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Health Q&A

Posted November 21, 2012 in Advice Column, Pleasant Hill

Q: What is MRSA?

A: MRSA is an acronym which stands for “methicillin-resistant staph aureus.” Simply put, this is a name for a particular type of bacteria that does not respond to several common antibiotics.  This type of infection used to be seen only in people with immune deficiencies or people who have been in the hospital, but it has become much more common and is now widespread in the community in otherwise healthy individuals.

It usually manifests as a skin infection in the form of boils or abscesses. It is commonly seen in hairy areas of the body and usually starts like a pimple. Often there is pus, and it is usually fairly painful.

You are at higher risk for MRSA if you have a household member who has a history of these infections, if you live in a crowded environment (a dorm, military barracks, jails, etc.), or if you have compromised skin in the form of simple cuts or scrapes. People are also at higher risk if they make frequent skin-to-skin contact with others (like athletes) or if they come in contact with possible contaminated surfaces frequently (like healthcare workers).

Your healthcare provider can figure out if your infection is due to MRSA through a wound culture (taking a swab of the drainage). Nasal passages, urine and or blood can also be cultured for bacteria, depending on the type of infection that is suspected. These tests typically take about 48 hours.

Information from, provided by Sally Bennett, PA-C, Mercy East Family Practice, 5900 E. University Ave., Suite 200, 643-2400.

Q: How does diabetes affect my eyes?

A: November is American Diabetes Awareness Month. The National Institute of Health and the American Optometric Association recommend yearly dilated eye exams for anyone with diabetes. Having uncontrolled blood sugar, coupled with a poor diet and not enough exercise, can result in diabetic damage to the tiny blood vessels in the eye.

In the early stages, small balloon-like pockets form in the vessels. Consequently, these vessels can become blocked, which deprives the retina of oxygen and nutrients. In the later stages, new blood vessels grow to help supply the damaged retina. These vessels, however, are abnormal and fragile. They leak easily, which may lead to blood filling the vitreous (the jelly-like fluid in the eye). Severe vision loss and even blindness can result. Fluid can also cause swelling in the macula, which is the central part of vision and is responsible for fine detail. This is known as macular edema and presents as blurred vision. This swelling can occur at any stage of diabetic retinopathy.

The National Institute of Health estimates that between 40 – 45 percent of Americans with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy or symptomatic disease. The resulting decline in eye health often has no early warning signs. If bleeding does occur in the back of the eye, you may see red specks or spots floating in your vision. Keeping a close watch on your blood sugar, eating healthy and engaging in regular exercise are the best ways to protect your vision from diabetic damage.

Information provided by Dr. Matthew Ward, O.D. from Eye Care of Iowa, 5075 E. University Ave, Pleasant Hill 265-5322

Q: What is trench mouth?

A: Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, or trench mouth¸ is a painful form of gum disease that includes the destruction of gum tissue around the teeth and creation of crater-like ulcers in the gum that are filled with plaque and food debris. Other symptoms are a grayish film on the gums and a constant foul taste and breath. It is a rare disorder, brought on or exacerbated by factors including poor oral hygiene, poor nutrition, other infections in the mouth or throat, smoking and stress. The term “trench mouth” came from the condition’s prevalence among soldiers in World War I.

Your dentist may recommend a salt-water rinse to soothe sore gums and hydrogen peroxide rinse to wash away decayed gum tissue. If fever accompanies your condition, the dentist may also prescribe an antibiotic. The good news is that the condition normally responds well to treatment. Left untreated, though, the infection can spread to other parts of the mouth and jaw. Talk with your dentist about ways to keep your mouth healthy.

Information provided by Des Moines Dental Group, 708 First Ave S., 967-6611.

Q: How can I avoid stress during the holiday season?

A: It’s that time of the year. The holidays are an exciting and joyous time, but for many they can also be a source of stress. It is easy to get busy and forget to take the time to care for ourselves. When we are under stress, our immune systems are compromised, leaving us more susceptible to illness. If your immune system is operating at its peak, it will be better able to adapt to its environment and fight off illness. A healthy immune system means high resistance to disease and infection, better ability to deal with stress, and greater health and well-being. Try these tips to manage stress and enjoy this holiday season.
• Take time out for yourself every day.
• Get adequate amounts of high-quality sleep.
• Exercise at least 30 minutes, three to four times a week.
• Supplement with Vitamin D daily.
• Laughing reduces stress, elevates the mood and improves cell structure.
• Breathe. Practice deep breathing to reduce stress and clear your mind.
• Meditation. Meditation improves immune function, reduces blood pressure and enhances cognitive function.
• Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods, sugar and grains as they decrease your immune function.
• Regular chiropractic adjustments boost your immune system, increase flexibility and create optimum nervous system function.

Information provided by Dr. Kari Swain, Swain Chiropractic, 410 Center Place S.W., Altoona, 967-9300.

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