4 Strange Symptoms Solved

August 10, 2012

Fast_ambulanceFor every warm, sunny summer week there’s always a stormy day.  And often the changing foliage and spike in temperatures can cause some unique injuries and illnesses.  This article will teach you the difference between seasonal allergies, and serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Symptom 1: Itchy, Red Rashes on the Body

Summertime is all about spending time in the great outdoors!  Unfortunately, it is also the ideal time for hungry insects to get under our skin – literally!  While isolated red, itchy marks over the body can indicate insect bites, larger areas of redness on the skin can be a sign of an allergic reaction.  This is especially true if you’ve been exposed to a new lotion, perfume, sunscreen, and sometimes even carpeting.  If you think the symptoms you are experiencing could be a result of a new product or other exposure, be sure to take these steps:

  • Avoid additional exposure
  • Try a hydrocortisone cream to take care of any itchiness
  • If symptoms persist, try an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (commonly known as Benadryl)
  • Don’t scratch! It will only make your symptoms worse

Most importantly, head to the hospital if you notice any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat/a closing sensation
  • Tongue swelling, voice changes or drooling

If you have spent any significant time outdoors around plants, you may notice a weeping rash – i.e. fluid is draining from the rash.  This could be poison ivy! In this scenario be sure to keep your hands clean and away from your eyes.  You may be contagious!  Oatmeal baths are a helpful way to quell symptoms of itchiness, but if the rash and/or redness persist, consult a doctor.

Symptom 2: Muscular Pain Resulting in Stiff or Achy Joints

Summer is often a time for people to get in shape and show off their beach bodies.  If you are one of the many that has beefed up their exercise routine to look and feel better, you may be experiencing increased muscle pain.

This pain could be an indication that your muscles are not being fed an adequate amount of oxygen.  It is extremely important to properly nourish and hydrate the body before physical activity. 

In addition to nutrition and hydration, be sure to listen to your body.  If you’re experiencing pain over a pro-longed period of time, you could have a pulled muscle.  To avoid this injury, be sure to stretch routinely before exercise.  Once the symptoms are already at play, use Ibuprofen as directed by your doctor for the pain.  Additionally, be sure to apply R.I.C.E:

  1. Rest – give your muscles a break after an intense workout
  2. Ice – apply a cold compress to aching muscles
  3. Compress – try wrapping ice in a towel and apply to your achy areas for about 20 minutes every 2 hours (as needed)
  4. Elevate – put your feet up and relax!  Elevation helps to minimize swelling

Achy muscle and joint pains unrelated to exercise could be a result of something more serious and should be seen by a doctor immediately.  In serious cases these pains can be a result of Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

Symptom 3: Chest Pains, Shortness of Breath, Lightheadedness

If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath when participating in your daily summer activities, it is important to consider any family history of heart or lung conditions. If there is no family history, the discomfort could be the result of inflammation in the symptomatic area.  Take Ibuprofen as directed by a doctor, and if symptoms persist consult a professional.

For middle-aged people or smokers experiencing these symptoms, it could be a result of a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.  Serious symptoms that indicate the need for immediate hospital assistance include sweating, difficulty breathing, nausea, pain in the jaw, arms or back and an irregular heartbeat.  If these symptoms occur, be sure to consult a doctor immediately.

In higher temperatures, heat exhaustion is a very relevant concern.  Symptoms such as lightheadedness or extreme fatigue should be treated with immediate hydration, rest, and a lowering of the body temperature.  This can be accomplished by stepping indoors into the air conditioning, using a cool compress, and spraying your body with cool water.  If these symptoms persist, be sure to seek emergency medical attention.

Symptom 4: Abdominal Pain

Family BBQ’s are the best.  But sometimes, foods typical of potluck style dinners can contain ingredients such as mayonnaise, which require careful refrigeration (which we all know doesn’t always happen!).  If you experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea after eating mayonnaise-based products, meats or other foods that have stayed out in the hot sun for too long, you may be a victim of food poisoning.

To relieve symptoms of abdominal pain, you can use over-the-counter bismuth subsalicylate (better known as “Pepto-Bismol”).  Be sure to only use this product with easy to digest foods and lots of water.  Soup broths, bread-based products and non-greasy foods are always good options.

Food poisoning should never last more than a day, so if these symptoms persist be sure to consult a doctor.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.



6 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

June 05, 2012

Heart-rateGot a headache? Probably a brain tumor, right? Actually, not very likely.

Noticed a small tremor in your hand? Probably Parkinson’s disease? Maybe; it all depends on your age and what other symptoms you might be having.

With the wide accessibility of medical information on the internet, it’s easy to convince yourself that you have some serious disease or condition you’re going to die from – usually pretty soon too!  There’s no filter on the internet – it’s hard to tell what’s good information versus useless advice. And it seems that everybody that searches for medical information ends up believing they have some rare or life-threatening condition.

So how do you tell if a symptom is serious or just a normal part of aging or something that will go away without you even having to do anything?

There are a couple of weird symptoms or more likely common symptoms that are just a little bit different that should cause some concern. What are they?

1. Sparks or flashes of light in your visual field. Or maybe it feels like a curtain is coming down on one eye. Do not mess around when you have vision changes. What I just described is extremely serious - it could represent a condition called retinal detachment. If not recognized and treated immediately, you will likely go blind.

2. Feeling full after eating small amounts of food. If you’re feeling full often, especially when you’re not trying to diet, this raises concern. I’m even more concerned if you are nauseous with the small amount of food you’re consuming. Usually, these symptoms are related to an ulcer or reflux disease. But if you’re losing weight, I’d be concerned about cancer. Stomach and pancreatic cancer as well as some types of leukemias can cause you to feel full after eating just a few bites. If you’re having these symptoms, you need to be checked out.

3. Lost sense of smell. The fancy medical term is anosmia. As we get older, our sense of smell decreases, but it should never go away completely - and certainly not suddenly. If you have lost your sense of smell, it’s most likely due to a polyp in your nose, but it could also be due to a low thyroid. So ask to have your thyroid checked. More concerning is a certain type of brain tumor that affects the area that controls smell.


Photo Source: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

4. Abdominal pain that starts around your belly button but then gradually moves to your lower right side over several hours. We all get belly pain – and 99 out of a 100 times, it’s due to something we ate. But the key here is whether or not the belly pain resolves in a few hours. If it gets better over time, not worse, than it's most likely something minor. When I hear the pain is getting worse, and it moved from the middle of the lower abdomen to the right side, I start to get worried. If there’s nausea and constipation, I’m even more concerned. If there’s fever – it’s time to get to the ER. Appendicitis is a condition that requires urgent surgery. People can die of appendicitis if it’s not diagnosed and treated.

5. We all have had a hoarse voice at some point in our lives; either after shouting at friends or children, or maybe during allergy season. But a hoarse voice accompanied by chest pain that radiates straight to the back could represent impending disaster. Chest pain is always something you should take seriously; if it radiates to the back and you are hoarse, you may actually have an immediate life-threatening condition called a dissecting aortic aneurysm. The aorta is your largest and most important blood vessel; its delivers blood to every part of the body. In a dissection, there’s damage that basically can cause it to explode. The hoarseness would tell me the tearing is occurring at the arch – a very bad thing. If you or a loved one has these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

6. Tingling, sometimes associated with numbness or burning in various parts of the body. We’ve all gotten that “pins and needles” feeling at some point. But usually it only happens a few times a year, not a couple of times a week. And it is unusual to have that sensation in multiple areas of the body, including the face. Tingling and numbness can be associated with nerve damage as well as diabetes. But they can often be one of the earliest signs of multiple sclerosis. So if you’re experiencing tingling or numbness, you need to see the doctor right away.

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Can Early Signs of Frostbite Go Undetected?

January 06, 2012

FrostbiteBrrrr…Winter has definitely arrived! I know a lot of you love the cold  weather and all it involves - skiing, hot chocolate, making snowmen with children and of course snuggling with your loved one! But the cold weather can also bring danger. We have all heard stories about those hikers who get lost in a blizzard and die from hypothermia. Many of you think you don’t have to worry about frostbite during the winter because you don’t go hiking or engage in winter sports, and it doesn’t seem to get “too cold” depending upon where you live. The reality, however, is that frostbite is a real concern for all of us during these winter months. I’ve seen many patients who have suffered from frostbite who mistakenly thought it only happens to stranded skiers and folks who live in New England. Don’t make the same mistake!

Frostbite occurs when a body part has tissue damage from exposure to cold weather (or cold water). Don’t let its name fool you – just because its name has the word “bite” doesn’t mean it’s like a “dog bite” or “cat bite.” Frostbite is a medical emergency that if left untreated can result in death of the body tissue and even death itself.

So what are the signs of frostbite?

  • The first sign is usually reddish skin that eventually turns whitish or waxy in color. The skin feels cold and seems to be hard. 
  • Numbness of the area and even sometime itchiness.
  • The affected area often becomes swollen; it looks like it’s getting bigger – this is often pretty noticeable.
  • Blisters start to form when frostbite is becoming severe.
  • Black scabs develop when tissue is already dying – a very bad sign.

How do you protect yourself when the thermostat takes a big drop?

  1. Treat the cold as your enemy and be prepared to do battle! The best initial strategy is to minimize your time outdoors when the weather gets below 32 degrees (0 degrees Celcius for you metric lovers). If you don’t need to be outside for more than 30 minutes, don’t.
  2. Make sure you wear layers of clothing and make sure those layers stay dry. Too often, people fall in the snow and their clothes get wet - or they’re sweating profusely. Dry clothes keep you warm - not wet clothes. And take windy days seriously – those days that talk about “wind chill” are important since wind can make you lose heat more quickly.
  3. Keep in mind that it’s the hands, ears, nose and feet that are most at risk. Knowing that, you will hopefully wear a hat! More than 25 percent of heat is lost through the head. Guys - baseball caps are OK if you have nothing else, but you really need to wear a hat that covers the ears. Gloves are an absolute necessity! Two pairs of socks is a good idea if you’re going to do a lot of walking.
  4. I’ve had patients suffer tissue damage when they go outside “for a smoke” with little outer clothing on because they thought the smoking will generate heat. Wrong! Smoking actually increases heat loss from our body and the nicotine decreases circulation. 

Remember that certain health conditions can make you more at risk for frostbite. This includes diabetes and heart disease because they affect blood flow. Also, peripheral vascular disease and even rheumatoid arthritis add an extra risk. Certain medications such as beta blockers can also put you at risk since they impact blood flow. And being older is riskier when we’re outside in the cold since our bodies do not regulate body temperature as well once we pass age 60.

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How Holiday Overeating Affects Your Digestion

December 01, 2011

Weed-wars-nausea-250Around the holidays, we definitely change our eating patterns – and by that, I mean we typically eat a lot more! It’s during this time that there are frequent trips to the emergency room and the doctor’s office with stomach complaints. How do you know if the pains and symptoms you are having are normal? After all, as we get older, digestion does slow down and problems can occur. To understand what is normal and what is not normal, let’s review the digestive process.

How the System Works

Do you remember the GI system from health class in high school? The teacher probably told you to think of the stomach as a food processor. That’s the basic gist. The digestive system is essentially one large tube that breaks down food. And it is a pretty long - over 30 feet if you stretched it out!

Digestion starts in our mouth; from there, food particles move down our esophagus into our stomach and then to the small intestine; they’re then off to the large intestine, and finally they are pushed out from our rectum. Along the way, organs such as the liver, the gallbladder, and the pancreas get into the act, helping with digestion.  

Each organ plays a different role, so there’s potential breakdown in the process at every step. And truthfully, aging can cause some problems along the way. And eating a lot more during the holidays and different types of foods can make things worse!

Bad Eating Habits During the Holidays

We tend to eat more quickly at parties, not always chewing food properly because we’re talking and being social. Poorly chewed food can cause problems farther down – literally.

Remember that it is through contractions that food is propelled down into the stomach. Most people don’t realize that the esophagus is actually made of muscle. As we approach middle age and beyond, the muscles get weaker, the contractions are also not as powerful, and food moves more slowly through the esophagus. That can result in food particles getting stuck, especially if we’re eating a lot, eating quickly and trying new foods.

Getting Gassy After Meals

Have you been belching lately after all those holiday parties? It is caused by swallowing too much air. “Don’t we normally do that?” you may ask. Actually we don’t. Air is supposed to go down our windpipe not down our esophagus into the stomach. So belching is not normal, although it is not serious. We do it more often as we age because we might have dentures that don’t fit properly, or we may not chew our food as well as we should since we’re talking while eating. Some other causes include drinking carbonated beverages quickly – including that celebratory champagne!   

Been getting gas after all those appetizers? What’s the cause? Gas is created through the breakdown of bacteria in our intestines and expelled through our rectum. Some bacteria release a gas when being digested. Don’t panic. It’s all normal.  

Overeating and Constipation

We all get constipated, don’t we?  It’s pretty common, affecting over 50 million people a year. And as we get older, it’s more common, and seems to be more noticeable around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  

What do I mean by constipation? Seems like a simple question but is it?! After all, do we know how many bowel movements a day or week is normal? Actually, we do. Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times per week.

I must tell you – half of the people that tell me they are constipated actually are not! Some people think they are constipated if they do not have a bowel movement every day. However, you don’t need to make a daily bowel movement.  The number of bowel movements you make is determined by how much you eat, what you eat, and how active you are. As long as you’re making a bowel movement three to four times a week, you’re fine. Constipation is almost always temporary. If constipation continues off/on for three months, it is definitely not normal.

When is Diarrhea Normal?

Now let’s move to the opposite of constipation - diarrhea. Diarrhea is loose, watery, and frequent stool. By definition, a person with diarrhea typically passes stool more than three times a day. Along with diarrhea, we often experience cramping and bloating and sometimes nausea.

Most diarrhea lasts only a couple of days. And getting an episode of diarrhea is normal – and it happens at every age.  It’s usually caused by stomach flu or can be from food poisoning.  Diarrhea is usually mild and goes away quickly without complications.  If you are lactose intolerant and drink milk or eat cheese, you likely will get diarrhea – but you probably already know that! At holiday parties where you don’t prepare the food, it’s easy to eat something that doesn’t agree with you. There are some circumstances where diarrhea is dangerous and not considered normal such as blood in stools or intense chronic belly pain.

Worried about an Ulcer?

Concerned about an ulcer? Would you believe that a bacterial infection in our stomach actually can cause an ulcer? When it gets into the stomach, it helps to destroy the protective layer, thus causing an ulcer to develop.

How do you know if you might have an ulcer? Typically you have symptoms. Ulcers can cause gnawing, burning pain in the upper abdomen. These symptoms frequently occur several hours following a meal. The burning sensation can also occur during the night - many patients tell me they cannot sleep it’s so intense. Still others say they are always hungry or that food feels like it is getting stuck in their throat.  Every now and then, someone notices black stools. None of these symptoms are normal. I see a lot more symptoms of ulcers during the holidays – some of it is stress-related and sometimes spicy food is causing the problem. Treatment of ulcers is pretty straightforward, so don’t delay in seeing the doctor.

Like the saying goes, the holidays are a time to “eat, drink, and be merry.” All that eating, drinking, and merriment can cause problems though, so learn what’s normal and what’s not when you start to experience some GI problems.

Got other symptoms you're concerned about? Check out Is This Normal? The Essential Guide to Aging and Beyond.

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Aging And Your Eyes

November 14, 2011

Man-with-glassesHave you been holding books or the newspaper at arm’s length so you can read it more clearly?  If you’re over 40, I bet you are. The truth of the matter is that once we approach our forties, our eyes have already begun changing – sometimes normal, sometimes not-so-normal. So how do you know if the vision changes you are experiencing are serious, or just a natural part of aging? Well, you can do so by learning how aging affects our eyes.

What Really Happens

As we get older, our pupils become smaller and our field of vision decreases. The lens also becomes more rigid. As a result, our ability to focus on objects both near and far becomes more difficult. Our vision also becomes less sharp. You probably have noticed this because it’s hard to read fine print. This usually starts to occur in our forties.

You might even have needed to get a pair of reading glasses lately or been told you need bifocals – all a natural part of aging. You probably have also noticed that you need more light to read clearly as you’ve gotten older.  I’ve noticed this when I’m in a nice restaurant. The restaurant is usually dimly lit, which can provide a nice atmosphere but makes it tough to read the menu or decipher the numbers on the bill when it arrives. This is normal because as you get older, you need more light to see clearly.

But if you get headaches or your eyes seem to get tired after reading small print, you may have presbyopia.  Presbyopia is the medical term for the loss of elasticity of the lens which results in loss of sharp focus for near objects, and it is a normal part of aging. 

Nearly 111 million people in the United States have presbyopia, and that number is supposed to grow to 123 million people in by 2020. Yet only 10% of this population knows that they have this disease.

You can help correct your vision with multifocal glasses or contact lenses to help see clearly at all distances. But it will take more than just a pair of glasses: Correcting presbyopia means your brain will have to adapt to various vision correction prescriptions. Multifocal contact lenses, like AIR OPTIX, are designed to help with all stages of presbyopia and may be a valuable option for those who prefer not to wear glasses. 

Common Problems

Many middle-aged patients come to see me about a common problem called “floaters.”  This refers to the experience of seeing spots or specks that float across the visual field. This can be very scary, especially the first time it occurs.  However, it’s usually normal. To understand floaters, it’s helpful to learn about the vitreous. The vitreous is a jelly-like substance that fills the body of the eye.  It’s attached to the retina, and is typically clear.  However, as we age, it becomes less jelly-like and more water-like.  Sometimes it even detaches from the retina. The floaters are actually little clumps of the jelly-type substance, which then cast shadows.  Again, this is usually normal.  However, if the onset of floaters coincides with a flash of light, or seem to be associated with any sudden physical weakness, see your doctor, as these symptoms can indicate a retinal detachment or even a stroke.

Have you been worried that you seem to have lost some of your ability to discern the difference between colors, or different shades of the same color? Maybe when you’re at a store and take your black sweater to the register, you suddenly realize that it’s actually blue. While we don’t become color-blind as we become older, our ability to distinguish greens and blues can be affected. This is because the lens of the eye begins to yellow with age. You may have even noticed this while watching television or looking at photos – you thought it was HD but now it doesn’t look so crisp! Issues with color does not happen until after age 50, and generally does not cause major problems.  Luckily, traffic lights are red, yellow and green and not blue, yellow and green!

Sudden vision loss is never normal at any age, and needs to be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Do not wait around thinking it might get better. If vision suddenly goes dark or suddenly blurry, get to the emergency room right away.

Eye pain and red eye also need to be discussed with a physician since they typically are symptoms of a disease. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you should have pain in the eye or your eyes should be red several days in a row - that is not normal.


Want to learn more about the aging process? Check out Is This Normal? The Essential Guide to Aging.


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Are Frequent Bathroom Breaks Normal at My Age?

October 31, 2011

ToiletIt’s one of the most common and embarrassing problems for many of us as we get older– keeping control of our urine output. Other than sex, it seems like urination is the topic most people don’t want to talk about when they come to the doctor. As we age, it’s normal to have some problems urinating, but those problems are probably not what you think. Because few people talk about it, patients often do not realize what is normal and what is not normal.

The process of making urine is pretty fascinating. It’s the body’s process of removing waste. Basically, urine is a liquid that is secreted by the kidneys. While traveling through the kidneys, urea, water and other waste combines to form urine.  Urine then travels through two tubes  to the bladder. The bladder is the final stop for urine before you use the bathroom to void. When the bladder becomes full and it starts to stretch, a nerve tells the brain it’s time to urinate.

What's Normal?

You might be surprised to learn that the capacity of the bladder is only one to two cups. That’s not a lot of space, and is important to keep in mind when you are having urinary problems. Age does work against us in maintaining normal bladder function. Increased age is associated with decreased bladder capacity and decreased bladder function. So as we get older, those factors are going to impact our ability to make, hold and control urine.

It’s also good to know that the normal pattern of urination is a decrease in urine output at night.  In other words, you should be voiding more times during the day rather than at night. If I asked most people, what’s considered a normal number of times to go to the bathroom a day, most people have no clue.  Some cannot even remember how many times they go a day!

So what’s the answer? When should you become concerned about the number of times you go to the bathroom? In terms of a total day, seven is the magic number – meaning it’s normal to urinate up to seven times a day.  It’s abnormal to urinate eight or more times a day.

Men vs. Women

Problems with urinating are usually thought of as a condition affecting women. That’s mostly true and in general twice as many women than men are affected. It’s partly due to their anatomy as well as the impact pregnancies have on the urinary system.

However, you’ll be surprised to learn that for some urination problems, that ratio changes as we age. Men also have problems urinating, and like women it occurs throughout their lifetime. The problems increase as men age. One doesn’t usually begin to notice problems until around age 60. By age 60, about 20 percent of men experience problems with urinating. By 85 years of age, however, the prevalence is almost 35 percent. This is not surprising since the majority of men’s urinating problems are related to benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH).


No one wants to admit he/she has a problem with bladder control. So here are the questions I ask patients to determine if bladder control is normal:

  • Do you have or ever had loss of urinary control?
  • Do you ever leak or lose urine when you cough, laugh, or sneeze?
  • How often do you have difficulty holding your urine until you can get to the bathroom?
  • Do you ever use pads, tissue or cloth in your underwear to catch urine?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, you need more tests.

I’ve realized over time that it is when people get up to pee at night that they start to worry something might be wrong. Regardless of age, you should not be getting up more than twice a night to relieve your bladder. Any more often than twice a night is not normal, and requires a trip to the doctor’s office. Getting up at night to pee can indicate more serious disease such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, sleep apnea, or even Parkinson’s. Don’t dismiss it as a normal part of aging!

If you are having problems urinating, you are not alone. But you need to talk to your doctor! Less than half of women and less than 20 percent of men who have urinary problems ever seek care! That’s a tragedy since urinary problems significantly impact one’s quality of life. It’s associated with depression, work-related absences, and in the elderly increases the risks of accidental falls.

Want more explanations to those aging concerns? Check out "Is This Normal? The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond"!

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Is Your Hearing Loss Normal?

October 17, 2011

118368697“What did you say?” That’s a frequent question we ask as we get older. To understand how hearing changes as we age, and what’s normal and what isn’t, let’s review how the ear works. The ears may be small but they’re quite powerful!

Believe it or not, it is actually tiny hairs inside our ears that allow us to hear. The outer portion of our ear catches sounds waves and pushes them down through the auditory canal. The hairs pick up the sound waves and change them into nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. Different groups of hair cells are responsible for high versus low frequencies. Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs inside the ear die or become damaged. The problem is that unlike the hair on our head, hair cells in our ears do not regrow, so hearing loss is usually permanent.

Some hearing loss is a natural part of aging; we even have a medical word for it – presbycusis.  As we get older, several things happen: the tiny bones become less flexible, our auditory nerve becomes weaker and hair cells die. All of this causes hearing loss.

At first, it’s most difficult to hear high-frequency sounds, such as someone talking. A spouse or the child of an elderly parent will often comment that the television volume is quite loud. Or typically, the wife will tell me she has to shout at her husband or repeat what she has said to get a response. (I know, I know…hearing loss isn’t the only reason some husbands do not respond) As hearing gets worse, it becomes more difficult to hear sounds at lower pitches.

It’s important to know that most hearing loss does not become noticeable until we’re in our sixties. And it typically gets worse each decade after age 60. By the time we approach age 70, nearly half of us will have some hearing loss. And age-related hearing loss is typically in both ears, not just one. As you would expect, most of the loss of hearing occurs slowly over time.  Rapid or sudden hearing loss is never normal.

Heredity plays an important part in determining whether you will develop significant hearing loss. So if your parents and grandparents had hearing problems, you will be more likely to as well.

There are some other risk factors for hearing loss. If you had jobs where there was a lot of noise, you’re more likely to have hearing problems as you get older. Examples include construction workers or airplane mechanics. And it is true that if you blast the music in your ears through your headphones, you are likely causing damage that will manifest years later. 

Repeat ear infections can also cause hearing problems later in life. Diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and smoking can also cause hearing problems or make them worse. It’s important to watch your overall health to maximize how well you hear.

When evaluating hearing loss and trying to decide whether it’s a normal part of aging, I ask the following questions:

  • When did the hearing loss start?
  • How has it changed over time? Gotten better? Gotten worse?
  • How well can you understand conversation?
  • Is the problem with background noise or is there hearing loss in a quiet setting?
  • Is there any type of drainage from the ear?
  • Are you experiencing any ear pain?

Remember, normal hearing loss due to aging starts around our 60's, worsens slowly over time, is not painful and doesn’t cause any type of oozing from the ears. 

Hearing loss can be frustrating for both the person talking and the person listening. If you or a loved one has hearing loss, consider getting a hearing aid. Hearing aids have improved tremendously in the last five years; they’re no longer those large pieces hooked on the side of the ear. They also regulate sound much better with less interference. Too often, people with hearing loss become socially isolated because they’re embarrassed that they can’t hear. In addition, we now know that hearing loss can lead to dementia. It is important to have regular hearing tests to help prevent and deter these more serious conditions.

 Want to learn more about what your aging symptoms really mean? Check out Is this Normal? The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond


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How Do I Know If the Symptoms I’m Experiencing Are Normal?

October 06, 2011


  • "How many times is normal to get up at night and go to the bathroom?” 
  • “If I’m having trouble hearing the television, am I going to go deaf?” 
  • “Is it normal to forget where you parked your car - I’m only 40!”
  • “Is it ok if my mom is taking naps during the day, or should I be concerned? She did just retire.”


These are common questions that I get from patients as they get older. And it can be challenging to know the answers when you’re not a medical professional. Yet, it is important to be able to tell the difference between what is a normal part of aging versus a disease. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you should be having ten different medical problems. Yes, you will have some problems such as trouble reading fine print by the time you’re 40, but you’re not going to start having a life of aches and pains just because you’re older. 


I find there are two sorts of patients – those that come in whenever they have any change in a body function, have scoured the internet and now think they have a brain tumor; and then there are those folks who rarely ever come into the office with complaints because they attribute it to “I’m just getting old.” The reality is that it is often diseases that make getting old frustrating, not the normal changes associated with aging. As we get older, too often we are embarrassed to bring up concerns to our doctors, or even get advice for our aging parents. So people needlessly live with pain, depression, bladder problems, vision problems – all the time thinking that these are normal changes, when sometimes they are not!


So I’m here to help you get some more information as to when you should be concerned about that mole on your back, and when you should say that’s just a normal part of aging.  Take the quiz, and let’s see how you do.


More on Aging:

5 Stereotypes About Aging That Aren't True

How Do My Sleeping Habits Change as I Age?

How Does Aging Affect Driving Ability?

7 Ways to Keep Fit

August 22, 2011

Yoga Well, it’s almost the end of summer. I know some of you have been quite active – swimming, hiking, running. Others I’m sure keep saying they’ll wait for Labor Day to get back to the gym. Whichever best describes you, I have some tips to make being active your daily mantra.

Most of us are familiar with the numerous benefits of exercise and daily physical activity, but it can be challenging to find the time to work out regularly. You’ll be more successful by having the mindset of becoming more physically active rather than simply adding “exercise” to a long list of daily chores.

1. Do what you love.

Are you a dancer, runner, or perhaps a swimmer? Getting exercise by doing what you already love is a great way of incorporating physical activity into your life. Even if your favorite thing to do is play video games, there’s a way nowadays to make it active! You could play games that use motion sensor technology, allowing you to move while you play. Or pick dance titles that let you move.

If going to the gym is more your thing, find one that’s close to home, or, even better, within walking distance. You’re more likely to use that gym membership if it’s nearby. If you do have to drive there, don’t spend 20 minutes circling for a close parking spot. You’re there to work out, remember? Instead, park far away and walk all the way to the exercise machines. And don’t forget to bring your favorite music –it makes gym time much more fun!

2. Set realistic goals.

Getting some exercise, even if it’s not for the full hour you had hoped, is better than none.  Don’t let the perfect workout be the enemy of good. Go easy on yourself at first. No one, especially your doctor, is expecting you to run a marathon the first day. Even 30 minutes of activity broken up into three 10-minute segments throughout the day has a proven benefit. If you haven’t been active in a long time, try aiming for even 5-10 minutes of activity. Remember, slow and steady wins the race every time. Too often, people set lofty goals and then become frustrated when they can’t reach them.

When setting exercise goals, I often tell patients to decide whether you’re a morning gym person or an afternoon/evening type. Believe me - you know which one you are! Working out in the morning can give you energy for the whole day and keeps your metabolic rate up – but if you are a zombie before that morning coffee, it’s not going to work. Evening workouts after work can be perfect for folks who get a second wind after 5 pm.

3. Move while at work.

Again, this is where having the mind set of moving and being physically active can really help. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to speak with people rather than calling them or emailing them. Go old-school! In the age of online social networking, nothing beats old-fashioned, real face-time.

Stand, rather than sit, whenever you can. While waiting for those photocopies, do some stretches at the copier. Sure, it might look a little strange at first, but you might actually live longer! During your lunch hour, take a walk outside around the building.

4. Be active at home.

Exercise while watching your favorite TV show. Come on – is it really that hard to do a few pushups or sit-ups during commercial breaks? Try it!

5. Find a buddy or partner to exercise with you.

Nothing ensures success like having someone to motivate and push you on those days when you’d rather just be lazy or quit. Getting your kids involved in sports can also help them learn healthy habits early on and is a great bonding experience for everyone.

6. Take a vacation.

Yes, you read that right! Let the next vacation be one that incorporates some physical activity like hiking. Tour a new city by walking, jogging or biking. Sorry, Segway tours don’t count.

7. Keep a journal.

Keeping a record of your goals and accomplishments is one way to give yourself a pat on the back when you see how far you’ve come. It also helps to have those fitness goals written down somewhere. And if you really want to be bold - tell your friends your goals;  that way, they’ll be asking you about it every so often!

Being active isn’t meant to be painful. Many times, it can actually be fun. See how these tips can help improve your fitness level. The little changes you make to your lifestyle now can yield big results. Years from now, your body will thank you for it!


More Fitness Tips:

Walking to Lose Weight

Total Body Workout Routine

5 Office Exercise Tips


Photo Source: Thinkstock/Valueline

How to Deal with Psoriasis

August 02, 2011

Psoriasis Have you heard? Kim Kardashian has a rash...Well, before you jump to any conclusions, let me tell you that it’s actually a common skin condition…it’s called psoriasis. 


Common Symptoms

If you have psoriasis, you’ll typically notice itchy, dry, red patches covered with thick, silvery, scales. There might be some burning and pain. These patches usually appear on the elbow, knees, legs, lower back, feet and hands. They can even get into your scalp. Sometimes, there’s also pitted nails or stiff joints.

Psoriasis is often misdiagnosed as poison ivy, eczema, rosacea and sometimes even acne. Kim’s sister thought it was ringworm…which it wasn’t. (And that’s why you shouldn’t rely on your non-dermatologist friends to diagnose your rashes!) Psoriasis can be both embarrassing and painful. But there’s no need to remain silent about psoriasis—your doctor may be able to offer you treatments to alleviate your psoriasis symptoms.

Where Did It Come From?

So how did you get it? Is it contagious? Psoriasis is thought to be a problem of your immune system. Your body has a type of special cell called a T-cell that travels throughout your body patrolling for foreign substances (like bacteria) and either kills them or alerts your body that these invaders need to be destroyed. This is usually a good thing. In psoriasis, though, your T-cells accidentally attack healthy skin - triggering new skin cells to be created more quickly than normal.

Basically, your skin is tricked into thinking that it’s damaged and needs to rebuild itself, so your skin produces more cells than it can handle - leading to the inflammation and thick scales that appear in psoriasis. It’s not contagious. But there are some factors that can put you at increased risk - these include stress, smoking and obesity. Genetics play a role too. It’s not surprising that Kim’s mother also suffers from psoriasis; nearly 40% of those afflicted have a family member who is also affected.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

Most of the time, symptoms come and go; flare-ups occur and then there’s a time when symptoms subside. But I’ve got news - the symptoms almost always return. Although there’s not a cure for psoriasis, there are a few remedies that you can try at home to alleviate mild or moderate symptoms. 

  • Take a daily soak in the tub for at least 15 minutes with oatmeal, Epsom salts or bath oil to calm inflamed skin and remove scales. After bathing, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer to your skin before it completely dries.
  • Apply an ointment-based moisturizer to your skin before bed, and then wrap the area with plastic wrap. I know, I know…sounds like you’re becoming mummified! Removing the wrap in the morning and then taking a shower or bath can help to wash away scales. Make sure the water temperature is warm but not hot.
  • Apply coal tar to the skin, one of the oldest and most effective treatments. No one knows exactly how it works, but if you’re willing to put up with the odor and the stains it may make on your clothes or bedding, it could be the treatment for you. Coal tar is available over-the-counter in shampoos and creams. The challenge is many people don’t like the smell.
  • Use cream/ointment with corticosteroids. These help to reduce inflammation and itching. These should not be used every day because they may lose their effectiveness if used for too long, and they also can weaken skin elasticity on the face.
  • A natural way to find relief from psoriasis is through sunlight – that’s right, exposing your skin to sunlight for brief periods of time can relieve symptoms. The UV rays found in sunlight kill T-cells in the skin - reducing the scaling and swelling they create. Keep in mind, though, that too much sun exposure may be equally bad for your skin - leading to worsened symptoms and more permanent skin damage. Thirty minutes or so, three times a week is usually sufficient. There are also various forms of laser therapy that may help in treating your psoriasis.

Severe Psoriasis

If your psoriasis is particularly severe, your doctor may prescribe a variety of oral drugs as well as drugs that require an injection. While on any medication for your psoriasis, be sure to avoid alcohol, as alcohol has the potential to decrease the effectiveness of psoriasis treatments.

Although psoriasis flare-ups can be frustrating, embarrassing and painful, you can and should get relief. If you think your skin irritation is more than just a common rash or if it just won’t go away, talk to your doctor - he or she will be able to guide you toward the support you need.


More on Psoriasis:

How Psoriasis Works

Fact or Fiction: Psoriasis

How Scalp Psoriasis Works

28 Home Remedies for Psoriasis


Photo Source: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

John J. Whyte, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Expert & Vice President for Continuing Medical Education where he develops, designs and delivers health programming.








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