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General Health Matters: A - C

The General Health Matters series covers health topics pertinent to student life in order to promote a safe and healthy university experience.

Topics in this series include:

Antibiotics
Back Pain
Body Art
Cancer
Common Cold
Comp. Therapies
Contact Lenses
Constipation
Coughs
Ears
Eating Disorders
Fever
Finding a Doctor
Gas and Gas Pain
Headaches
Keeping Warm
Mononucleosis
Pink Eye
Sleep
Sore Throat
Sprains & Strains
Summer Sores
Viral Gastroenteritis

If there are topics of interest you would like to see in our Health Matters series, send us an health [dot] promotion [at] mcgill [dot] ca (e-mail) .

A - C

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Antibiotics

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics work by stopping bacteria from reproducing (bacteriostatic) or by destroying bacteria (bactericidal). Antibiotics don’t work at all against infections caused by viruses (colds, flu) and fungi (yeast infections).

A bacterial infection occurs when bacteria grow out of control in your body. Bacteria can destroy tissues and organs, or they can interfere with bodily processes or functions, so this can be a pretty serious problem. Some infections, if serious enough, can lead to death.

There are many classes of antibiotics, which work in different ways to either stop the bacteria from growing, or to kill it. Antibiotics that attack a wide range of bacteria are called “broad-spectrum antibiotics”. Those that attack one type of bacteria are called “narrow-spectrum antibiotics”.

How do antibiotics treat an infection?

When you take antibiotics, they are absorbed into your bloodstream through your digestive system, and are transported throughout the body. When they reach the area of infection, they attack the bacteria. The number of bacteria then begins to decrease.

You may feel cured after a few days, and you may want to stop taking the antibiotic. If you do this, the bacteria that remain in the area will begin to reproduce again, and you will just end up with another infection. It is extremely important to take antibiotics for the full time prescribed in order to get rid of all of the harmful bacteria.

What about resistance to antibiotics?

While you take antibiotics, the number of bacteria decreases until there are almost none left. The ones that are killed off first are the weakest ones, and the few left may have been unaffected, or resistant to the antibiotic. Fortunately, our immune system can recognise these leftover bacteria and eliminate them.

However, if you stop taking the antibiotics before the prescribed time, the resistant bacteria will be numerous enough to create another infection, and a new antibiotic will have to be used. This can lead to bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

What are the possible side effects of antibiotics?

Naturally occurring bacteria in the body, like the intestinal bacteria needed for digestion, can also be affected by antibiotics. This can cause side effects like diarrhea or vaginal yeast infections in women. Intestinal bacteria will return to proper levels after the antibiotics are finished, because they are replenished by the foods we eat. Eating yoghurt containing live bacterial culture may help with diarrhea.

Vaginal yeast infections occur when the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina is thrown off, and the yeast has an opportunity to overgrow. Inserting plain yoghurt, containing the lactobacillus bacteria, into the vagina can help. Test the yoghurt on the external part of your vagina first, to make sure your skin doesn't react badly.

Other side effects can occur, so check with a health care professional.

More about antibiotics

WARNING! Certain antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. An alternate form of birth control should be used.

Always take the full dose of antibiotics. Do not stop when you start feeling better. Be sure to follow the instructions, e.g. taking the pills with meals.

Do not pressure your doctor for a prescription for antibiotics for viral infections, such as the cold or the flu. This is one of the main factors leading to an increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Antibiotics can be used to prevent infection during dental work.

Tell your doctor about any allergies to antibiotics you may have.

Alcohol should be avoided when taking antibiotics as it competes with liver enzymes, which break down the antibiotics. Especially avoid taking the antibiotic Flagyl with alcohol, because you may experience a severe vomiting reaction.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Back Pain

Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common injuries experienced in North America and, after sore throats, it is the most common reason people go to see doctors. Any number of things can cause back pain: lifting something heavy, bad posture, sitting in a weird position while studying all night.

There are some signs that a doctor should examine your back:

  • Persistent pain without improvement for one week
  • Severe spasm or radiation of pain to legs or buttocks (sciatica)
  • Pain that interferes with normal functioning
  • Any numbness, tingling, weakness, or bowel or bladder alterations
  • History of previous back weakness or spine problems
  • Frequent, painful, or bloody urination
  • Leg pain travelling down below the knee
  • Other symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem

If you don't have any of these, you might want to try treating your back pain yourself.

Self-treatment for lower back strain or sprain

Rest
Lie in a comfortable position in a bed with a bed board (3/4” plywood under mattress). One or two days of bed rest should suffice – too much rest will cause your muscles to stiffen and weaken. The best position for your back is on your side, with your knees drawn up toward your chest. A pillow between your knees may also help. Another good resting position is on your back, with a pillow beneath your knees. Do not lie on your stomach, or flat on your back with your legs straight out.

Ice and/or Heat
Ice is used to decrease the swelling of an inflammation, while heat is used to keep your muscles warm and flexible. To relieve initial pain and swell ing, apply ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables wrapped in towels for 10 minutes every two hours for the first one-to-two days, and then apply heat or ice as needed. Some people find moist heat – a hot shower, tub bath, wet towel, heating pad, or hot water bottle – more effective than ice. However, limit heat to 15-20 every few hours – more heat can actually make your back muscles feel drained and tired rather than relaxed. (Always set heating pads on “low” and never fall asleep while it is on your skin – it can burn you.)

Massage
Massage helps increase the blood flow to your muscles, improves muscle tone, and helps your muscles relax. Swedish massage and pressure point or acupressure massage can be especially helpful – just make sure the person giving the massage knows the proper techniques.

Medication
Aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling, as can prescription muscle relaxants. However, muscle relaxants can make you drowsy, and are more bother than the pain itself for some people.

Prevention

To prevent low back pain, avoid strain whenever you are lying, sitting, standing, walking, working, and exercising. Most importantly, keep your stomach and back strong and flexible through regular exercise.

Posture
With correct posture, your internal organs have room to function normally, and blood circulates freely for best total fitness. When standing, an imaginary line dropped from your ear should go through your shoulder, hip, the middle of your knee, and the front of your ankle. Your lower back should be flattened, not swayed back or slouched forward; this creates minimum strain on your back muscles.

Lifting
Squat directly in front of any object to be lifted; rise, letting your legs and thighs do the work. Keep the object you’re lifting close to your body, and don’t twist. Never try to lift anything you can’t easily manage – get help!

Standing
Standing for long periods of time can put a lot of stress on your back. If you must stand, occasionally shift your weight from one side to the other. Or, try propping one of your feet on a footstool six-to-eight inches high.

Sitting
Sit in firm seats with straight backs, keeping your back flat and knees higher than your hips. Rest your feet flat on the floor or on a footstool, or cross your legs so at least one of your knees is higher than your hips. When driving, sit close enough to the steering wheel that your lower back is flattened and perpendicular to the floor, and knees and hips are bent.

Sleeping
Sleep on a firm, flat mattress. It’s best to sleep on your side with your knees and hips bent and a pillow under your head, or on your back with pillows beneath your head and knees. If you must sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your hips to reduce the curve in your lower back. Another tip – watch out for waterbeds. Many do not offer the support your back needs.

Sex
Anyone with back trouble should avoid stress on his or her back during sex. Two possible positions – both partners on their sides facing the same direction (front to back), or the person with back pain on his/her back and the other partner on top (a pillow under the hips can provide extra support).

Packs and sore backs
Among students, heavy backpacks are a common cause of back and shoulder pain. Try carrying a backpack over both shoulders, or at least alternate your pack frequently from one shoulder to the other.

Weight Lifting
Before working with weights, have an expert demonstrate proper techniques. Incorrect squats can be particularly dangerous – never let your back arch. If you have back trouble already, stick with low weights and high repetitions. Make sure your back is supported with a board, bench, or seat back.

Tension
While tension or stress is not often the primary cause of back pain, it can certainly worsen pain and make you more prone to back problems. If this is a problem for you, check out a stress-handling workshop at Counselling.

Exercise

Exercise can be an excellent way to strengthen your body to prevent back pain, or to work your back into shape as part of your self-treatment. Some suggested exercises are listed here. IMPORTANT: Do not do these exercises if they cause you pain.


Exercise 1: Knee to Chest

Kneechest Starting Position: Lie on your back on a table or firm surface.
Action: Clasp your hands behind the thigh and pull it towards your chest. Keep the opposite leg flat on the surface of the table Maintain the position for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.


Exercise 2: Pelvic Tilt

pelvictilt Starting Position: Lie on your back on a table or flat surface. Your feet are flat on the surface and your knees are bent. Keep your legs together. Cross your arms over your chest.
Action: Tilt your pelvis and push your low back to the floor as in the previous exercise, then slowly lift your buttocks off the floor as far as possible without straining. Maintain this position for 5 seconds. Lower your buttocks to the floor. Do not hold your breath.


Exercise 3: Hip Rolling

Hiprolling Starting Position: Lie on your back on a table or firm surface, with both knees bent and feet flat on the table.
Action: Cross your arms over your chest. Turn your head and trunk to the right as you turn both knees to the left. Allow your knees to relax and go down without forcing. Bring knees back up, head to centre. Reverse directions.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Body Art

Body Art

To get what you want from body art, you need to make sure that it is right for you. Give yourself time to consider the decision. If you are unsure, wait.

Check out the studio to make sure it is reputable. Interview the artist beforehand to ensure he or she is an experienced and knowledgeable professional.

Make your decision without pressure from friends. Consider body art permanent. Will you still like your body art 5 or 10 years from now? If you get a new job or partner?

Piercing

Piercing involves puncturing your skin with a sharp object and inserting jewelry through the hole. Here are some things to consider:

A piercing gun should never be used except for piercing ear lobes.

The size of the jewelry matters. It must be large enough to allow for swelling and to minimize infection.

Only certain metals are safe. Jewelry used in piercing should be made from 316L surgical-implant-grade stainless steel, 14– or 18-karat solid gold, niobium, or titanium ONLY.

Avoid do-it-yourself piercing. Piercing requires specialized equipment and you want the option of professional support if problems arise during healing.

Taking care of your piercing

Your piercer should provide you with specific instructions for treatment, but in general keep the pierced area clean by using antiseptic lotion (e.g. Hibidil) and rinse well after washing the area with soap. Apply ice to help reduce swelling and sensitivity.

Healing times for piercings vary:

  • Lips: 6-8 weeks
  • Earlobe or eyebrow: 6-8 weeks
  • Belly Button: 2-6 months
  • Cheek: 2-3 months
  • Tongue: 4-6 weeks
  • Nipple: 2-6 months
  • Genitals: 4 weeks to 8 months, depending on location of piercing.

Tattoos

Tattoos are designs made on your body be injecting ink under your skin with a needle. Here are some things to consider:

Consider a tattoo permanent. Laser treatment can remove tattoos sometimes, but it is very expensive and can cause scaring.

Getting a tattoo hurts. Many people believe that pain is more annoying than unbearable, while others think the outlining of a design hurts more than the shading.

Where will it hurt?

The least painful areas of the body to get a tattoo are usually the fleshy parts of the arms and legs.
The chest and back are much more painful. The sternum and ribs are the worst areas.
Generally, the areas of over bone hurt more as well as areas near joints (ankles, wrists, knees, elbows) because more nerves are located there.

Try a temporary tattoo or try markers for a few days, to help you decide if you really want a tattoo. Try to approximate the design, size and area you are considering.

Taking care of your tattoo

Usually tattoos take about 2-3 weeks to heal. Your tattoo artist should provide you with specific instruction for treatment, but in general:
Don’t pick at the skin or at the scabs that form, even if it itches. This may increase your chances of infection and prolong healing. Moisturize your skin, but not too much. Stay out of the sun and use sunscreen. Sunlight will fade a tattoo over time.

Branding/Scarification

Branding and scarification make designs or marks by scarring the skin and should be considered permanent. Branding is done by heating surgical sheet metal to 1900-2100 degrees Farenheit and then applying it to the skin. Scarification is done most frequently (and most safely) with a scalpel blade making small cuts to the skin. Some things to consider:

Flat, fleshy areas (thigh, arm, shoulder, back) are the usual sites for branding and scarification.

Avoid branding/scarification near joints, it may hinder movement and mobility. Plan on a healing time of 3-6 weeks.

When to See Your Doctor

Since body art involves cutting, burning or puncturing the skin, there is always a chance of infection. Some swelling, redness and soreness is usually normal as your body art heals, but if you have any of the following signs of infection, you should see your doctor:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge or pus from the body art
  • Continuous oozing or bleeding
  • Heat or red streaks originating from and moving away from the art.
  • Pain doesn’t go away or increases
  • Unusual pain or swelling

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Cancer

Cancer

Cancer is a general term for a group of diseases where abnormal cells in an organ or tissue grow out of control. When cells grow in this manner they form a growth, or tumor. Benign tumors grow and enlarge only on the site where they began. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, have the potential to invade other parts of the body, destroying the normal, healthy tissue. This pamphlet will help you understand some of the cancers most common to men.

Lung Cancer

In Canada, lung cancer is the leader in cancer deaths among men. While scientists and researchers tend to debate the exact causes of lung cancer this is known: in 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer, cigarette smoking is the cause.

So it's pretty simple, if you smoke, quit! The sooner you quit, the sooner your risk of developing lung cancer will decrease. Switching to pipes or cigars DOES NOT help either because you are still inhaling toxic agents within your lungs.

Even chewing tobacco has been linked to increased incidents of gum diseases and mouth cancer. And if that isn't enough, men who smoke are twice as likely to go bald.

“I can quit any time I want!” Sure, sure. Nobody said quitting would be easy, nicotine is a psychoactive, addictive drug known to cause significant changes in body chemistry.

If you've tried and failed there's no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed. If you've tried and failed and are trying again, good for you!

If you want to quit the best thing to do is make an appointment to see your doctor in order to discuss all of your options and decide a course of action.

Also, here are a few tips:

  • If you are quitting on your own choose a time when you are not under a lot of stress or pressure, like a weekend.
  • Get rid of all cigarettes, matches, lighters and astrays. Don't put them in a safe place, THROW THEM OUT!
  • Try to avoid activities or people that you associate with smoking.
  • Be careful when drinking alcohol because studies have shown for years that drinking increasing the craving to smoke.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers; nearly 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in Canada alone. Skin cancer is most often caused by prolonged exposure to the sun and the changes in your skin that result in cancer develop cumulatively and irreversibly.

Reducing exposure to sunlight and avoiding sunburn significantly lessen the risk of developing sun cancer:
ALWAYS apply sunscreen to all exposed skin (at least SPF 15) and wear sunglasses that absorb UVA light.

Unlike the rest of the body, lops do not have the protection of melanin. Make sure to protect your lips with a sunscreen in stick form that has a high sun protection factor (at least SPF 15).

Avoid wearing after shave lotions or perfumes to the beach or pool, they increase the skin's sensitivity to light.

Beware of sunlight reflected from snow or water covered surfaces.
DO NOT rely on water to provide protection from the sun. Apply sunscreen an hour before exposure or swimming to allow sufficient time for the sunscreen to penetrate the skin. Reapply often, especially after swimming or excessive perspiration.

In most forms of cancer the key is early detection; this is also true for skin cancer. KNOW YOUR SKIN AND ITS MOLES. Pay special attention to areas of your body that are usually exposed to the sun, including your face, neck, hands, scalp and ears, in addition to the rest of your body. These ABCDs could be signs of melanoma in your mole:

Asymmetry: shape of one half looks different from the other.
Border irregularity: outer edge is scalloped or not a consistent shape.
Colour variation: different shades within the mole.
Diameter greater than 6 mm: mole is larger than the end of a pencil.

By performing a simple self-examination once a month, you will get to know the moles and pigmentations of your body. You will then be equipped to recognize any irregularities or potential dangers.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Cold

Common Cold

There are over 200 viruses that lead to coughs and colds by attacking your body's nasal and throat passages. Once you catch a cold from a specific virus, you gain immunity to it by producing antibodies. However, that doesn't mean that you become immune to another of the viruses that can cause a cold. This is why you can get many colds during your lifetime.

Transmission of Cold Viruses

Colds are spread mainly through hand-to-hand contact, but they can also be transmitted through coughing or sneezing or contact with an object that has just been touched by someone with a cold.

Symptoms of a Cold

Congestion occurs when the virus attacks the lining of your nasal passages, causing swelling and increased mucus production.
Coughing is a reflex action that occurs in response to this increased irritation in you throat. It is your body’s attempt to get mucus out of your airways.

Fever

Sore throat develops when the lining of the throat becomes inflamed as the body attempts to fight off the virus.

Treating Your Cold

Once you catch a cold, you cannot cure it, but you can treat the symptoms:
Rest and relaxation will help your body fight off the cold by conserving your energy.

Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids help loosen you mucus, soothe your sore throat, and replace fluids lost because of a fever. DO NOT drink alcohol, it will dry the tissues in your throat.

Stop or at least cut down on smoking.
Hot liquids (such as ginger tea or chicken soup), humidifiers, and saline nose drops may loosen and clear nasal secretions.
A salt water gargle (1/4 tsp. salt per glass), warm liquids or sucking on hard candy may help relieve a sore throat.
Petroleum jelly may be applied to the lips and below the nose to relieve irritation from frequent nose blowing.

Over-the-Counter Cold Remedies

There are several over-the-counter medications available in your local drug store or pharmacy which may help alleviate your cold symptoms. Please remember, though, that they will not cure your cold. When using these medications, read the labels carefully and ensure that the product you are taking is designed for your symptoms. As the pharmacist to help you make your choice.

Decongestants help shrink swollen blood vessels in the nose and air passages. However, they may make you nervous and give you difficulty sleeping, and should not be taken by anyone with high blood pressure, an irregular heart rhythm, glaucoma or heart disease. If you have asthma, diabetes or are pregnant, check with the pharmacist before using decongestants.

Antihistamines block the action of histamines, chemicals involved in the body’s allergic response. When used to treat cold symptoms, antihistamines are usually combined with decongestants, and may help relieve your runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. These drugs make you drowsy, however, and should not be taken if you need to drive, concentrate well or operate machinery.

Cough suppressants help prevent the cough reflex and are used to relieve dry coughs. They often contain the ingredient dextromethophan (DM).

Cough expectorants help clear phlegm from your throat and are used to relieve wet coughs.

Nasal sprays are decongestants applied directly to the affected area. These should not be used for more than 3 days, since they create a “rebound effect”, increasing your congestion after the decongestant effect wears off.

Analgesics such as acetaminophen (Atasol, Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and ASA (Acetylsalicylic acid or Aspirin) can help relieve headaches, muscle aches, fever and sore throat. Ibuprofen and ASA also have anti-inflammatory effects, but should be avoided by people with ulcers or bleeding disorders because they can cause stomach upset and internal bleeding. Acetaminophen has far fewer side effects, but lacks the anti-inflammatory effects.

Herbal Cold Remedies
Vitamin C is definitely the most studied of the alternative cold remedies but research is inconclusive. While some studies show that Vitamin C has no effect, others have demonstrated that cold could be prevented if Vitamin C is taken prior to exposure, and that symptoms resolve more rapidly if Vitamin C is taken after a patient is infected.

However, doses are many times more than what is required on a daily basis as a vitamin. At least 4 grams should be taken daily, divided into at least 3 doses, since Vitamin C is rapidly degraded and excreted by the kidneys. Also make sure to drink plenty of fluids to help your kidneys flush it out. Chewable tablets are much more palatable and easier on the stomach, but they also contain a lot of artificial sweeteners

In addition, large doses of Vitamin C taken over a prolonged period may lead to diarrhea and other mild side effects. DO NOT take Vitamin C if you have kidney stones or a stomach ulcer.

Zinc gluconate is widely available as zinc supplements in 10, 25 and 50 mg tablets. It can be sucked as a lozenge for sore throats and is highly effective even in lower strengths.

Echinacea is a common purple coneflower, the root of which was traditionally used by Indigenous people as a natural antibiotic. It is widely available in most pharmacies and health food stores in form of capsules of powdered root or as liquid extracts.

It is believed that Echinacea helps to reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold. It is important, though, to follow the dosage recommendations of the product you use, because large doses may cause indigestion and diarrhea.

Occilococcinum is a homeopathic remedy available in most pharmacies. It comes in a box containing 3 single dose tubes.

Each tube contains tiny lactose granules which must be kept under the tongue until they dissolve. This is repeated once or twice on the first day of symptoms, and then once daily until complete resolution. Occilococcinum is intended to help relieve the flu characterized by fever, chills, malaise, as well as basic cold symptoms.

Chinese herbs are often very effective remedies against the common cold, but they can usually only be found in Chinatown. It is essential to take the appropriate remedy for your symptoms because there are important differences between the various types and in Traditional Chinese Medicine all colds are not created equal.

You should see a doctor if you have

  • A temperature of 38.5ºC (101ºF) or more.
  • A temperature of 38ºC (100.2ºF) or more for more than 2 days.
  • Severe pain in the chest, head, ears or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or abundant green phlegm.
  • Persistent sore throat and fever for more than 1 week.
  • Enlarged neck glands.
  • Thick, yellowish-green nasal discharge

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Complimentary Therapies

Complimentary Therapies

Many of the holistic or alternative medicine systems are based on systems of thought which promote an equilibrium between mind and body, tending toward prevention rather than cure. Increasingly, many are becoming recognized in the West. Some are now partially covered by health insurance. Here's an idea of what you might encounter:

Acupuncture

Literally, needle insertion. This now well known traditional Chinese art often provides significant pain relief in addition to curing some ailments by stimulating the flow of blood (and vital energy - Qi) - theoretically, in order to rebalance bodily disharmonies.

Aromatherapy

The use of essential oils extracted from plants and administered through massage, inhalation, or bath to promote general well being as well as to combat ailments. (For the true sensualist.)

Chiropractic

If you've had back pain you've probably heard of chiropractors. Their manipulation of the body's structures, especially the spinal column, helps to restore normal function to the body. It is widely used and recognized.

Herbalism

Direct use of medicinal plants that stimulate the body's natural healing abilities. Although plant medicines often don't have the damaging side effects of manufactured drugs, they are not without their dangers. As always, inform yourself and be careful.

Homeopathy

Functions on the principle that the symptoms of a disease are part of the body's attempt to restore balance; therefore, homeopaths offer minute doses of substances which would create disease-like symptoms in a healthy person. The opposite is the suppression of symptoms by attacking the cause (allopathy).

Naturopathy

A multifaceted system involving various forms of diagnosis and treatment including various naturally based therapies. The aim is both to decrease the virulence of the disease agent and to increase the body's resistance abilities.

Osteopathy

A system which deals with the entire framework of the body and its structural/mechanical problems. It mainly involves manipulation, and in some cases surgery, in order to restore functioning and movement.

Polarity Therapy

Based on the theory that the body has its own electro-magnetic field whose energy can sometimes be out of balance. Pressure is applied to two related (polar) areas until their energy is in equilibrium - this balanced energy is thought to be the foundation of good health.

Reflexology

Serves to relieve tension, improve circulation and promote the body's natural functioning by the application of pressure to reflex points which are associated with specific glands or organs in the body.

Rolfing

Rolfing is the manipulation of the body's connective tissues (fascia) to realign structure, increasing range of movement, restoring balance, and providing greater ease of posture. Its "massage" techniques are very deep; in fact, they may often be painful.

Shiatsu

Also know as acupressure, it is the use of finger pressure on acupuncture points. Shiatsu also uses some stretching, but don't expect the kneading and patting of Swedish massage.

Yoga

An Indian practice of simple stretching, breathing and meditation in order to achieve deep relaxation and bodily harmony.

Don't consider this an exhaustive list, there's much more to discover if you decide to take the plunge. Remember: these treatments should NOT take the place of medical care. However, if you are interested in general well being or new ways to deal with common ailments, look into it. Always ensure that the practitioner you consult is reputable.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Glasses

Contact Lenses

For over 2 million Canadians, contact lenses provide a convenient alternative to glasses. Floating on a thin layer of tear fluid they are worn directly over the cornea of the eye. Proper maintenance, limited wear time and avoidance of overnight use can result in contact lenses being convenient, effective and safe.

Your Eye’s Oxygen

The eye is the only organ of your body which relies on the flow of oxygen from the outside environment passing through the cornea to achieve adequate oxygenation. Oxygenation cannot occur when your eyelids are closed and therefore can only occur during waking time when you eyes are open and you ARE NOT wearing your contacts.

You should wear you contact for a maximum of 8-10 hours a day. In addition, you should remove them at least ½ hour before going to bed and wait ½ hour before putting them in after waking up in the morning.

If You Experience Any Eye Redness, Discharge or Itchiness

IMMEDIATELY remove your lenses and do not reinsert until the discomfort has resolved or you have consulted a physician or eye specialist.

If redness or discharge is present, apply clean warm compresses to each eye individually, and carefully wash your hands after touching your eyes in any way, (to avoid cross infection).

If you think your irritation could be due to allergies, use a cold compress. Do not apply eye makeup during any incidence of eye irritation, and once the episode has resolved discard the old makeup and purchase fresh stock (to avoid re-infection). If you must touch your eyes, do so with a tissue you can discard.

If the discharge increases or if the discomfort does not improve in 2 days, see a doctor. These symptoms may be signs of keratitis, conjunctivitis, a corneal abrasion or another serious eye condition.

Keratitis

If your eyes receive chronically insufficient levels of oxygenation, a condition called keratitis, or ulcers of the cornea may develop. Symptoms of keratitis include swelling of the cornea and pus-like mucousal discharge. It is however a painless condition. Corneal ulcers can puncture or scar the cornea, and can lead to partial blindness or permanently blurred vision.

Conjunctivitis

Commonly referred to as “pink eye”, this inflammation of one or both eyes typically involves redness, itchiness, mucous-like discharge, occasionally the sensation of feeling a grain of sand under the eyelid(s), and possible intolerance of bright lights. There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viral infection is the most common cause. Other causes are allergies (allergic conjunctivitis), chemical exposure, and certain systemic diseases.

Corneal Abrasion

Corneal abrasions can occur through over-wearing lenses (either exceeding the recommended number of hours/day, or the contact life expectancy), trauma from a foreign body, trauma during insertion or removal of your lenses, or trauma from a non-intact lens, (e.g. torn lens). They are diagnosed by a physician and while minor abrasions may not require any treatment, more serious abrasions typically require application of antibiotic ointment.

Contact Lens Care

A number of cleaning and soaking solutions exist, follow that regime which is recommended by your eye care practitioner. Most cleaning regimes involve the following steps:

  • apply 1-2 drops of cleaning solution and gently rub into lens with fingertip
  • rinse thoroughly
  • store in lens case filled with soaking solution
  • weekly soaks in enzyme tablets may be indicated for certain types of lenses to remove protein accumulation, (non-disposable lenses only).

Lens cases should be changed every 6 months as protein builds up and cannot be removed, even by boiling.

Types of Contact Lenses

Hard lenses were the first type of contact lens developed. Made of hard plastic they do not absorb protein from the eye.

Soft lenses contain between 30-80% water, and allow more oxygen then hard lenses to reach the cornea. They are less durable then hard lenses and may increase the risk of infection as bacteria, dirt and chemicals can collect more easily.

Extended wear lenses are soft lenses marketed to be worn continuously, (i.e. even while asleep). However a major US study suggests that extended use of lenses, especially when worn overnight, significantly increases the risk of ulcers of the cornea, (keratitis). The US FDA reduced the time-wear of these lenses to a maximum of seven days, while opthamologists and optometrists advise their patients against extended wearing of any contact lenses.

Rigid gas permeable lenses combine the features of both hard and soft lenses. They have greater oxygen permeability then hard lenses and greater durability then soft lenses.

Disposable lenses are one-time lenses that do not require the same number of cleaning products nor the same degree of maintenance and therefore may both be more hygienic and cost-effective for some users.

Tinted lenses are intended to enhance eye colour and these lenses may reduce visibility in low light situations.

Glasses

Plastic lenses are suggested as they are typically more resistant to breakage, and in the event of breakage, would cause little damage to the eye. The same is not true of glass lenses which, if broken, could result in shards and a higher possibility of serious eye trauma.

Despite the variety of cleaning products available for glasses, warm soap and water, and gently drying with a soft towel is the most efficient and economical way of cleaning your glasses. Use Kleenex with caution as it scratches plastic lenses.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses can improve your vision by reducing glare, improving contrast and enhancing your comfort in the sun. They can also prevent direct damage to the eye from light, however you should never stare at the sun directly even with sunglasses on. The sun can burn our eyes in about 10-15 seconds, and this usually results in permanent loss of vision.

A neutral, uniformly shaded medium-to-dark gray, brown or green lens will filter out most unwanted light with minimal distortion. These qualities are available in many inexpensive sunglasses.

Types of Sunglass Lenses

Polarizing lenses work to reduce the amount of glare due to reflection, e.g. the sunlight which bounces off surfaces such as water or snow.

Photochromic lenses respond to the intensity of the UV and temperature, darkening more outdoors and in hot weather.

Mirror lenses reflect unwanted light rather then absorbing it. They scratch easily so anti-scratch treatment is recommended.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Constipation

Constipation

What is constipation?
Constipation commonly refers to infrequent bowel movements. Symptoms of constipation can also include passing stool that is hard and dry, needing to strain to have a bowel movement, feeling a sense of incomplete evacuation, or sometimes feeling pain when passing stool.

You may be constipated if you have three bowel movements or fewer in a week. Some people think that they should have a bowel movement once a day but there is no “right” number. Everyone is different and your body finds its own normal number of bowel movements. The average number for adults can vary between three times a day to three times a week. Many people think that they are constipated when they are not.

Almost everyone gets constipated at some time and brief periods of constipation are normal.

What are the causes?

The normal number of bowel movements that you have depends on the food you eat, how much fluid you drink, how much you exercise, and environmental changes. Constipation can be aggravated by travel, a change in diet, or from repeatedly ignoring the urge to go. Some medications can also cause constipation.

What should I do if I am?

Eat more fiber. Fiber helps form soft, bulky stool and is found in vegetables, fruits, and grains. Add fiber gradually to your diet so that your body can get used to it. Limit foods with little or no fiber such as ice cream, chips, pizza, and processed foods like frozen dinners.

Drink at least 6 to 8 cups of water or other liquids daily. Try to avoid caffeine or alcohol as they tend to dry out your digestive system.

Get regular exercise to keep your digestive system healthy and active.

Don’t resist any urges to have a bowel movement and give yourself enough time to go. Even if you are busy, pay attention to your body’s needs.

Take a laxative only if a doctor says you should. Laxatives will make you pass stool but most people with mild constipation don’t need them. If you need a laxative, take an over-the-counter bulk-forming laxative that contains fiber like Metamucil. Avoid stimulant laxatives as they can be harmful if overused.

When should you see a doctor?

  • Blood appears in the stool.
  • You have sudden constipation with abdominal cramps.
  • You have sharp or severe abdominal pain, especially if you are bloated.
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea.
  • Constipation lasts for more than three weeks and there has been a change in your bowel habits such as a change in the frequency or size of stool or an increased difficulty in passing stool.
  • You have been experiencing unexplained weight loss.
  • You have rectal pain.

 

Click to download a pdf version. General Health Matters: Coughs

Coughs

What causes coughing?
Coughing clears the lungs and airways but it is only a symptom of the problem that is causing the cough. A cough may be caused by inflammation of the lungs or by exposure to allergens, smoke, dust, dry air, cold air, or post-nasal drip (nasal mucus that drips into the back of the throat). A cough can also be a symptom of an illness such as asthma or bronchitis. The most common cause is the common cold. A cough related to a cold should run its course within 5 to 7 days but can last up to 3 weeks.

The 3 kinds of coughs

  • Productive coughs bring up mucus or phlegm. You may feel a heaviness in your chest, hear crackling noises when you breathe, or feel as though you have something in your lungs.
  • Non-productive coughs are dry coughs where nothing is coughed up.
  • Reflex coughs come from a problem somewhere else such as the ear or stomach.

What to do for a cough

The way to treat a cough depends on the kind of cough you have. In general, you should drink plenty of fluids and stay away from smoking and second-hand smoke. Since coughs are usually caused by the common cold, you should get more rest and eat well.

Caring for a productive cough
An over-the-counter expectorant or cough medicine containing guaifenesin can help reduce the coughing by allowing you to cough up phlegm more easily and effectively.
Use a cool-mist vaporizer in your room
Take a shower. The steam can thin mucus.

Caring for a dry cough

An over-the-counter suppressant (antitussive) can help if frequent coughing tires you out, disrupts your sleep, causes pain in the chest or ribs, or interferes with daily activities. Medicines containing Dextromethorphan are the most common and these can identified by the symbol "DM" on the label. Also try sucking on cough drops or hard candy

When should you see a doctor?

If you have the following symptoms:

  • You have a fever of 39ºC (102.2ºF) or higher
  • You are short of breath and not able to say more than 4 to 5 words between breaths
  • You have an itchy, red splotchy rash
  • Fainting occurs
  • Your chest hurts only when you cough and the pain goes away when you sit up or lean forward
  • You cough up blood
  • You cough up green mucus for more than 3 days
  • Your cough lasts for more than a week
  • You lose weight for no reason, feel tired, and sweat a lot at night
  • You have a chronic respiratory disease (e.g. asthma) and are not getting better with your regular treatment regimen