Don’t let fall ailments get you down
BY DONYA CURRIE
Along with pumpkins, football and fresh apple cider, fall brings some seasonal health and safety hazards that should be navigated with care. Here’s some expert advice on managing allergies, getting through the cold and flu season and preventing outdoor injuries.
As the temperature dips and being outside becomes more delightful, fall can bring misery to allergy sufferers. This has been a particularly tough season so far for people allergic to ragweed, said local allergist Dr. Andrew S. Kim.
“People with ragweed allergies started having symptoms early in August,” Kim said.
Warmer temperatures have led to longer allergy seasons.
“It seems like this fall it’s been worse,” Kim said. “We’ve had earlier ragweed counts. And it’s more intense than normal.”
As an added bonus, grass pollens that hit people in summer seem to be lasting longer than usual.
If you suffer from allergy-induced postnasal drip, cough and/or itchy eyes, Kim suggests keeping the windows closed in the house and in the car. Also, avoid outside activity when pollen counts are highest, which is usually from 10 a.m to 3 p.m.
Shower daily and perhaps also bathe a pet that has been outside. If over-the-counter medications still leave you with unbearable symptoms, consult a doctor.
People with allergies can be particularly susceptible to colds and flu, Kim said, because inflammation in the sinus cavities can make a welcome habitat for viruses and bacteria. He advises his patients to wash their hands frequently and control their allergies as well as possible to control that inflammation.
Health experts advise that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot in fall to protect for the flu season, which typically runs from about December through March. (See the sidebar at the end of this story for details about where you can get a shot.)
Cold, allergy and flu symptoms can overlap, and knowing the difference is important in getting the right treatment. A few key differences, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and WebMD:
- Allergies usually cause a clear runny nose, while colds and the flu may cause a runny nose with yellow discharge.
- Flu sufferers often have high fevers, while fevers are rare with colds or allergies.
- Body aches are common with the flu but not with allergies or colds. Headaches also are a common sign of the flu.
Getting a flu shot, washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact with sick people are the best ways to stay well in the fall and winter, the CDC says.
Fall’s relief from sweltering summer days expands our outdoor options—from taking a noon run to a midday bike ride to a hike among the glorious colors of turning leaves. Yet a sudden zeal for outdoor activity—especially yardwork and home-improvement projects—can lead to injury.
“Typically, we see a lot of injuries in both spring and fall that are related to home repair and yardwork, gardening, that sort of thing,” said Teresa D’Orazio, special projects coordinator for Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy in Fredericksburg.
They often see patients with back and shoulder injuries.
“And most of those are because people try to do too much too fast,” D’Orazio said.
D’Orazio advises people not to take on too much at one time.
“For example, if you rake leaves for an hour, you’re probably not going to hurt as badly as if you rake leaves for eight hours on a Saturday and you haven’t raked leaves for months. But most people, that’s what they do,” D’Orazio said.
She also cautions against overdoing it when working with mulch or soil. Many people try to lift more than they should and end up getting hurt.
“Instead of taking a shovelful of dirt, they put too much dirt in the shovel. Instead of doing three lifts, they try to do it all in one shovelful,” she said. “It’s usually doing too much and doing it for too long.”
Her advice: For raking or other yardwork, pace yourself and work in 20- to 30-minute segments, then take a break. Also, warm up before starting and cool down and stretch when finished.
Tips from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on avoiding back pain, whether bagging leaves, shoveling dirt or shuttling garbage to the curb, include:
- Never bend your back to pick something up. It’s just not worth the damage that improper lifting technique can cause.
- Hold the object close to your body. You are a much more stable lifter if you’re not reaching for an object.
- Don’t twist or bend. Face in the direction you are walking. If you need to turn, stop, turn in small steps and then continue walking.
- Keep your eyes up. Looking slightly upward will help you maintain a better position of your spine.
WHERE TO GET A FLU SHOT:
Here are some options for getting a shot:
- Call your doctor or your child’s pediatrician to schedule an appointment or get information about the office’s shot clinics.
- Stop by a local store. The vaccine is available throughout the Fredericksburg area at stores including CVS, Target, Walmart and Giant.
- Attend Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center’s drive-through shot clinic on Oct. 6 from 9 a.m.
- to noon. The clinic is for people 18 and older.
- Find other locations using the online vaccine locator at flushot.health map.org.
Donya Currie is a freelance writer in Stafford County who regularly contributes to Healthy Living and other health-related publications, including the AARP Bulletin. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.