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Daily Dose

Do Essential Oils Boost Immune System?

1:30 to read

Although it is still hot and officially summer, soon everyone will be heading back to school  and coughs and colds (and eventually flu, another topic) will be just around the corner. I had a patient ask me about the use of essential oils. Her 2 1/2 year old daughter is heading to preschool for the first time and she “had heard from her friends that essential oils help a child’s immunity during cold season”.

Unfortunately, there is very little data at all to confirm that statement. I only wish that rubbing a bit of lavender oil on would help prevent the common cold. While it may smell great and be relaxing....there is no data that I can find to show that there is any reproducible science to the claims that essential oils boost the immune system.  

While I was researching I found many sites stating that “eucalyptus oil is an anti-viral” and “peppermint oil is an anti-pyretic (fever reducer)”.  Tea tree oil is touted as being “both anti -bacterial and anti-fungal” (I don’t know of other drugs that can claim both!).  But, I just don’t see any data to support all of this. 

The word essential refers to the essence of the plant the oil is derived from, rather than being “essential” to your health. While in most cases essential oils (which are highly concentrated) used as aromatherapy are not harmful for adults, it may be a different story in children, especially those under the age of 6. While labels may say  “natural” it may not always mean safe.  Many oils are poisonous if ingested and there have been reports of accidental overdoses in children with several different oils. In one report tea tree oil and lavender oil applied topically have been shown to cause breast enlargement in boys.  Oil of eucalyptus and peppermint are high in menthol and cineole.  These substances may cause children to become drowsy have decreased respirations.  While there are articles stating that the use of menthol (Vicks) on a child’s feet may be helpful during a cold for reducing a cough, do not use this if child is young enough to put their feet in their mouths. 

I must say that I sometime use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the shower when I have a cold as I think it smells great and seems to help “open up” my head. Whether this is in “my mind” or a response from my olfactory centers which sends calming messages to respiratory center is not clear. But, I am not ingesting it or using it topically. 

 

Daily Dose

Catch a Cough

1.00 to read

I can’t stop talking about coughs because that is all I hear every day!  It is truly a cacophony of coughing in my office, but I also hear coughing everywhere I go.  Not only is it cough and cold season but flu is here as well and those coughs just seem to shake the roof.

So, a clever little girl, who was just getting over the flu (she had not gotten her flu vaccine) was coughing in the exam room and her mother reminded her to cover her mouth.  The little girl immediately put her elbow over her mouth as she let out a huge cough. Remember too that coughing is a protective mechanism to move mucous and helps prevent pneumonias....so coughing is not “bad”. 

Right after she finished coughing she looked at me and said, “Dr. Sue, that is how your catch your cough!”  How smart! You are indeed catching the cough in your elbow so you don’t let anyone else “catch” it!  Once again, taught by my patients. And, growing up in the digital ag, they wanted me to take their picture and post it to teach everyone how to "catch"! So, here they are.

Cover your mouth and catch your cough in your elbow....the cough is one thing you don’t want to share this holiday season.

Get your flu vaccine too...it is not too late. 

Daily Dose

Do Essential Oils Boost Immune System?

1.30 to read

Although it is still hot and officially summer, soon everyone will be heading back to school  and coughs and colds (and eventually flu, another topic) will be just around the corner. I had a patient ask me about the use of essential oils. Her 2 1/2 year old daughter is heading to preschool for the first time and she “had heard from her friends that essential oils help a child’s immunity during cold season”.

Unfortunately, there is very little data at all to confirm that statement. I only wish that rubbing a bit of lavender oil on would help prevent the common cold. While it may smell great and be relaxing....there is no data that I can find to show that there is any reproducible science to the claims that essential oils boost the immune system.  

While I was researching I found many sites stating that “eucalyptus oil is an anti-viral” and “peppermint oil is an anti-pyretic (fever reducer)”.  Tea tree oil is touted as being “both anti -bacterial and anti-fungal” (I don’t know of other drugs that can claim both!).  But, I just don’t see any data to support all of this. 

The word essential refers to the essence of the plant the oil is derived from, rather than being “essential” to your health. While in most cases essential oils (which are highly concentrated) used as aromatherapy are not harmful for adults, it may be a different story in children, especially those under the age of 6. While labels may say  “natural” it may not always mean safe.  Many oils are poisonous if ingested and there have been reports of accidental overdoses in children with several different oils. In one report tea tree oil and lavender oil applied topically have been shown to cause breast enlargement in boys.  Oil of eucalyptus and peppermint are high in menthol and cineole.  These substances may cause children to become drowsy have decreased respirations.  While there are articles stating that the use of menthol (Vicks) on a child’s feet may be helpful during a cold for reducing a cough, do not use this if child is young enough to put their feet in their mouths. 

I must say that I sometime use a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the shower when I have a cold as I think it smells great and seems to help “open up” my head. Whether this is in “my mind” or a response from my olfactory centers which sends calming messages to respiratory center is not clear. But, I am not ingesting it or using it topically. 

 

 

Daily Dose

Flu is Here!

1.15 to read

Somehow I knew that flu would finally arrive! I kept telling my patients that during my 27 years of practice, I could not remember having a year go by that there was not some sort of flu season.  I thought maybe this was going to be the year, but as you know with many things in life, “never say never.” Guess what, flu season seems to have arrived in the U.S., albeit quietly. 

The CDC is reporting that for the last 2 weeks flu activity in the country has picked up and that about 15% of tests at different surveillance sites around the country are positive for influenza. So....don’t you feel good that you have gotten your flu vaccine? 

Despite it being a relatively “quiet” flu season, the good news is that the influenza strains that are being reported are “in” this year’s flu vaccine (in other words it is a good match).  It also appears that the flu strains are not resistant to the antiviral drugs that are typically used, which is a concern during each year’s flu season. 

The flu is typically heralded by fever, body aches  cough, sore throat, fatigue and just feeling terribly for anywhere from 3-10 days. Some years the fever seemed to last for a week, but the few cases I have seen this year the fever is only lasting 2-4 days. That is a good thing as well. 

Fortunately, there have only been 3 pediatric deaths reported for the 2011-2012 flu season. I can only hope that this will continue to be the trend as in several recent years there were over 200 deaths in the pediatric population due to flu. 

So, is it too late to get a flu vaccine? The answer is a very loud NO!  No one can predict how long the flu season will last and whether there will continue to be an increase in flu activity across the country. If you don’t want flu to interfere with March spring breaks, or Easter in early April I would suggest getting vaccinated now. It takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to work as well, so you need to get it sooner than later to be protected. 

Don’t assume that just because the season is quiet that you can dodge the flu. Remember about airborne illnesses and how easily a cough can spread the flu. 

I am still immunizing my 6 month old patients in hopes of providing them protection this season too.  There is plenty of vaccine available this year so rather than let it “go to waste” as some does every year, let’s take advantage of the late flu season and get vaccinated now!   

I hope you'll join us tomorrow, 2/21 for #KidsDrChat on twitter 9-10:00 p.m. ET!

Daily Dose

Let's Talk Flu Vaccines

2.00 to read

It's hard to believe, but fall virus season is just around the corner and the time is now to start thinking about the upcoming flu season. Some areas of the country continue to experience 100+ degrees which makes it hard to believe it’s time to talk about flu! Not the actual virus (just yet) but flu vaccines!  Flu vaccines are being shipped and should be in your doctor’s office at any time. We received ours last week and have already started giving vaccines to patients.

As in previous years, all people aged six months and older need to be vaccinated. This year’s vaccine contains three strains of influenza virus and they are identical to last year’s vaccine strains. Even though the vaccines are identical, it does not mean that you can skip the flu vaccine this year.  Sorry! Because the protection from the flu wanes over the year, it is necessary to get re-vaccinated every year. Why? You just don’t know how much antibody you have left! For children who are six months to age eight years of age, AND who have NEVER been vaccinated, the recommendation continues to be that they should receive two doses of vaccine which are given at least four weeks apart. If your child received at least one dose of flu vaccine in 2010-2011, they will only need one dose of the 2011-2012 vaccine. The recommendation for pregnant women to be vaccinated also continues. There has been some good recent data that babies who were born to mothers who had received flu vaccine had a 45-48% LESS chance of being hospitalized with the flu than babies born to unvaccinated mothers. So, the take home message is that your baby, even in utero, is getting antibody protection from the mother. We have known this about other diseases and now there is evidence of influenza protection too. Time to think/pray/chant for cooler weather, which means that “flu viruses” will be happy to return from vacation….start getting your vaccine now! That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease

1:30 to read

I am back on my soap box about what is a newsworthy announcement…..especially as it pertains to viral infections. While I know that day care centers and pre-schools are “keen” on posting notices or sending emails to parents about the latest virus to be found at school, I am still baffled as to the necessity to do this and alarm parents. Aren’t there HIPPA violations or something?  Knowing that a child in school has been diagnosed with  “hand-foot-mouth" disease (HFMD) does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Pediatricians are used to seeing HFMD, sometimes daily, and yes it does seem that these viral illnesses cluster at different times of the year. But, with that being said, does it really do any one any good, and does it maybe actually “worry” already anxious parents about possible exposure. Are we forgetting that children are exposed to these pesky viral infections all of the time…and that in most cases they are fairly minor, inconvenient and cause several days of fever and generally not feeling well.  End of story.

But now HFMD has made the national news….as there have been 22 cases of HFMD diagnosed at Florida State University…..which has an enrollment of over 41,000 students!!!  Statistically speaking, that is not a significant “attack” rate….and this news is being reported on all of the networks.  While I realize that adolescents and young adults are less likely to acquire HFMD and they may feel worse than a toddler who in most cases seems to “power through”  with fever reducing medication, popsicles and ice cream, is this really a national news story?  

HFMD is caused by an enterovirus (Coxsackie A16) and typically causes several days of fever and not feeing well followed by small ulcers and blisters that may occur in the throat (painful) as well as on the hands and feet. (younger children seem to often get a rash on their buttocks too).  HFMD may be spread in a variety of ways including direct contact with saliva or fluid from the blisters that may occur on the hands and feet, from fecal contamination, and also when a person coughs or sneezes in close proximity. The virus may also live on surfaces that we touch and then touch our eyes, nose or mouth and cause infection.  As I always say, “good hand washing” and keeping yourself home when sick is the best way to prevent the spread of a virus. While I believe in good sanitation and clean public spaces is it really necessary to “wipe down” classrooms, dorms, cafeterias and even toys in school due to several cases of HFMD. Do you have to do this all day long?  HFMD is not a bacterial disease like meningitis and does not have life threatening consequences.  There will be another viral infection  (or 2 or 3 or 4)  soon to follow and one of these will be influenza.

So, rather than talking about HFMD and mass “cleaning efforts” I think we should focus on another way to prevent illness. VACCINATIONS!  We do know that vaccines work to prevent disease and despite the science behind that, there are still those that “opt out” of vaccines, and this includes getting a flu vaccine.  I wonder if there are students at FSU who have opted out of vaccines and if so how many….maybe more than 22/41,000?  At the same time, how many of those students will opt “in” and get a flu vaccine? That is the bigger story ….get vaccinated for flu now…so we don’t have another even bigger “outbreak”.   I know there will be more than 22 students who get the flu at FSU and will that make the news?  It is the same thing for schools everywhere…lets put up signs about flu vaccines and keep those numbers down.I hope the news reports this.

 

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Daily Dose

The Flu Vaccine For Moms-To-Be

I have the opportunity to see (not treat) a lot of pregnant women in my practice and they have been asking me my opinion about flu vaccine during pregnancy.

They were inquiring about both seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine. The statistics surrounding pregnancy, influenza and secondary infections or other complications have been documented for several years. Retrospective studies done in the late 1990s showed that healthy pregnant women were more likely to have complications from influenza and had higher death rates than expected. This was especially noted in women in the last trimester of their pregnancies. Due to these studies the CDC and ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) recommended that all pregnant women receive seasonal influenza vaccine. Despite these recommendations, more than 50 percent of OB’s recently surveyed do not routinely recommend flu vaccine and do not provide vaccine in their offices. I see many expectant mothers who are totally surprised when I ask them if they have received a flu vaccine from their OB. In fact only 1 in 7 pregnant women are being vaccinated. This may be partially due to the fact that OB’s have not routinely been vaccine providers, as we pediatricians have been, and are now becoming more aware about universal recommendations for flu vaccine in pregnancy and are ordering vaccine for their patients to receive during routine obstetrical visits. Flu vaccine is safe throughout pregnancy. This year is especially significant in that the H1N1 (swine) flu has also caused serious complications and deaths in pregnant women. The data shows that a disproportionate number of the deaths seen from swine flu (about 6 percent) were in pregnant women. Pregnant women are four times more likely to be hospitalized than other flu sufferers. This may be due physiological changes in lung function during pregnancy, as well as to differences in immune function. Regardless of the reasons, pregnancy in and of itself puts a woman at increased risk of serious complications, hospitalization and even death. Pregnancy is typically a time that we see the “the glow of pregnancy”, not complications or even death from having the flu. As an added benefit of vaccination, the antibodies that a pregnant woman will produce after vaccination will then be transported across the placenta to help protect the newborn. Passive transport of maternal antibodies may be the best protection for a newborn in the first two months of life. This is especially important for those infants being born during the height of the flu season. As you know we cannot give an infant flu vaccine until they are six months of age. With both H1N1 influenza currently circulating throughout the U.S. and seasonal flu yet to come, now is the time to make sure that you are vaccinated, especially if you are pregnant. Lastly, pregnant women should not receive live –attenuated flu vaccine (Flu-mist), but should receive the injectable flu vaccine for both seasonal flu and H1N1. You may receive both flu vaccines on the same day.  It is equally important for the father of the baby to be immunized against both types of flu to minimize the newborn’s risk of exposure as well. The best protection for a newborn is vaccination of those who will be caring for the infant during the flu season!! That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again soon.

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