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July 2022
SHOULD I...?

...be less concerned about COVID-19 if I have food allergies?

National Institute of Health (NIH) findings suggest that people with food allergies are less likely to become infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, than those who do not have them. Investigators found that having a “self-reported, physician-diagnosed food allergy” decreased the risk of infection by half, but asthma and other allergic conditions observed (eczema and allergic rhinitis) were not associated with reduced risk of infection. The research also linked obesity and high body mass index to risk for SARS-Cov-2 infection and found that transmission of the virus in households with children is higher.

Of course, correlation does not always equal causation. It is well known that various other factors may increase the risk of transmission and infection. Therefore, it is still recommended that individuals discuss their risk factors with their physician and take steps to implement public health measures that can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Our reliable, regularly-updated COVID-19 collections help keep you up to date on resources and actions to help stay safe during the pandemic.

...be concerned about UV light year-round (not just in the summer)?

July is UV Safety Awareness Month. It’s time to think about protecting our eyes and skin from the harmful side effects of UV light. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and MedlinePlus offer some helpful safety tips for year-round protection.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison discusses both the benefits of UV light (vitamin D), as well the numerous risks: skin aging, vision problems and skin cancer. They mention the importance of protecting yourself year-round, since rays can still penetrate through clouds. One critical defense is sunscreen, with a CDC-recommended SPF of at least 15. Don’t forget to check the expiration date before use and to reapply every 2-3 hours. Other tips include covering up with a hat and sunglasses and taking advantage of the shade. MedlinePlus recommends wearing sun protective clothing: particular pieces of clothing can absorb UV rays and there are also special sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays for anyone over the age of one.

Our Emergencies and Your Health collection has information on medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight and heat. Given this time of year, it is especially important to stay informed and learn about all the ways to protect yourself.

...consider ways to counteract the fatigue that comes with uterine fibroids?

According to the Mayo Clinic, uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that occur in the uterus. Symptoms may include heavy menstrual bleeding, periods lasting longer than a week, pelvic pressure or pain, frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder, constipation and backache or leg pains.  

Cleveland Clinic addresses the symptom of fatigue and offers ways to make it more manageable. The fatigue is related to the excessive bleeding and loss of blood that accompanies uterine fibroids. There is also a chance that the blood loss can cause anemia, so it is important to talk to your doctor about specifically testing for anemia. After that, the first step should be to get more iron into your system. Consuming foods rich in iron including figs, raisins, dates, eggs, chicken, and more may be extremely beneficial. Vitamin C can also assist you in absorbing iron, so look into pairing your iron rich foods with foods high in vitamin C: lemons, strawberries, oranges, and broccoli. In extreme cases of anemia, the clinic suggests taking an iron IV.

There are also certain medicines and therapies that may help reduce heavy bleeding, but it is important to not jump to the extreme straightway. Start with the least invasive treatment and consider other factors such as the size and location of the fibroid, your feelings regarding pregnancy, the number of fibroids, and the severity of your symptoms. Some options include: an MRI-guided focused ultrasound, radiofrequency ablation, uterine artery embolization, myomectomy, and hysterectomy.

Uterine fibroids can cause large amounts of mental stress. Talk with your doctor about ways to cope with the feelings that can come with heavy periods. Make sure to advocate for yourself and let them know you need help finding ways to feel better.

… make a COVID plan if I’m traveling this summer?

Absolutely! Many people are resuming travel plans that were postponed in the pandemic’s first couple of years, but at the same time, the current Omicron variants are much more easily transmitted than earlier versions of SARS-CoV-2. Vaccines and boosters make a big difference on how severely sick we might get, but they don’t completely prevent infection. (Neither does having survived an earlier COVID infection, alas.) 

Savvy travelers will make contingency plans for traveling, and plan ahead for what to do if they become sick while away from home. Make sure your vaccinations / boosters are fully up to date, and bring important medical records and medical provider contact numbers with you. Include in your travel research how and where to get medical care if you fall ill while on the road. Also check transmission rates and quarantine policies for where you will be, to avoid unwelcome surprises.  Add items to your packing list such as extra antigen (home) test kits, lots of N95-compatible masks, and additional supplies of maintenance medications in case you have to stay longer than planned. Expect transportation delays; research travel options, and safe(r) places to be if there’s a long layover. Check whether reservations can be flexible, or canceled without penalty; and consider whether to purchase travel insurance that covers COVID emergencies. If traveling with others, or visiting friends or family, ask them about their own COVID risk preferences, and whether they could step in to assist if needed. Maybe even plan to pick up some interesting things to read or watch or do if you feel well but must quarantine for a few days due to a positive test. They’ll make great souvenirs for later, if not needed on this trip.

IN-DEPTH
Retina & Macular Problems

Macular degeneration is a disorder that gradually diminishes one’s central vision, making it difficult to see clearly and perform everyday tasks such as reading and driving. It is the primary cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60, and thus it is also often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). While it does not cause complete blindness, it can still severely affect day-to-day life and should be addressed as early as possible. The National Eye Institute recommends getting a dilated eye exam every one to two years if you are over the age of 60, are African American and over the age of 40, or have a family history of glaucoma. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you should consult with your doctor to see how often an eye exam is recommended. 

AMD is categorized into two different kinds: wet and dry AMD. Dry AMD, which affects the majority of those with AMD, is when the macula–the part of your retina that is affected–grows thinner with age. It is typically accompanied by the formation of small yellow deposits. Wet AMD occurs much less frequently but is more severe; abnormal blood vessels begin to grow under the macula and can very quickly damage the macula. Regardless of wet or dry, many with AMD may not notice vision loss for a long time, which makes it all the more critical to stay vigilant. 

One of the most common symptoms of AMD is when straight lines begin to look wavy or crooked. If you notice this in your vision, see your eye doctor right away. Other symptoms include blurred vision, having difficulty seeing in low light or perceiving colors, and seeing blank spots. 

Macular edema is a specific issue in which fluid builds up in the macula and causes swelling. While it is typically painless, it may cause severe vision loss or blindness if left untreated for too long. Macular edema may be caused by AMD, but it can also be a product of diabetes, hereditary disorders, eye tumors, and other various conditions. Its symptoms are similar to AMD, and help should be sought out from an ophthalmologist if detected. Fortunately, many strides are being made in the field of eye treatment: a new study published just last month reveals that the long-term treatment of macular edema with two different drugs–aflibercept (Eylea) and bevacizumab (Avastin)–proved very successful.  

Ultimately, being attentive to your own vision patterns and knowing when or if you should get an eye exam can help combat the risk and effects of macular conditions. To lower your risk for AMD or slow AMD’s vision loss, research recommends that you: 

  • Quit smoking — or don’t start 
  • Get regular physical activity 

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels

  • Eat healthy foods, including leafy green vegetables and fish

IN-DEPTH
LGBTQ+ Elders: Coming out to Healthcare Professionals and Caregivers

LGBTQ+ elders face a wide range of barriers to receiving healthcare and social support as compared to their heterosexual and/or cisgender peers. Many adults have lived through decades of historic oppression, and may be estranged from their families or without a solid support system. In addition to already experiencing health disparities and other hardships, LGBTQ+ elders will frequently choose to avoid seeking help or hide their identities for fear of discrimination from professionals. 

The National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging shares a conversation in which LGBTQ+ elders and care providers discuss why being out to healthcare providers is so critical–many elders express a desire to be seen, understood, and not judged for who they are. As one person put it, “Who I am affects my health.” 

Coming out to healthcare professionals and caregivers may be a daunting task. For help with advocating for care that is gender- and identity-appropriate, see our collection of LGBTQ+ Later Life resources. LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies can alert health care team to respectful steps they can take to make it safer for patients to come out, from inclusive patient intake forms (like this one from University of Colorado), to non-assumptive language when it comes to any individual who is accompanying a patient, and other best practices for making clinics LGBTQ+-welcoming. Organizations like Sage, Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, and GLMA (Gay & Lesbian Medical Association) offer advice, helplines, and news about rights to equitable and appropriate health care.

IN-DEPTH
Rashes

For some people, summertime is rash season. While some rashes resolve with time and a bit of care for the pain and/or itch, some can be serious and should be checked out (officially, this is called a rash evaluation). 

The American Academy of Dermatology advises “if you have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms, see a board-certified dermatologist or go to the emergency room immediately:

  1. The rash is all over your body. A rash that covers the body could indicate something concerning, such as an infection or allergic reaction.

  2. You have a fever with the rash. If this is the case, go to the emergency room. This could be caused by an allergic reaction or an infection. Examples of rashes caused by infection include scarlet fever, measles, mononucleosis, and shingles.

  3. The rash is sudden and spreads rapidly. This could be the result of an allergy. Allergies to medications are common, and some can be serious. If breathing becomes difficult, go to the emergency room or call 911.

  4. The rash begins to blister. If your rash is made up of blisters, or if the rash turns into open sores, it could be the result of an allergic reaction, a reaction to medication, or an internal cause. Seek medical attention if a blistering rash affects the skin around your eyes, multiple areas in your mouth, or your genitals.

  5. The rash is painful. Painful rashes should quickly be evaluated by a physician.

  6. The rash is infected. If you have an itchy rash and you scratch it, it may become infected. Signs of an infected rash are yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting, pain, and warmth in the area of the rash, or a red streak coming from the rash.”

Even if a rash doesn’t meet those conditions, it is still worthwhile to have it checked by your health care team if it does not improve within a few days. 

A red, itchy or painful or irritated rash could be an allergic reaction (dermatitis), set off by contact with an irritant or by a toxic substance (like poison oak, poison sumac, or  poison ivy). It could also be an immune reaction called psoriasis. Sweat and friction may cause heat rash or prickly heat in both children and adults, or lead to infections on the skin from candida (yeast) or tinea (athlete’s foot or jock itch). 

You’ll find many images that try to identify different types of rashes, and even an online identification tool (content warning on some of those photographs, by the way). But be aware that identification photos are often biased towards lighter skin color (to better show details) and that rashes may appear different on darker skin, which can lead to misdiagnosis. Don’t rely on Dr. Google to diagnose a rash – always check with the health care team!

COVID UPDATES

If it seems like more people are coming down with a breakthrough case of COVID these days, you’re not wrong. The dominant variant in the U.S. is now the Omicron variant’s version BA.5, which is different from the original 2019 version of SARS-CoV-2 in some important ways. It is more highly contagious (that is, people are more likely to catch it if they are exposed), and at the same time proteins on the virus’ surface have evolved to be able to elude some of the antibodies produced from having recovered from an earlier case of COVID and/or the earlier vaccines. (A new vaccine that would be effective on Omicron variants is proposed for this fall.) The Bay Area has been at the CDC’s HIGH risk levels in recent months, and may continue to be for the rest of the summer.

To protect ourselves and our loved ones, UC Davis Health urges us to keep in mind that:

  • Breakthrough infections tend to be milder than cases of COVID without the immunities from vaccination or having survived an earlier infection - but they’re usually still much worse than what we’re used to with a cold or flu.

  •  The risk of developing long COVID or other serious health problems goes up with each infection, even from asymptomatic cases.

  • While being vaccinated and fully boosted doesn’t keep up from ever catching COVID, having up-to-date immunizations does lower the chances of getting infected.

  • Most importantly, we already know what works to slow the spread: get vaccinated and boosted when eligible, wear an N95-equivalent mask indoors when around people outside your household, and mask up outdoors when close to other people. 

We’re all so tired of the pandemic – but it isn’t done with us, not yet. 

 

Looking for more community events?

 
The list of free, public, health-related events in the South Bay that used to be included in PlaneTalk has moved online, as have the events themselves. 

We’ve created an expanded Community Events Calendar on our webpages at: https://www.planetree-sv.org/calendar/

There are many more events on health and other topics of interest to seniors, their caregivers, and anyone interested in healthy aging on this calendar - and since they’re online, you don’t have to worry about travel time or parking!

 
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