Top reasons people visit the doctor during the summer

As my children finish out another school year and the whole family settles in to our summer routine, I can’t help but be reminded of how nice it is to have made it through another winter of cold and flu season. After a winter of spending significantly more time indoors and in closer quarters with other people – the characteristic of winter which inevitably leads to more effective sharing of illness-causing germs and more frequent trips to see the doctor – I routinely find myself welcoming the sunshine, the swimming, and all of the other outdoor activities that summer brings.

As I buy my summer supply of sunscreen, fill prescriptions for allergy meds and remind my teenagers that they are still expected to wear their bicycle helmets, however, I am also reminded that stepping into summer fun and sun is not without its own set of reasons to visit the doctor. After all, this warmly welcomed season comes with its own set of most common illnesses, ailments and injuries.

Seasonal Allergies. For millions of allergy sufferers, some of the sure signs of summer – freshly cut grass, pollen and weeds to name a few – also serve to bring about itchy eyes and runny noses. Allergy symptoms that often start in the spring can and often do persist throughout the summer and into the fall, and can range from annoying eyes, nose and skin irritations to more serious sinus infections and difficulties with breathing and wheezing – all of which may warrant a trip to the doctor for diagnosis and/or treatment.

Bites. Need I say more? Spider bites. Mosquito bites. Tick bites. These too are the signs of the season, and in some cases warrant a trip to the doctor – in some cases for identification, because of increasing pain, redness, swelling, or the appearance of a rash, or for symptomatic treatment.

Broken Bones. Along with the welcoming outdoor weather and increased physical activity of the summertime comes a noticeable increase in injuries which, in addition to the common bumps, bruises, and skinned knees characteristic of the season comes the increased likelihood of broken bones. While necessitating a trip to the doctor, the good news about broken bones is that despite the temporary pain and limitations, children’s bones actually heal incredibly well.

Diarrhea. Not only do summer viruses have the distinct ability to cause some less-than-desirable effects when it comes to vomiting and diarrhea, but so do several bacteria known for contaminating food and summertime fun. That means that in addition to recognizing and regularly acting on the importance of hand washing when dirty, when in contact with germy hands or surfaces, or when exposed to someone who is sick, remember to heed.

Rashes – in addition to bug bites, rashes such as heat rash, increasingly dry skin and eczema, sunburns, and contact rashes such as poison ivy all tend to make their appearances in summer. Generally, a trip to the doctor is warranted either to figure out what the rash is, and/or figure out how best to treat the often-associated discomforts.

Stings. Head outdoors in the summer and you’re sure to find bees. While I only just finished listening to a world-renowned bee expert give a TED talk on how crucial bees are to the world’s food supply, nevertheless as a physician when I hear “bees” I think bee stings. While a run-of-the-mill bee sting doesn’t typically necessitate a doctor visit, some people can have enough pain, swelling and even – in some instances, all-out allergic reaction that requires medical attention.

Sun-related. While sun may be one of the things we all look forward to most about summer, having a healthy respect for its ability to cause sunburn, dehydration and heat stroke – especially during the peak hours of 10a to 2p – can help keep your family out of the doctor’s office, as can making sure you stay well-hydrated and well-equipped with sunscreen.

Swimmer’s ear. Also referred to as “otitis externa,” this common ailment of summer occurs as the result of repeated exposure to water, and typically presents itself as an annoyingly itchy and often painful irritation of the ear canal. While the pain and redness are often alarming enough to bring people in to see their doctors, the good news is that simply drying out the ear canal and treating the infection work very well.

Viral illnesses. While we all tend to think of winter as the time for cold and flu viruses to lurk, there are still plenty of summertime viruses – most notably a group called enteroviruses – that can cause anything from vomiting and diarrhea to hand foot mouth, and/or croup-like illnesses. In most cases, what most determines the need for a trip to the doctor is the persistence of high fevers, dehydration, lethargy, accompanying rashes, or simply reassurance.

Well visits (for school). I would be remiss as a pediatrician if I did not remember to mention that while you may think of them as “school physicals”, summertime is actually a great time to beat the crowds of people who wait until just before school starts and take your school-age child in now for his/her annual well visit (not to mention camp physical, sports participation physical, etc).

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska

From Pyramid to Plate – What Parents Need to Know about Healthy Eating

If you didn’t catch last week’s long awaited reveal, you missed some big news….at least in the world of obesity prevention and healthy living. That’s because as of last week, it’s now out with the Food Pyramid and in with a fresh new USDA MyPlate. This fresh-faced picture of nutritional health comes in the form of a simplified icon illustrating what we all should be eating: fruits and vegetables filling half the plate, with the other half dedicated to grains (preferably whole) and protein. Ever since the plate’s big reveal, I’ve heard the question of whether this noble effort will make a difference in our big-picture fight against obesity.

In order to answer this question, we should first address the fact that just about everyone – parents and professionals alike – found the Food Pyramid (and it’s many pyramid permutations) more than a bit perplexing. Sure, in all of our heart of hearts we already know that we should be eating lots more fruits and vegetables interspersed with some whole grains and lean protein. But there’s no denying that a picture speaks a thousand words. Given that the recently retired pyramid icon typically required nearly that many words of explanation, the overall lack of understanding posed a pretty big problem. In other words, I hope the fact that we now have something far more visually appealing in MyPlate will make the nutritional message it serves much easier to digest.

That said, there’s a very big difference between knowing what we should be doing (or in this case, eating) and what we actually do or eat. When it comes to MyPlate, we therefore need to make sure to look beyond the colorful picture and commit to taking a closer look at other plate-related problems that are negatively contributing to our nutritional state of well-being.

This includes acknowledging the fact that far too many meals are eaten without even using a plate! Recent studies support the disturbing statistic that children get more than a quarter of their daily calories from snacking. And what they snack on is typically high-density, unhealthy foods. For anyone not up-to-speed on the terminology of poor nutrition, this translates into Cheetos and Big Gulps. Now before you shake your head in dietary disgust and then decide this doesn’t apply to you, I’m willing to bet that the eating and snacking habits of most adults aren’t much better. That applies not only to snacking, but to the huge number of Americans who consume fast food meals so often that they get by without plates altogether.

Although there are a few scattered efforts in the fast food industry to offer an healthier item or two on the menu, when we’re talking fast food, we’re almost always talking about the likes of French fries and bacon double cheeseburgers. When it comes to the problem of snacking and fast food alike, I think that even just requiring the use of a plate, and making it a rule that your children (and you) have to sit down to eat off of it could improve the situation. Combine that with a sincere effort to meet the new MyPlate recommendations and you’ll find that there’s absolutely no place on the plate for most fast food fare (or Cheetos).

Moving on to another super-sized plate problem, it’s worth pointing out that our eyes are not the only things that tend to be bigger than our stomachs. For those who do a good job of making a point to use a plate, you’ll want to be aware that there have been some pretty big changes made to plates over recent years….as in they’ve gotten bigger and bigger (right along with everything from soda bottles and bagels to mugs and bowls). And whether you believe it or not, studies show that the bigger the serving dish, the bigger the serving is likely to be. And the more we heap on our plates, the more likely we are to overeat. My suggestion? Try eating off a smaller plate, or at least resist the urge to fill it.

And finally, lets get to the substance at hand. What I really like about the new plate illustration is that it makes it much easier to compare it to one’s own plate full of food and in most cases, recognize the distinct lack of fruits and vegetables. It also has the added benefit of opening up new dietary possibilities. In my experience, most people seem to have quite a few preconceived notions about what’s appropriate to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m willing to bet that even those who eat the recommended proportions of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein at dinner (and maybe even lunch) may not have previously consider serving up this balanced approach at breakfast.

So there you have it – a more detailed look at the implications of a plate than I ever thought I’d write, but one that I am convinced is well worth it. Both for your sake, and for your children’s, I hope all of you will give MyPlate the consideration it deserves. Whether you choose to plant a garden, take a trip to one of Omaha’s many farmer’s markets or spend more time in your local grocery store’s produce department, please don’t forget to consider that not everyone is fortunate to have access to affordable and readily available fresh fruits and vegetables (or whole grains or lean protein, for that matter).

If you’re interested in looking beyond your own family’s plate, consider checking out the Omaha Food Bank’s program that makes use of a produce truck (that looks convincingly like an ice cream truck) to deliver fresh produce to parts of Omaha with the greatest need. I’m sure they won’t mind me suggesting you call them up if you have produce to share or financial support to help further their worthwhile work.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska