Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Hazard Checklist

Lights, decorations and toys are a wonderful part of the holidays. But if you have young children, you need to take special precautions to make sure they're safe. Here are expert tips to ensure that your family's holiday season is happy, healthy and hazard-free.

The holidays should be a magical time for children. Yet each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 8700 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees.

Keep the season merry with this list of safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Safer Trees and Decorations
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Use only noncombustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or non-leaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use nonflammable holders and place candles out of children’s reach.
  • Take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food, which may tempt a child to eat them.
  • Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair." Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial-snow sprays.
Bright Ideas for Lights
  • Indoors or outside, always use lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory that indicates conformance with safety standards.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
Friendlier Fireplaces
  • Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result, as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from fireplace area.
  • Check to see that the flue is open.
Trouble-Free Toys
  • Before buying a toy or allowing your child to play with a toy that he has received as a gift, read the instructions carefully. If the toy is appropriate for your child, show him how to use it properly.
  • Follow recommended age ranges on toy packages. Toys that are too advanced could pose a safety hazard for younger children.
  • To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, don’t give young children (under age ten) a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated.
  • Children under age three can choke on small parts contained in toys or games. Government regulations specify that toys for children under age three cannot have parts less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long.
  • Children under age 8 can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons.
  • Remove strings and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.
  • Watch for pull toys with strings that are more than 12 inches in length. They could be a strangulation hazard for babies.
Outdoor Play

  • Make sure your child’s gloves and shoes stay dry. If either becomes wet, change your child into a dry pair.
  • Sledding on or into the roadway should be prohibited. Look for shallow slopes that are free of obstacles, such as trees and fences.
  • Most skiing and skating injuries involve twists, sprains and strains. Prevent injuries by providing your child with competent instruction, proper equipment and appropriate supervision.

Happy Visiting

  • Clean up immediately after a holiday party. A toddler could rise early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.
  • Remember that the homes you visit may not be childproofed. Keep an eye out for danger spots.
  • Keep a laminated list with all of the important phone numbers you or a baby-sitter are likely to need in case of an emergency. Include the police and fire department, your pediatrician and the national Poison Help Line, 1-800-222-1222.
  • Traveling, visiting family members, getting presents, shopping, etc., can all increase your child’s stress levels. Trying to stick to your child’s usual routines, including sleep schedules and timing of naps, can help you and your child enjoy the holidays and reduce stress.

Food Safety

  • Bacteria are often present in raw foods. Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Be sure to keep hot liquids and foods away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by a young child’s exploring hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and make sure your children do the same.
  • Never put a spoon used to taste food back into food without washing it.
  • Always keep raw foods and cooked foods separate, and use separate utensils when preparing them.
  • Always thaw meat in the refrigerator, never on the countertop.
  • Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Ten Christmas Tree Safety Tips

I want you to have a safe holiday season. Did you know that Christmas trees can kill? Not by falling on you, but by burning down your house. Between 2006 and 2010, about 230 home fires per year were responded to by U.S. fire departments, killing an average of four people each year and injuring many more.

Though not common, Christmas tree fires usually cause serious and costly damage. Eighteen percent of these fires were caused by a heat source too close to the tree. Improper disposal of the tree is also implicated as a cause. Here are tips to prevent this very preventable type of residential fire.

  1. Choose fresh over cheap and dry. The fresher the tree, the less likely it will pose a fire hazard. Look for flexible needles that don't break, and a trunk with sap.
  2. Keep the water coming. The tree stand should contain a continuous source of water and be sturdy enough to resist toppling by kids or pets.
  3. Don't choke the cord. Attach only three maximum strings of lights to any one extension cord, then place cords along walls to prevent a tripping hazard. Never run them under rugs or carpets.
  4. Trees don't need warmth. Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, candles and even a TV.
  5. Not any lights will do. Use low energy, safe lighting that's been certified by a safety testing lab. Don't use damaged or frayed cords.
  6. Shut off the lights. Never leave the lights on overnight. Same goes for any appliances not in use when you are home or away.
  7. Don't keep a dry tree around. Dispose of it at this point properly. Don't even keep it in the garage.
  8. Artificial tree safety awareness. Artificial trees should be flame resistant and have a seal for an approved safety testing laboratory if the tree contains a built-in lighting set.
  9. Death by artificial tree. If the tree is metal, never use electric lights, as they can charge the tree and lead to electrocution.
  10. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure everyone knows its location and how to use it.

Poisonous Holiday Plants

Some popular holiday plants can be poisonous or toxic, especially to children and pets. Here's a look at some of the most common poisonous holiday plants and also reassurance about plants many people think are poisonous that really aren't that dangerous.

Poinsettia - Not That Bad
The beautiful poinsettia is not something you want on a salad, but this Euphorbia is not particularly dangerous. If you eat a few leaves, you may feel ill or vomit. Rubbing the sap from the plant into your skin can give you an itchy rash. Beyond that, this plant is unlikely to cause a problem for either humans or pets.

Mistletoe - Poisonous
Mistletoe is a name given to one of several plants, all potentially dangerous for kids and pets. Phoradendron species contain a toxin called phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood pressure changes, and even death. The Viscum species of mistletoe contain a slightly different cocktail of chemicals, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine, which produce similar symptoms. All parts of the mistletoe plant are poisonous, though it is the berries that may be most attractive to kids. Eating 1-2 berries probably will not cause a problem for a child, but a small pet could be endangered by eating a few leaves or berries. If your child or pet eats mistletoe, it's a good idea to seek medical advice.

Holly - Poisonous
A child can eat 1-2 holly berries (Ilex) without harm, but around 20 berries can cause death, so eating holly berries is a serious concern for children and pets. Though the berries are the part that is most commonly eaten, the bark, leaves, and seeds are toxic. What is the poison? Interestingly enough, it is theobromine, an alkaloid that is related to caffeine. Theobromine is found in chocolate (and is toxic to dogs even at the lower concentration), but there is much more of the compound in holly berries.

Amaryllis and Daffodils - Poisonous
An amaryllis bulb is a common holiday gift. Amaryllis, daffodil, and narcissus bulbs may be forced indoors to produce showy holiday flowers. Eating the bulbs (and leaves, though they are less toxic) can cause abdominal pain, cardiac arrhythmias, and convulsions. The plants are more likely to be eaten by pets than children, but the alkaloid poison lycorine is considered toxic to humans, too.

Cyclamen - Poisonous for Pets
Cyclamen (Primulaceae) is a flowering plant commonly seen around the winter holidays. Cyclamen tubers contain triterpinoidsaponins, which can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and paralysis. This plant is more of a concern for pets than humans. In fact, some cyclamen cultivars are favored for their delicate flavor and use in tea.

Christmas Trees - Not a Major Concern
Cedars, pines, and firs are very mildly toxic. The biggest concern here is the possibility of puncturing part of the gastrointestinal tract from eating needles, though the tree oils may cause irritation of the mouth and skin. Toxicity might be affected by whether the tree had been sprayed with a flame retardant. People don't usually eat Christmas trees. Even a dog is unlikely to eat enough of the tree to cause a problem.

Jerusalem Cherry - Poisonous
The Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) is a species of nightshade that bears poisonous fruit. The primary poison is the alkaloid solanocapsine, which can cause gastric upset and vomiting in people, but generally is not life-threatening. However, the fruits are extremely toxic to dogs and cats and some birds. The fruit resembles a cherry tomato, both in appearance and flavor, so kids and pets may eat enough to cause illness, or in the case of pets, even death.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

15 Sunscreen Questions Answered

If we lived in pristine, temperature-controlled labs, SPF 15 would be adequate—if not optimal—protection against sunburn (caused by UVB rays) and skin aging and cancer (caused by UVA and UVB rays).

But we live in the real (sweaty, splashy, windy) world, and we don't use as much sunscreen as we should. In fact, the protection most of us get from SPF 15 is more like SPF 3 to 7. That's why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using broad-spectrum SPF 30.

It's great advice, but it doesn't clear up all the sun-safety confusion. So we asked the experts to solve your toughest quandaries, one by one.

1. What's the highest SPF?

If you apply sunscreen correctly (see question 3), SPF 50 offers the maximum protection necessary. You're seeing SPF 80 and even SPF 110 on shelves because of "marketing, marketing, marketing," says Bruce Katz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Companies know that higher numbers make you think you're getting a significant surplus of protection, even though you're not. But the FDA has caught on to this strategy and proposed a rule making "50+" the highest SPF value allowed. The rule hasn't been approved yet, but many manufacturers are probably betting it will—they're already distributing products labeled SPF 50+, even as they continue to sell higher numbers.

2. Should I protect my hair?

The sun can change your hair color, but products with UV filters or antioxidants may keep your hue from fading or turning brassy. If you like the color you've got (or spent good money to get it), a spray like Paul Mitchell Sun Shield Conditioning Spray ($18; for salons), shown above, helps. Will it prevent cancer? No—and cancer commonly forms on the scalp, says Dr. Katz. You should still wear a hat or use traditional SPF on your part (or your entire scalp if your hair is thin).

3. What are the basic rules for applying sunscreen?

Remember 30-20-2-1:
  • 30: The minimum SPF you should use (other must-haves water resistance and a broad spectrum formula). 20: The number of minutes before you go out in the sun that you should apply sunscreen. That is, unless your lotion has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which are effective immediately.
  • 2: The number of hours you can go without reapplying if you're not sweating or in the water.
  • 1: The number of ounces you need to coat your body with enough product (a 0.002 mm layer) to provide the SPF listed on the label. If you're using lotion, that's about the amount that would fill a shot glass; if you're using a clear, continuous spray, that's 30 to 90 seconds of spraying—enough to create a visibly glossy sheen as it goes on.
4. How do I keep sunscreen out of my eyes? It burns.

That burning is usually caused by chemical sunscreens (ingredients listed on the Drug Facts label that end with-ate,-ene, or-one, such as ho-mosalate, octocrylene, or oxybenzone). Instead, look for a water-resistant product with physical (sometimes called mineral or natural) sunscreen, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Even with those guidelines, it can take time to find the right formula, since fragrance can also sting. We tried a few dozen, and the clear-eyed winner was—MDSolarSciences Natural Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 40 ($13;

5. How long does the SPF in my moisturizer last?

If you don't plan to work up a sweat or be outside long, the protection should last 2 to 4 hours, says Amy Wechsler, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. However, if you work outside or plan to spend the day in the garden or at the beach, you really need a water-resistant face sunscreen in addition to—or instead of—your moisturizer. Try one of the new lightweight, liquid sunscreens (they come in small bottles you need to shake before using); L'OrĂ©al Paris Sublime Sun Liquid Silk Sunshield for Face SPF 50+ ($11; drugstores) smoothes on as easily as moisturizer and has anti-aging antioxidants to boot.

6. Any advice for applying sunscreen to your own back?

Reaching up and over your shoulder, you should be able to get the job done with a clear, continuous spray that works upside down. Aveeno's HydroSport Sunblock Spray SPF 30 ($10; drugstores) propels about 2 feet and should reach even the center of your back. If you're not flexible enough for the reach-over, slip on a tank top with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). You can make your own by washing a top you like in SunGuard ($2;; it coats clothing with an un-detectable layer of UPF 30 that lasts up to 20 washes.

7. Can I get skin cancer again?

Skin cancer survivors are much more likely to develop a second skin cancer, says Erin Gilbert, MD, PhD, a dermatologist in New York City. That's because they've already accumulated enough UV harm near the original cancer (dermatologists call it field damage) to make getting another likely. For survivors, skin exams every 6 months are essential. Everyone else should get one yearly—sooner if you have a suspicious mole.

8. Can my diet make me burn less?

Certain nutrients, especially phytochemicals, improve skin's ability to ward off damage. One study found that supplementing with lycopene (a pigment in red fruits and vegetables) may prevent UV damage; another showed that people taking a supplement with alpha-and beta-carotenoids (in orange and yellow produce) were less likely to have skin damage after UV exposure. It's possible eating a rainbow could delay sunburn, but that doesn't mean a salad is equal to sunscreen.

Be on the lookout for an SPF pill: British scientists are working to create sunscreen in pill form, after discovering that coral in the Great Barrier Reef creates its own UV protection by consuming a compound in algae. Human testing hasn't begun yet, but someday we may be able to swallow our sunscreen.

9. Is sunscreen residue bad for marine life?

Yes. Some ingredients in sunscreen can awaken viruses that kill coral's food supply—and ultimately the reefs themselves and the animals that live there. The common ingredients that are most damaging include oxybenzone and the preservative butylparaben. For an eco-friendly option, choose a product that uses the physical sunscreen ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide because they "break down more readily in nature," says Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in New Jersey.

10. I have rosacea. Should I be using regular sunscreen on my face, or do I need something special?

Rosacea makes skin sensitive and more likely to react to certain ingredients in sunscreen—but the sun itself is one of the biggest flare-up triggers, so going unprotected is not an option. Robin Schaffran, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles, suggests avoiding chemical sunscreens, and Dr. Wechsler also tells her patients with rosacea to say no to fragrance. Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 50 ($14; drugstores) is a good option. Or try Colorescience Sunforgettable Face Primer SPF 30 ($50;, which has a tint that helps hide redness.

11. Can you recommend a natural sunscreen that doesn't look like toothpaste?

The purest options are those without chemical sunscreens, retinyl palmitate, fragrance, or para-bens. That leaves products that use physical sunscreens, which typically don't rub in as easily and sometimes leave skin with a whitish cast. After trying pretty much every natural sunscreen that meets these guidelines (for a list, go to sunscreen), we found the least toothpasty, most pleasing picks were Banana Boat Natural Reflect SPF 50+ ($11.50; drugstores) and All Terrain TerraSport SPF 30 Spray ($14;

12. Should I wear SPF clothing?

As Leeann Brown, a spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group, wisely points out: "Even the best sunscreens should not be your primary defense against the sun—minimizing time outdoors, seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses are going to be more effective than sunscreen alone." Unfortunately, not all clothing protects against the sun. White cotton only has about UPF 5 or 7 (UPF is like SPF, but for clothes); colored cotton has UPF 10; and heavy black velvet or dark blue denim can have up to UPF 50. But, really, who wants to wear head-to-toe denim—not to mention velvet!—in summer? Instead, look for sweat-wicking clothes with at least UPF 30; Athleta, Columbia, and Patagonia all have great options.

13. Can chemicals in sunscreen hurt me?

Use the sunscreen. Although a few studies have raised questions about the safety of oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, two ingredients found in some sunscreens, they are entirely avoidable if you read labels. So, what are potential concerns about those two components? Oxybenzone has been shown to cause hormone disruption in studies of cancer cells (however, a study on its effect when applied to skin did not show any statistically significant change in hormone levels). Retinyl palmitate has been linked to skin cancer when applied topically in very large doses to mice (however, the species of mice used in the study were far more susceptible to skin cancer than humans, and there aren't any human studies showing the ingredient causes cancer, according to Steven Q.Wang, director of Dermatologic Surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, NJ).

14. I want to make sure I get enough vitamin D. Does it still get through if I wear sunscreen?

When you have sunscreen on, your body's ability to produce vitamin D—which keeps bones healthy and may prevent some forms of cancer—is inhibited. "But even people who are very good at using sunscreen almost never wear enough of it enough of the time - to prevent adequate vitamin D production," says Robin Schaffran, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. Even if you were to wear sunscreen every single day, it's highly likely some UV light is still getting through. If you're worried you're not getting enough vitamin D from your diet, all the experts interviewed for this article recommended the same thing: "Take a supplement." A daily dose of 600 IU daily should do it.

15. Are sport sunscreens really waterproof?

First, ignore the word sport on labels; it may imply some sort of water or sweat resistance, but the government doesn't regulate the use of the term, so you can't be sure. What you can be sure of is this: "No sunscreen is truly waterproof or sweatproof," says Dr. Katz. That's why in June 2011, the FDA passed a rule banning the use of the terms waterproof and sweatproof. After a June 2013 deadline, the most water-and sweat-resistant sunscreen you can get will be labeled "water-resistant (80 minutes)," like Coppertone Sport Pro Series SPF 50+ ($11; drugstores). Some sunscreens may continue to use the term "sweat-resistant" as well, but even if they don't you can assume the water-resistance will keep you protected through 80 minutes of heavy sweating, too. (After all, perspiring can make your skin as wet as if you took a dip in the pool!)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Health Tips for April 13

Diabetes Tx
The most important treatment for diabetes is to adhere to a zero sugar, low carb diet.

Eating Disorders Tricks
Throw away the scale! Weight is a number. Being healthy is what really matters.

Healthy Cooking Recipe
Cube potatoes. Par dry. Add chopped garlic and rosemary to olive oil. Coat potatoes and roast at 425 F. until browned.

Heart Failure Myth
Heart failure may be a misleading term. The heart squeezes less effectively, but it can be managed.

Kidney Failure Fact
Limiting fluid due to kidney failure? Try lemon drops to increase saliva production.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Health Tips for April 12

Acne Fact
There are more people over the age of 18 with acne then under the age of 18. Adult acne is common.

Fibromyalgia Fact
Minimizing stress in your life may help your fibromyalgia pain.

COPD Prevention
Make sure your get a pneumovax and influenza shot.

Dental Health Fact
Floss strips are a great way to floss every day.

Depression Fact
If you depend on exercise to manage your mood, always have a backup exercise in mind.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Health Tips for April 11

Diabetes Fact
You need to see an eye doctor for a dilated retinal exam at least once a year.

Eating Disorders Tx
Eating disorders are extremely hard to treat. You need the right professional and the right medicine.

Healthy Cooking Fact
Don't "bread" things. It carries extra calories and fat.

Heart Failure Fact
Ask your doctor about ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and/or ARBS (angiotensin receptor blockers).

Kidney Failure Fact
Hemodialysis puts one at risk for vitamin C deficiency.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Health Tips for April 10

Acne Fact
Adults can get acne even if they never had acne as teenagers.

Fibromyalgia Myth
Fibromyalgia isn't a real medical problem.

Stay physically active as directed by your doctor to strengthen respiratory muscles and increase endurance.

Dental Health Fact
The plaque found on your teeth is home to more than 300 different species of bacteria.

Depression Fact
Some people need talk therapy or medication and some people might need both.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Health Tips for April 9

Strange but True Health Tips

Call Dr. Pepper
Next time you nick yourself in the kitchen, reach for the black pepper. Run cold water over the wound to clean it, using soap if you were handling meat. Then sprinkle on the pepper and apply pressure. In no time, the bleeding will stop. Turns out, black pepper has analgesic, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties. Pepper doesn't sting, either—but don't tell that to your audience.

Shave Your 'stache and Sniff Less
If you're prone to allergies and have a mustache, wash it twice a day with liquid soap. One study found that patients who did this used fewer antihistamines and decongestants. Reason: Cleaning got rid of stuck pollen grains.

Pet Away High Blood Pressure
To lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, get a dog. Numerous studies show that petting a dog keeps blood pressure under control when you're stressed.

Flush Away Trouble
Ever notice how satisfying it is to flush a toilet, especially if it's one of those airport monsters? Think of this next tip as a stress laxative—a bit strange, but guaranteed to be gentle and effective: Before you go to bed, put some small strips of flushable paper and a pencil in the bathroom. The following morning, take a seat and write down the names of all the people or situations in your life that are causing you angst. Then throw them in the bowl and flush. You'll be amazed at how great this feels and works.