What to do when fresh air is rare in wildfire zones! -Issue 70

“Take a deep breath…” You’ve probably heard those words many times at your doctor’s office.

But where you WON’T hear them repeated is in many of the areas devastated by raging wildfires. These areas have air that contains a mother lode of unhealthy particles that could harm your health.

In today’s Monday Edition of Health News Weekly™, I’ll tell you what some experts say you should do to protect your lungs if you live in or work near these areas.

So if you’re ready—take a deep breath and let’s go!

People Living Near Wildfires Exposed to
Dangerous Levels of Air Pollution

Layne Lowery

Summer in some areas of the United States brings the threat of dangerous wildfires. As firefighters tirelessly battle the ferocious flames—the resulting air pollution may pose a lethal health hazard to area residents.

The American Lung Association recommends that people with asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory problems take extra precautions during these times. Their advice is also relevant for folks with chronic heart disease.

The association issued a statement to warn of the increased risks associated with breathing smoke-filled air. “Even those without lung diseases are at risk during this time,” said Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

“With the rising air pollution levels we are seeing in the affected areas, there is increased risk of coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, as well as heart attacks and strokes, especially for older adults and outdoor workers,” Edelman added.

The American Lung Association recommends these tips for people living or working downwind of fire-stricken areas:

  • Stay indoors when possible to avoid breathing heavy smoke- or ash-filled air.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or experience eye or throat irritation.
  • Keep car windows and vents closed when driving through smoky areas.
  • Set your car air conditioning to “recirculate”—to avoid letting unhealthy outside air inside your vehicle.

The group also said residents of areas with wildfires should use the recirculation setting on their home air conditioners to avoid outdoor air contamination. But they caution against using whole house fans, which can bring in unfiltered outside air.

Edelman said the extremely high level of pollutants put people with respiratory problems and chronic heart disease at greatest risk. He recommended contacting your doctor promptly if you experience increased symptoms—especially for people who use oxygen.

Fast Fact

The herb witch hazel can be used as an effective anti-inflammatory supplement. Its leaves and bark have been used to treat hemorrhoids… eczema… skin wounds… external tumors… insect bites… skin ulcers… and MORE! Steeping the leaves in boiled water, witch hazel tea can be drunk two or three times daily. Applied topically, witch hazel extracts or ointments can be applied at least two to four times a day.

Osteoporosis Drug Linked to
Irregular Heartbeat in Older Women!

Roz Roscoe

Older women who use Fosamax® to prevent bone fractures run nearly double the risk of developing chronically irregular heartbeat—also known as atrial fibrillation. The findings, published in the April 28 Archives of Internal Medicine, resulted from studies conducted by the University of Washington and Group Health—a non-profit health care system based in Seattle.

Merck markets the popular osteoporosis treatment drug Fosamax®. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first generic versions, called alendronate, in February.

“We studied more than 700 female Group Health patients whose atrial fibrillation was first detected during a three-year period,” said Dr. Susan Heckbert, M.D., professor of epidemiology and scientific investigator in the Cardiovascular Health Research Unit at the University of Washington.

Heckbert and her colleagues compared the women involved in the study to more than 900 randomly selected female Group Health members—matched on age and high blood pressure—to serve as controls.

Heckbert said that just using alendronate was associated with “an 86 percent higher risk of newly detected irregular heartbeat compared with never having used the drug.”

Recent studies show that atrial fibrillation can also be an adverse side effect of bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that includes alendronate and others, which affect your body’s calcium levels.

Irregular heartbeats can occur when the atria—the smaller upper chambers of the heart—begin to beat irregularly and rapidly.

In many cases, atrial fibrillation has no symptoms. But it can cause palpitations, fainting, fatigue or congestive heart failure. Atrial fibrillation can also make blood pool and sometimes clot in the atria, Heckbert said.

If a clot breaks off and leaves the atria, it can lodge in a blood vessel—and cause a stroke.

“For most women at high risk of fracture, alendronate’s benefit of reducing fractures will outweigh the risk of atrial fibrillation,” she said.

However, Heckbert cautioned that women at high risk for bone fractures who are also at risk for conditions such as irregular heartbeat, heart failure, diabetes or coronary disease, should consider alternative treatments.

“This study will help medical teams better inform their patients about the risks associated with Fosamax®, helping us make the best treatment decisions for managing osteoporosis,” said Dr. Christine Himes Fordyce, M.D., a Group Health family practitioner.

Health E-Hints

Three ‘Tasty’ Tips to Help Keep
Eating Under Control!

Many Americans are losing their fight to control a bulging waistline! The latest figures from the Endocrine Society show 30 percent of the U.S. population is obese.

This group defines obesity as excess body fat that makes you weigh at least 30 percent more than what is ideal for your height. If you’d like to lose some pounds—but can’t bear depriving yourself of all goodies—here are some ways you can do a bit of ’sensible splurging’ on some of your favorite treats:

  • Eat slowly and chew each bite 25 to 50 times—to help mix the food thoroughly with the saliva in your mouth; chewing slowly also helps you digest the food better!
  • Taste test desserts—use the tip of your tongue to sample ice cream or a rich pastry; you’ll use a good number of taste buds which can help you feel satisfied with the taste of the treat FASTER!
  • Drink water—to help fill your stomach and soothe hunger pangs!

You might find that these tips help you tickle your taste buds—and conquer food cravings, too!