokers with Diabetes are at increased risk of developing nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy), kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy) and eye disease (diabetic retinopathy).

But wait, the bad news doesn't end yet!  

In addition to lung cancer, smoking may also contribute to mouth, throat and bladder cancer.

Those who smoke are more susceptible to colds and respiratory infections.

Smoking increases muscle and joint pain.

Smoking can cause impotence in men and miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women.

Quit Smoking
If you are a smoker, you know you should quit. The good news is, no matter how long you've smoked, your health will improve after you quit. Fortunately, there are many new medications and successful programs out there to help you quit smoking. If you smoke and you're ready to quit, ask your friends and family members who have quit for advice or ask your doctor to refer you to one of these programs for help.

Why is it so hard to quit?
Simply put, nicotine is among the most addictive drugs. Smoking is not a habit or a lifestyle choice. It’s an addiction that over time, changes brain chemistry. Nicotine has its effect by attaching to certain receptors in the brain, and when you become a smoker these receptors increase in number. If not regularly stimulated with nicotine, the increased receptors begin to make a person feel very unpleasant, a phenomenon known as withdrawal. Both withdrawal and the craving it causes are tied to changes in brain chemistry.

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things individuals living with diabetes can do to help prevent or delay the onset of complications.

How can I quit?
The first critical step is to make the decision to quit. It may help to set a firm, short-term quit date. In the meantime, get as much information as you can from your doctor or pharmacist about options to help you quit, including medications that can increase your chances of success by three to four times. Similar to the day-to-day process of managing your diabetes through diet, exercise and regular blood glucose testing, managing to quit smoking is something that is best approached by incorporating it into your daily routine.

What can help me quit smoking?
Nicotine replacement therapy 
The first line of treatment is nicotine replacement therapy, whether in the form of a gum, patch or inhaler, to help ease withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine replacement therapy is now available without a prescription in pharmacies. It is very safe, even for people with heart disease, pregnant women or teenagers, and it’s important when using it to know that you can use as much as is necessary to stem your particular cravings.

Oral medications 
There is a prescription medication that can dramatically decrease smoking cravings. It works by stimulating the same areas in the brain that are stimulated by nicotine. This drug can’t be used by everyone (eg., people with epilepsy or a history of seizures), and might interfere with other medications if you are already taking an anti-depressant or other psychiatric medication.

Another prescription drug acts by stimulating the receptors in the brain responsible for initiating and maintaining nicotine addiction, so that people feel they have smoked a cigarette without actually having done so. If they do smoke, it doesn’t have the same positive effect. Like any prescription drug, though, it has side effects, including nausea and in some, psychiatric symptoms, and so may not be right for everyone.

Lifestyle changes 
Smoking often is associated with strong cues, so as you move toward a quit date, get a sense of where and when you smoke, and identify some strategies to bypass those situations. If you typically smoke after dinner, take a walk instead. Any setting where alcohol is involved, such as a wedding or a party, will probably be a hazard zone….. just as you may plan to adjust your food intake or insulin dosage, consider in advance how you will handle these situations.

Enlist your family and friends in the effort. Make sure they understand how important it is for you to quit smoking and how hard it may be, and ask for their support. For some people, joining a support group along with others who are also trying to quit is helpful. Your doctor may have some information on groups in your community. Your doctor may have some information on groups in your community, along with smoking cessation classes available.

Never quit quitting! 
Making the transition from smoker to nonsmoker is not easy, and you may have a lapse. If you do, give yourself a break. Don’t focus on the one cigarette you just had, but remember the hundreds you haven’t had since you quit. Manage your quitting plan much like you manage your diabetes – take it one day at a time.

The fact is, successful quitters generally make at least two or three unsuccessful attempts before they finally kick the habit, so never quit quitting!

Grace C. Eaton, LPN
PHMG Patient Centered Nursing Team
Diabetes Self-Management Support
Certified Smoking Cessation Instructor
PinnacleHealth FamilyCare of Lower Paxton

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trouble Shooting Your Glucose Meter

When people with diabetes can control their blood sugar (glucose), they are more likely to stay healthy. People with diabetes can use a number of tools to help them better manage their diabetes.  One of these tools is a home glucose meter.

Glucose meters help people with diabetes check their blood sugar at home, school, work, and play. Other blood and urine tests reveal trends in diabetes management and help identify diabetes complications.  We are going to discuss the glucose meter (glucometer) and how it can help you control your diabetes.

Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose
The process of monitoring one's own blood glucose with a glucose meter is often referred to as self-monitoring of blood glucose or "SMBG."

To test for glucose with a typical glucose meter, place a small sample of blood on a disposable "test strip" and place the strip in the meter. The test strips are coated with chemicals that combine with glucose in blood.
The meter measures how much glucose is present. Meters do this in different ways. Some measure the amount of electricity that can pass through the sample. Others measure how much light reflects from it. The meter displays the glucose level as a number. Several new models can record and store a number of test results. Some models can connect to personal computers to store test results or print them out.

Choosing a Glucose Meter
At least 25 different meters are commercially available.  

They differ in several ways including:

  • Amount of blood needed for each test 
  • Alternate testing sites (for example, using the forearm instead of a finger)
  • Testing speed 
  • Overall meter size 
  • Ability to store test results in memory 
  • Cost of the meter 
  • Cost of the test strips used  (Insurance companies will often cover the cost of testing strips for certain meters….contact your insurance for the best coverage.) 

Newer meters often have features that make them easier to use than older models. Some meters allow you to get blood from places other than your fingertip (Alternative Site Testing). Some new models have automatic timing, error codes and signals, or barcode readers to help with calibration. Some meters have a large display screen or spoken instructions for people with visual impairments.

Using Your Glucose Meter
Diabetes care should be designed for each individual patient. Some patients may need to test (monitor) more often than others do. How often you use your glucose meter should be based on the recommendation of your health care provider. Self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) is recommended for many people with diabetes, but especially for those who take insulin. The role of SMBG has not been defined for people with stable type 2 diabetes treated only with diet.

Often, self-monitoring plans direct you to test your blood sugar before meals, 2 hours after meals, at bedtime, and anytime you experience signs or symptoms. You should test more often when you change medications, when you have unusual stress or illness, or in other unusual circumstance.

Please discuss the your testing frequency with your personal provider or access the American Diabetes Association website at

Learning to Use Your Glucose Meter
Not all glucose meters work the same way. Since you need to know how to use your glucose meter and interpret its results, you should get training from a diabetes educator. The educator should watch you test your glucose to make sure you can use your meter correctly. This training is better if it is part of an overall diabetes education program.

Instructions for Using Glucose Meters
The following are the general instructions for using a glucose meter:
1. Wash hands with soap and warm water and dry completely or clean the area with   alcohol and dry completely.
2. Prick the fingertip (or alternative site if your meter that allows that) with a lancet.
3. Hold the hand down and hold the finger until a small drop of blood appears; catch the blood with the test strip.
4. Follow the instructions for inserting the test strip and using the SMBG meter.
5. Record the test result.

You should carefully read the instructions for both the meter and its test strips. Meter instructions are found in the user manual. Keep this manual to help you solve any problems that may arise. Many meters use "error codes" when there is a problem with the meter, the test strip, or the blood sample on the strip. You will need the manual to interpret these error codes and fix the problem.

You can get information about your meter and test strips from several different sources.

Your user manual should include a toll free number in case you have questions or problems. If you have a problem and can't get a response from this number, contact your healthcare provider or a local emergency room for advice. Also, the manufacturer of your meter should have a website. Check this website regularly to see if it lists any issues with the function of your meter.

Measurement Range
Most glucose meters are able to read glucose levels over a broad range of values from as low as 0 to as high as 600 mg/dL. Since the range is different among meters, interpret very high or low values carefully.  Refer to the package insert of your glucose meter for the blood sugar range your meter will record.

Factors That Affect Glucose Meter Performance
The accuracy of your test results depends partly on the quality of your meter and test strips and your training. Other factors can also make a difference in the accuracy of your results. Some factors that can impact accuracy include the following:

  • Blood counts (hematocrit)
  • Vitamins and mineral supplements
  • Altitude, temperature and humidity
  • Generic or third party test strips

Refer to the package insert of your meter for specific instructions regarding these factors.

Making Sure Your Meter Works Properly
You should perform quality-control checks to make sure that your home glucose testing is accurate and reliable. Several things can reduce the accuracy of your meter reading even if it appears to still work. For instance, the meter may have been dropped or its electrical components may have worn out. Humidity or heat may damage test strips. It is even possible that your testing technique may have changed slightly. Quality control checks should be done on a regular basis according to the meter manufacturer's instructions. There are two kinds of quality control checks:

Check Using "Test Quality Control Solutions" or "Electronic Controls"
Test quality control solutions and electronic controls are both used to check the operation of your meter. Test quality control solutions check the accuracy of the meter and test strip. They may also give an indication of how well you use your system. Electronic controls only check that the meter is working properly.

Take Your Meter with You to The Health Care Provider's Office.
This way you can test your glucose while your health care provider watches your technique to make sure you are using the meter correctly. Your healthcare provider will also take a sample of blood and evaluate it using a routine laboratory method. If values obtained on the glucose meter match the laboratory method, you and your healthcare provider will see that your meter is working well and that you are using good technique. If results do not match the laboratory method results, then results you get from your meter may be inaccurate and you should discuss the issue with your healthcare provider and contact the manufacturer if necessary.

New Technologies: Alternative Site Testing
Some glucose meters allow testing blood from alternative sites, such as the upper arm, forearm, base of the thumb, and thigh.  Sampling blood from alternative sites may be desirable, but it may have some limitations. Blood in the fingertips show changes in glucose levels more quickly than blood in other parts of the body. This means that alternative site test results may be different from fingertip test results not because of the meter's ability to test accurately, but because the actual glucose concentration can be different. Glucose levels at the alternative site appear to change more slowly than in the fingertips.  Alternative site results may be different than the fingertip when glucose levels are changing rapidly (e.g. after a meal, taking insulin or during or after exercise).

Do not test at an alternative site, but use samples taken from the fingertip, if …

  • you think your blood sugar is low, 
  • you are not aware of symptoms when you become hypoglycemic, or 
  • the site results do not agree with the way you feel. 

Below are a few contact numbers for a few meters if you are having trouble with your meter, please use the toll free number in your handbook or one of the ones below if you have one of these meters.

(888) 522-5226

(800) 348-8100

(800) 243-2636

(800) 342-7226

(866) 906-4197

(800) 227-8862

(800) 858-8072

Grace C. Eaton, LPN
Nurse Panel Manager
PHMG Patient Centered Nursing Team
Diabetes Self-Management Support
Certified Smoking Cessation Instructor

Monday, November 5, 2012

Diabetes 101

In recognition of Diabetes Awareness Month, here are the basics of Diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

  • Diabetes affects the way your body uses food for energy.  
  • When you eat food, your body changes it into sugar.  
  • Your body also makes insulin.  
    • Insulin helps move the sugar from your blood into your body’s cells to be used for energy.
    • Your body normally keeps blood sugar and insulin in balance.
    • When you have diabetes, your body isn’t getting the energy it needs.

When your pancreas no longer produces insulin and the sugar cannot move in to the cells to become energy, you have TYPE 1 DIABETES. This type of Diabetes only affects 5-10% of people who have diabetes.

When your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or cannot use it well enough to get the blood sugar into the body’s cells for energy, you have TYPE 2 DIABETES.

In both situations, blood glucose builds up in your body and can lead to serious health problems and premature death.

Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes include:

  • Older Age
  • Obesity
  • Family History of diabetes
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Physical inactivity
  • Race/ethnicity
    • African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Pre-diabetes is the stage that occurs before a person gets Type 2 Diabetes.  Blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Over 79 million people have pre-diabetes (

How do you know if you have diabetes?
The common signs of diabetes are:

  • Feeling Tired
  • Urinating often
  • Being very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry
  • Having blurry vision
  • Having an infection that does not go away
  • Having wounds or sores that do not heal well
  • Possible weight loss

How will the doctor diagnose diabetes?
If your health care provider thinks you may have diabetes, there are some blood tests available to find out for sure.

  1. FASTING BLOOD SUGAR—prior to this test, you should not eat for 8-10 hours. A person without diabetes will have a fasting blood sugar between 70-99mg/dl.  A person with pre-diabetes will have a fasting blood sugar between 100-125 mg/dl.  A person with diabetes will have a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dl or greater. 
  2. ORAL GLUCOSE TOLERANCE TEST-- This test measures your body’s response to sugar.  You are given a drink with a very high amount of sugar.  Then your blood sugar levels are tested every 60 minutes for up to three hours.  The 2 hour reading is often used to diagnose diabetes.  
  3. HEMOGLOBIN A1C—This is a non-fasting blood test that measures the average blood sugar levels over a period of up to 3 months.

Why is it important to know if I have diabetes or not?  
If you have diabetes and do not control it, there are many complications that could become very serious.

  • Cardiac problems—Heart Attack
  • Kidney problems—Nephropathy
  • Nerve problems—Nerve Damage
  • Vision problems--Retinopathy
  • Circulatory problems—Heart Attack, Stroke
  • Amputations—Peripheral Arterial Disease
  • Stroke
  • Mouth and Gums—Gingivitis
  • Depression
  • Erectile Dysfunction 
  • Death

Diabetes affects the entire body. In order to control diabetes, you need to work on having a healthy lifestyle.  This may mean changing the way you eat and exercise.  Do not think of it as a "diet" but a lifestyle change.  Talk with your doctor to develop a care plan that is specifically for you.

Ways to control and prevent complications of diabetes include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • Taking care of your feet and eyes
  • Quitting tobacco
  • Regular visits with your healthcare provider
  • Relieve stress
  • Accept that you have diabetes
  • Set goals

Know your target numbers, keep your doctor appointments, learn what you can do to help manage your diabetes.

Grace C. Eaton, LPN
Nurse Panel Manager
PHMG Patient Centered Nursing Team
Diabetes Self-Management Support
Certified Smoking Cessation Instructor
PinnacleHealth FamilyCare of Lower Paxton

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cold versus Flu

OK, we’re knee-deep in cold and flu season. As I sit here contemplating the difference between cold and flu, it strikes me that flu season has yet to hit us. So, if you’ve been sick so far this year, you’ve probably had the cold.

What is the “common cold”?  Well, it’s a viral infection, generally rhinovirus. Rhino…like the nose, not the animal (although the animal derives its name from the Greek word for nose due to the large nose-like proboscis on its head). So that can help you understand that the primary symptoms of colds are nasal symptoms. The first few days you feel tired and run-down.  Your throat starts to hurt. Then the nose starts to run and you sneeze. The nose then also becomes stuffy and congested.  It’s the stuffy and runny combination that if you really think about it is rather odd. How can something both be stuffed and running? That is more than I can say for Uncle Pat after Thanksgiving dinner! The interesting thing is that influenza (flu) also does that. The difference between the two is the intensity of symptoms.  Flu is a much more intense version of the cold.  Often, the mucous that is causing the congestion and runny nose causes a cough. I’d say easily, the cough is what brings people to the office when dealing with a cold.  It comes later in the course of illness and lasts beyond the time when you feel “sick."  You feel like the cold is gone but the cough can linger for weeks (yes, I said WEEKS).

One thing you may have noticed is that I did not mention fever. That’s because the cold doesn’t cause a fever. That’s not to say it won’t raise your body temperature, because it will. You just won’t have a fever.  So here’s a little tip. A temperature greater than 98.6 is NOT a fever. We refer to them as low-grade fevers but really they are not fevers. A fever starts when the temperature reaches 100.4. That seems like an odd number. It’s because scientific and global measurements are done with Centigrade temperatures. So that corresponds to 38C. Normal body temperature on that scale is 37. That one degree Celsius separates normal from febrile. So from 98.6 to 100.4 is not a fever. Why does it raise your temperature? Well, that’s because in fighting off this virus, your immune system gets activated. The T cells notice the virus and deploy a search-and-destroy call to other T cells.

Other symptoms include cough, congestion, fever (that one is almost a deal-breaker and without it, the flu is not really a consideration—so be sure to check your temperature…with a thermometer!), body aches, sore throat, and sometimes diarrhea. To remind you, the cold has those symptoms as well. The major difference is the sudden onset of the flu (all/most symptoms hit you at once, generally within 12 hours of each other) and the fever over 100.4. The colds all have the same basic symptoms but are generally more gradual in their onset (starts with a tickle in the throat for a day, then runny nose for a day, then cough…and lingers 10 days or more), are much less intense and often without that higher fever.

If you realize you have the flu and it’s been more than 48 hours of symptoms, available treatments aren’t going to work anymore. Even if we do treat these flu episodes, the medication has only been shown to shorten the length of time you’re sick by 1 day. So unless you have major medical conditions, specifically lung disease, we don’t automatically treat the flu with the anti-viral medicines because the side effects (on you, the patient) and the virus (it can make the virus mutate faster) aren’t always worth that 1 day of symptom improvement. We mostly focus our efforts on making you more comfortable while you are fighting this virus off. Once we know flu is in our area, we don’t typically test for it and treat you based on symptoms alone.

The good news is you don’t have to face this alone! Your healthcare provider at your PinnacleHealth Medical Group primary care office has you covered. If you feel you are sick and not sure if it’s the cold or the flu, ask one of the pros. It’s why we’re here, after all! Be well and stay well!!

Heritage Family Medicine
Member, PinnacleHealth Medical Group

Monday, October 29, 2012

Common Cold Versus Flu - an Easy to Read Comparison

In summary, because both illnesses are respiratory viruses the symptoms can overlap.  It can be clinically impossible to distinguish a mild flu from a severe cold. However, influenza is usually a much more severe illness with the degree of fatigue, body aches, fever and cough. If you feel you may have a cold, or the flu, see your primary care physician as soon as possible.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Avoid Getting Sick

Well, it’s official. Cold and flu season is officially here!! We sure hope you’ve been able to keep yourself healthy so far. It’s a long season, so I’m here to help you prepare yourself for the brunt of it, still to come our way. The best way to get over the cold or flu is to never get sick in the first place!!  How on earth do you do that, you ask? Well, it’s easy and hard, all at the same time. Oh, and much of what our moms taught us was right on…they’re almost always right, after all!

WASH YOUR HANDS!! Yes, I did yell it at you. I cannot underscore enough how important it is to wash your hands, so I’ll say it again. Wash your hands. Wash them after a trip to the grocery store, gas pump, religious service, doctor’s office (especially there!), work, school…. Do you get a sense that I want you to wash your hands a lot? Well, yes, I do. It is the single best means to prevent the spread of germs. That includes the cold, flu, stomach “bugs” and various other contagious creatures. We cannot protect ourselves from catching an “airborne” illness (more to come on that, keep reading) but we can protect ourselves from literally “catching” it in our hands. Perhaps that is where that term came from? So wash your hands.

Cover your cough. It is harder to keep from getting what we call a “airborne” illnesses. These are defined as something that when put out in the air (like from talking or coughing or sneezing) lingers like little droplets in the air. Think of the mist you see after spraying your cologne/perfume or those room deodorizers. The bacteria and viruses we blow out of our noses and mouths linger like that, for a longer period of time than those sprays. This malicious mist can go as far as 3 feet away! The droplets settle onto surfaces (think…telephone, keyboard, doorknobs) and we the pick them up with our hands (remember…wash your hands!).

The time they linger in the air is prime-time for spread to others. While we cannot keep that mist from getting into our noses/mouths, we can at least keep the mist from ever getting there in the first place.  That’s why I advise you to cover your cough. It keeps the particles from being spread among your family, friends, coworkers and classmates. It’s just the nice thing to do. Here’s the catch. Don’t cover it with your hand. That will just spread it in a different way. Cover your mouth/nose with the bend in your arm…think of grabbing your left ear with your right hand…that brings your elbow crease to your mouth causing that to get coated in germs instead of your hand. I can’t think of anyone who uses that part of their body to touch things on a regular basis. Do this when you cough or sneeze, every time; and take a moment to teach your children this trick as well.

Be good to yourself. I know this one is a hard one to do and there are many excuses as to why we don’t do this, but treat yourself well. Eat balanced, healthy, wholesome foods that are not filled with preservatives. The antioxidants in food are destroyed by the processing of food. We need those antioxidants to help us from getting sick. Eat a variety of colors in your diet and eat regularly throughout the day. If your body is trying not to starve, it won’t pay much attention to the virus or bacteria that are trying to invade your body. Also, sleep well. Get the optimum number of hours of sleep that you need. Everyone is different, so I won’t preach for you to get eight hours. Some can do fewer, some need more. Children are some who need more (if your child has to be dragged out of bed in the morning, perhaps an earlier bedtime is in order?).

If we don’t get enough time asleep to rest and recharge, the body has increased amount of stress hormones. While back in the days of cavemen those hormones kept us alive running from saber-tooth tigers, the stress of our lives now is not that significant. However, these hormones keep your body on high alert, thinking something big is coming to get us. The thing is, that big thing is not looming over our shoulders with sharp fangs. Sleeping is the one time of the day that we are supposed to relax and let go. When that doesn’t happen, the body is worried more about that tiger than the virus or bacteria trying to make its way into your system. The body has a very eloquent method of protecting itself and if we let that work, it can do wonders.

Vaccinate whenever possible. When we can amplify the body’s natural immunity with vaccinations that is even better; so if you haven’t yet called your PinnacleHealth Medical Group office to get yourself vaccinated against the flu yet, there’s still time and supply available. Some people also need vaccines against streptococcus Pneumoniae (pneumonia vaccine): diabetics, people with lung disease (including asthma) and those without spleens. If you are one of those people, talk to your provider about what other vaccines you may need as well.

Good luck with getting through this cold season. With some preparation, hand washing and TLC, this should be very manageable. If, despite your best efforts, you do get sick, know that we at PinnacleHealth Medical Group are here to help get you better and make you feel better along the way to wellness.

Heritage Family Medicine
Member, PinnacleHealth Medical Group

Friday, October 12, 2012

Treatment for the Common Cold -- Responsible Antibiotic Usage

Last week we learned about the "dreaded" common cold-- what is it and what can be done to treat it. This week we will concentrate more on what was touched on in the last blog, something that has been a bit of a hot topic in medicine the media in the last few years: antibiotics--when to use them and when are they not necessary. If you've heard in the media about topics such as MRSA, superbug infections, etc., then you may be already familiar with this subject. The development of antibiotics in the 1940’s is certainly one of the greatest advancements in medicine, but in recent years antibiotic overuse has become a serious healthcare concern. Antibiotics are more and more commonly being taken for infections that are known to be caused by viruses, such as the common cold.

So what is the harm in treating a viral infection like Rhinovirus (which usually causes the common cold) with an antibiotic? Many people believe that there are really no downsides to taking an antibiotic; if it helps, then great! If not, then symptoms will improve on their own. This is unfortunately very dangerous thinking. Every time we as practitioners prescribe an antibiotic, and you as a patient take it, the bacteria in your body build a reaction to the antibiotic--they try to fight it. As the bacteria evolve, this can lead the antibiotics to stop working effectively on the bacteria they designed to target.

A common example most are familiar with is the serious topic of MRSA infections. MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Staph aureus is a common bacteria that is normally found on your skin, in your nasal passages, etc. This specific type of Staph described by the term MRSA refers to bacteria that have developed a resistance to the antibiotic methicillin (and others in the same class such as penicillins; drugs that have been used effectively for many, many years). We are now limited to just a few antibiotics that are still effective against this strain of bacteria. This is a very scary thought. Imagine if this scenario continues with this type of bacteria and others? Illnesses that would normally be fairly easy to cure, such as sinus infections, Strep throat, or skin infections without proper treatment could result in a person becoming very sick, and could possibly lead to death.

Not only does antibiotic overuse lead to drug-resistant superbug infections, but it also alters the normal bacteria in your body that help to keep you healthy. Furthermore, it contributes to unnecessary health care costs to pay for the antibiotic, and then pay for prolonged or more serious treatments in the future as antibiotic resistance emerges.

So then, when is it okay to take an antibiotic for the common cold? The answer is NEVER. When the common cold develops into a secondary bacterial infection such as some sinus infections, an ear infection or pneumonia - then an antibiotic could be administered. That is the responsibility of your healthcare provider to determine, and he/she will determine when an antibiotic is needed based on your history and physical. Remember, just because your doctor doesn't give you an antibiotic does not mean that you aren't sick!

If you're still reading, thank you! If you started skimming halfway through (I don't blame you!) then here is the bottom line: Antibiotics do NOT treat viral infections like the common cold and most upper respiratory infections, and can actually lead to harm if prescribed or taken unnecessarily. Please be proactive, take responsibility and join the discussion with your healthcare provider about what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) calls "one of the world’s most pressing public health problems."

Bethany Rhoads, PA-C
Evening Care Camp Hill

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Common Cold

It’s October! It’s back to school time, and the beginning of cold and flu season. Colds and flu tend to be spread more this time of year in part because we all tend to be indoors more, and children are back in school so we are often in closer quarters. But what causes colds? How can we protect ourselves? Are there any good treatments?

Colds and bronchitis are typically caused by viruses. Cold viruses can cause a lot of different symptoms, including sore throat, runny nose and congestion, cough, sinus pressure, headache, ear pressure, and even fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and rash in some cases. They can make us feel miserable, but are usually not serious. Antibiotics are useless against viruses.

The average viral cold lasts for 7 to 10 days, but some symptoms (especially cough) can last for several weeks. Sore throats from colds usually resolve in the first few days. (Note: If you have a cough with your sore throat, it probably isn’t strep throat.)

Although most colds resolve on their own no matter what we do, occasionally bacteria can start to grow in the mucus in your respiratory tract and cause a secondary infection. Unlike viruses, which can cause symptoms all over your body, bacteria tend to hit only one area. Secondary infections following a cold include sinus infections (sinusitis), ear infections (otitis media), and pneumonia. Signs of a secondary bacterial infection include a prolonged illness (more than 10 days) or new symptoms such as earache, high fever, sinus pain, or loss of appetite several days into a cold. (Yellow or green nasal drainage is common during a cold, and does not necessarily indicate a sinus infection.)

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections like sinusitis or pneumonia, but are useless against viruses. Using antibiotics unnecessarily can cause problems. Antibiotics can cause side effects like yeast infections or diarrhea, or occasionally allergic reactions. In addition, when antibiotics are used frequently, bacteria can become resistant to them and they will no longer work. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is becoming more and more common, and there are now bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics. Because of these risks, we try to prescribe antibiotics only when we feel they will be effective, such as for sinusitis or pneumonia. Please don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic if he or she feels it isn’t needed. Taking an antibiotic when you have a cold will not reliably prevent a bacterial infection, may give you side effects, and may increase the likelihood that your next infection will be resistant to that antibiotic.

There are several things you can do to prevent catching or spreading colds:
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly throughout the day, especially if you touch or blow your nose, or before eating.
  • Try to make sure you are getting enough sleep.  People who get less than 7 hours of sleep daily are much more likely to catch colds.
  • Try to eat a healthy diet, with several servings of fruits and vegetables daily.  Better nutrition will improve your resistance to cold viruses.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes by coughing into a tissue or into your sleeve.
If you do catch a cold, there are some things you can do. Get plenty of sleep. Try nasal saline spray to thin nasal mucus. Try sips of ice water or suck on throat lozenges to ease a sore throat. Cold medicines may help improve some symptoms of colds, but they will not cure a cold or get you better any faster. They can also cause side effects, so if you must take something, try to stick to products with single ingredients just for the symptoms you have.

There are some cold remedies that should be avoided by certain people:
  • Avoid decongestants if you have high blood pressure. They can cause an unsafe rise in blood pressure.
  • Avoid antihistamines if you have glaucoma or an enlarged prostate. They can increase eye pressure or make it difficult to urinate.
  • Avoid cough suppressants if you are taking antidepressants, since they can cause a rare but serious interaction. Ask your healthcare provider if you aren’t sure.
I hope you find this information helpful.  Have a healthy, safe autumn!

Megan Borror, M.D.
Colonial Park Family Practice
PinnacleHealth Medical Group

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Preventing and Treating Influenza

As with many medical issues we are interested in prevention first and treatment second. So, following that approach let’s look at some ways to avoid getting sick in the first place.

We know that health is the result of a number of factors all working together – physical, psychological, and spiritual. When things are out of balance in any of these areas we increase our likelihood of getting sick. It is important to pay attention to basic issues of diet, proper rest, and exercise. We also need to manage the stresses in our life. Stress is a natural part of living, but sometimes it can get to a point that overwhelms us and can contribute to illness. Similarly, our spiritual beliefs and focus contribute to the overall balance resulting in health or illness. So, take the time to pay attention to each of these elements. It can help to prevent or lessen the severity of an illness.

Another important area of prevention is good hand hygiene. Remember to clean your hands regularly. You can use soap and water or one of the alcohol-based hand cleaners available in many stores. Carry a hand cleaner with you when you go out so you can clean your hands regularly and help prevent getting sick. Try to stay out of crowded and congested areas as much as possible. These are high risk areas for the spread of germs, particularly if there is someone who is coughing and not following the basic rule of covering your mouth when you cough.

Next, I would strongly recommend that you get your flu vaccine as a basic step in prevention. If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this year, call your primary care physician’s office and schedule it today. Do it right after you finish this article!! Vaccination is one of the most effective measures you can take to prevent the flu. If you don't have a primary care physician, we can help with that. Visit our website, find an office, and schedule an appointment today!

Sometimes despite our best efforts we do get sick. And that is the time to follow some basic rules for taking care of yourself and contacting your primary care provider if you have questions or concerns about your illness. Depending on the nature of your symptoms and other medical conditions you may be asked to make an appointment to be seen. Or, you may be given some recommendations about treatments to try at home first before being asked to go to the office for a visit.

Remember the advice from your mother about chicken soup? Well, that is pretty good advice when it comes to a number of illnesses, including influenza. Along with that bowl of chicken soup remember to stay at home and rest, particularly if you are running a fever and are coughing or blowing your nose frequently. If you are on prescription medications be sure that it is safe for you to take over the counter medications to help reduce your fever or treat your headache or body aches or other symptoms you may have. Your primary care office can help you with specific suggestions for over the counter medications that may help control your symptoms while your body is fighting off the infection.

If it is truly Influenza that you have your primary care provider may recommend one of a number of specific medications approved to treat Influenza. However, if you have a viral illness that is not Influenza then these medications will not help. And, antibiotics are never effective for these viral infections. Antibiotics are only effective for bacterial infections. So, you may find that your primary care provider discourages the use of antibiotics when you are ill with a suspected viral illness such as the flu. That is solid medical advice and helps to prevent complications and the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

We hope you stay well – but if you do get sick, your primary care physician’s office is ready to help return you to good health. Together we can work toward the goal of good health.

Joseph A. Cincotta, MD
Medical Director, PinnacleHealth Medical Group

Monday, September 17, 2012

Children and the Flu

Now that school has been back in session, more of our children are coming home with the sniffles, a cough, or even some vomiting and diarrhea. Most of these illnesses are easily managed at home for a day or two and your child is back to school. Pretty soon, however, influenza virus –“the flu” – will be circulating around. This causes a more severe illness and has much more potential for complications.  Therefore it is important to be informed about influenza and be prepared to keep your child as healthy as possible during the flu season.

Influenza virus is a smart virus that makes changes every year (and sometimes within the same season) to trick our immune system so that it can infect anyone, even people who have had the flu before. Influenza is not choosy about who it infects. Adults, children, and babies are all susceptible – even if they are healthy and have never been sick before. So please do not say to yourself (or to your doctor): “My child is never sick and has never had the flu, so I know she won’t get it.”  This is NOT TRUE!

When your child has the flu, he will typically develop a sudden fever (at least 100 degrees F and often higher than 102 degrees) along with chills, muscle aches, headache, and lack of energy. Most children also develop a runny nose, nasal stuffiness, sore throat, and a cough. Some also have stomach pain and vomiting. Don’t be confused:  if your child only has vomiting and/or diarrhea with no respiratory symptoms and no fever – this is not influenza. Some people refer to this type of illness as “stomach flu,” but actually it is a different virus and has nothing to do with influenza.

Flu (influenza) will likely cause your child to miss about a week of school and the fever lasts three to seven days. However, often there are complications or additional (“secondary”) infections that can develop on top of the flu. This is especially true for children under five years old. The most common secondary infections are ear infections and pneumonia. Young children can develop bronchiolitis (wheezing and shortness of breath). These complications of flu require additional visits to your doctor and can also result in hospitalization.

What can you do to help your child?
If your child develops flu symptoms, call your doctor early. Depending on your child’s age, how long they have been sick, and whether they have other chronic illnesses (like asthma), your child’s doctor may decide to prescribe antiviral medicine. These medicines work best in the first 48 hours of symptoms. But they do have side effects and are only going to shorten the illness, so they often are not the right choice for your child.

If your child has fever for more than five days, has ear pain, or has a cough that is not improving after one week, call your doctor again. These are signs of possible complications. If your child is under three months of age or has chronic illnesses, you should have them seen at the office sooner.

There is no treatment for influenza that works 100%. The best thing to do is to give your child rest and plenty of fluids so that their body can fight off the flu virus. Sometimes your doctor will recommend over the counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), but never use aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) – this can a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome. If your child has fever but is able to rest comfortably, it may be best to not treat the fever – the fever helps the body fight off the virus.

Flu vaccine
The most important and useful thing you can do for your child is to get yourself and your child a flu vaccine every year. This may reduce your child’s chances of getting the flu by 60 – 90%. If everyone in a household is vaccinated, it reduces their chance of getting the flu even more. Contact your doctor’s office now– most offices have vaccine available in September and the sooner your child is vaccinated the better.

If your child is under nine years old they may require a second dose of flu vaccine one month later.  However, if they are over two years old and healthy, they may be able to get the nasal mist (nose spray) vaccine – kids love this because there is NO NEEDLE!  Check with your doctor to see which vaccine is the right choice for your child.

The benefits of the flu vaccine are far greater than the risks of side effects. There are many myths about the flu vaccine out there. Please discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and check out our blog post from last week on the flu vaccine!

Another good resource:

Heritage Pediatrics
Pinnacle Heath Medical Group

Monday, September 10, 2012

Debunking Flu Shot Myths

As the summer draws to a close and the school year begins, so does the start of yet another flu season. Though most people think of winter as flu season, the spread of influenza can begin as early as October. 

The best protection against influenza is a yearly flu shot, yet many people have reservations about getting immunized. There is a lot of misinformation and myth surrounding the flu shot, so it can sometimes be hard to sort out flu-shot-fact from flu-shot-fiction. 

Here are some of the most common concerns I hear in my practice when I offer my patients the flu shot: 
  1. “The flu shot will give me the flu.” The influenza vaccine is inactivated, which means it does not contain any live virus, and therefore cannot infect you with the flu. Any vaccine has the potential to cause mild side effects. These side effects may include soreness at the site of injection, mild body aches and a low grade fever. If these symptoms occur, they begin soon after the shot is given and last 1-2 days.  Most people who receive the flu shot experience no side effects at all.  
  2. “I want to wait until November to get my flu shot, so it will last the entire season.” It takes about two weeks for our bodies to develop antibodies and provide full protection against influenza after receiving the flu shot, and influenza season can actually begin as early as October. For this reason, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that vaccination begin as soon as the vaccine becomes available – as early as August or September, and continue throughout flu season to ensure the highest possible level of vaccination. Getting your flu shot early in the season will likely provide you with the longest level of protection. 
  3. “Last year I got the flu shot, but I still got sick.” This year’s flu shot will protect you from infection and illness caused by three strains of influenza virus, including the H1N1 virus.  The WHO (World Health Organization) does its best each year to determine which viruses to include in the vaccine based on their surveillance and projections. Flu vaccines do NOT protect against other infections and illnesses caused by other viruses. There are many other viruses that can cause influenza –like symptoms. The flu shot does not protect you against these other viruses or against the common cold or a gastrointestinal virus. 
True influenza is different from a cold. It comes on suddenly. Typical symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and headache. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and complications such as pneumonia can occur. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses are at higher risk of developing complications.

Getting a flu shot and washing your hands regularly are the best things you can do to keep from getting the flu. So, don’t wait. Get vaccinated today!

Betsey Miller, MSN CRNP
Good Hope Family Practice, a member of PinnacleHealth Medical Group

Monday, September 3, 2012

Influenza, the Basics

So, everyone is getting ready for “cold and flu” season. But what does that really mean? Well, we in the medical world generally find that to be the time between October and April. It’s the time of year when we see a large number of people who are coming in with symptoms that make us think…cold or flu? Well, for the vast majority, the answer is “cold." Fortunately, the flu is much less common. However, when you have the flu, the symptoms are much more intense and have many more complications associated with it. That’s why we get geared-up for flu season by recommending everyone gets their flu shot if they’re over the age of 6 months. Yes, that’s right…everyone. We used to recommend only the very old and very young get immunized but have found by expanding the number of people who are vaccinated, we are able to achieve lower rates of disease across all age groups, especially those age group extremes. It takes up to 3 weeks after you’re vaccinated for you to build up the immunity you need to face the flu in casual social contact and be able to fight it off.   

Now, what is influenza (or flu, as I’ll refer to it from here on out)?  Let’s start by saying it’s a virus. Sounds simple, but at the core of the issue is that it’s a virus.  That means no matter what antibiotic we throw at it, they’ll NEVER rid you of the flu. Antibiotics work on bacteria. That’s it. Not colds, not flu; that’s because they’re viruses and don’t respond to antibiotics. All we accomplish when we prescribe an antibiotic for flu (or a cold, for that matter) is to increase rates of resistant super-bacteria infections in our world (but that’s a blog to come, stay tuned). It’s also a very crafty virus. It has learned over the years that in order to survive in this world, it must change/mutate regularly. It does that by changing its makeup to keep our immune systems guessing. That’s why you can get the flu over and over and over again and your immune system will never be the wiser. That’s also why we need a new flu shot every year. 

Flu starts in Asia. It generally starts from an animal source and transmits to people. People then spread the virus from one to another and because of the magic of travel and technology in the 21st century, presto, it’s now on our doorsteps here in North America.Each year the flu shot is engineered based on major strains from the far east and mixed together to give you protection against multiple possible mutations it may have by the time it gets to us (yes, the flu can change itself within ONE flu season!). You have to remember the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010 flu season; that was a great example of how flu spreads, but was also a great example of how large scale immunization efforts can stop such a spread. It also really helped advance the technology of flu shots. They’re leaner and meaner than ever; the immunity the shot provides lasts the full year, even beyond the usual flu season. That’s why we’ve already gotten flu shots under way for this flu season. Call your family doctor, internist or pediatrician. Chances are, they have their supply of flu shots in their offices. We sure do here at PinnacleHealth Medical Group

To answer a few very common questions…Yes, my children, husband and I all get our annual flu shots…and, NO, there is no flu in the flu shot! Many, many years ago there was but there hasn’t been any in the shot for a long time. What is it? It’s a manufactured copy of the virus that gives your immune system a peek to see what it looks like so when the real thing comes along, it will know and attack it in a more efficient way. The nasal influenza vaccine DOES have a sleeping version of the live virus so be aware of that when choosing your options. Even with this sleeping virus, a healthy person does a great job of handling it and those are the only people who are even eligible for the nasal vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider about which one is best for you. We at PinnacleHealth Medical Group make a point to offer you with as many options as possible to provide you the personalized medical care you deserve.

The symptoms of flu are rather simple; runny nose, stuffy nose, cough, congestion, fever (that one is almost a deal-breaker and without it, the flu is not really a consideration—so be sure to check your temperature…with a thermometer!), body aches, sore throat, and sometimes diarrhea. To remind you, the cold has those symptoms as well. The major difference is the sudden onset of the flu (all/most symptoms hit you at once, generally within 12 hours of each other) and the fever over 100.4. The colds all have the same basic symptoms but are generally more gradual in their onset (starts with a tickle in the throat for a day, then runny nose for a day, then cough…and lingers 10 days or more), are much less intense and often without that higher fever. If you realize you have the flu and it’s been more than 48 hours of symptoms, available treatments aren’t going to work anymore.  Even if we do treat these flu episodes, the medication has only been shown to shorten the length of time you’re sick by 1 day. So unless you have major medical conditions, specifically lung disease, we don’t automatically treat the flu with the anti-viral medicines because the side effects (on you, the patient) and the virus (it can make the virus mutate faster) aren’t always worth that 1 day of symptom improvement. We mostly focus our efforts on making you more comfortable while you are fighting this virus off. Once we know flu is in our area, we don’t typically test for it and treat you based on symptoms alone.

I mentioned that flu has many complications. We worry not only about the flu itself but that the flu causes problems in its wake. The most concerning among these is pneumonia. A warning sign that the flu has become pneumonia is that after the typical 10 days of flu you start to feel better then suddenly start to get worse and spike a fever again (that is a temperature greater than 100.4—yes, take that temperature…the number itself means something!) and have cough and or chest/upper back pains.  Another complication we often see is a sinus infection. That too is generally something you notice once you start to feel better then feel worse again; the thing that points us in that direction is pain in the face and teeth. Ear infections can also be a secondary infection. If the ears are the bothersome issue and the temperatures start to climb again call your provider. You may need to be seen in order to see if these complications are why you aren’t getting better in the time period that’s usual for the flu. 

I’d say good luck navigating through cold and flu season, but with a little preparation and your health care provider involved with you along the way, you won’t need luck! PinnacleHealth Medical Group primary care offices are uniquely poised to be able to work with you in every step of this maze. Flu shots are here at PinnacleHealth Medical Group, so don’t wait…call your medical home today to schedule yourself and your family for this today!

Sandra Costa, DO, FAAFP
Heritage Family Medicine
Member, PinnacleHealth Medical Group