The flu season is getting off to a fast start, featuring a strain that is especially affecting young children and is rapidly spreading throughout the country. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been over 5 million flu cases so far, with up to 57,000 related hospitalizations. Up to 4,500 deaths have been attributable to the flu, including 19 children.
The University of Arizona has come forward with new research suggesting that the type of strain that you first acquired as a child may be the determining factor in the quality of your immune system response in future infections of influenza. For example, if you are infected with a B strain of flu as a child, your immune system may have a better chance of combating it then if you had first encountered an A strain.
Holiday Flu Season
Many health experts are now predicting that a new flu wave is arriving in time for the holidays. This is not entirely unusual, as flu cases tend to increase over the holiday season when it is colder and larger groups of people are indoors in close proximity. Flu viruses also tend to grow in strength in winter when humidity is low and temperatures are colder. This also coincides with a period of time when our immune systems are weakened. There is also a higher number of people traveling during the holidays, allowing flu viruses to spread more quickly from individual to individual when packed in close proximity on transportation like planes and trains.
Holiday Parties and the Flu
If you are coming down with the flu and are planning to attend family gatherings during the holidays, you will want to prevent the spread of the virus to your family and friends. One way is to encourage anyone at risk to get a flu vaccine. If you are frequently sneezing or coughing, use a tissue or your sleeve to prevent the spread of the virus into the air. You may also want to wear a mask.
Since the virus can also be spread through direct contact, you should frequently wash your hands and keep a distance from others. One exception to these rules is if you are planning to be around elderly people or others who have a weakened immune system. In this case, health experts advise staying at home.
Acid reflux is often regarded as a disorder of the digestive tract. However, severe forms of reflux, known as GERD, are often treated by ears, nose, and throat doctors. In fact, GERD common afflicts structures within the throat more severely than it does structures in the digestive tract.
What is GERD?
GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and is a severe form of acid reflux. It is a head and neck disorder that primarily targets the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. The LES is a ring of muscle that sits between the esophagus and stomach.
GERD can affect people of all ages, but particularly adults like pregnant women and men with poor dietary habits. In some instances, it can be inherited. However, it primarily is linked to poor lifestyle choices and diet. In rare instances, it may be caused by a condition known as a hiatal hernia.
What are the Symptoms of GERD?
GERD symptoms most often present themselves in the digestive tract. People with the illness may suffer from:
- Burning sensations behind the breastbone
- Bad breath
- Breathing difficulties
- Pain when swallowing
If left untreated, GERD can lead to a condition called esophagitis, which itself can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the throat. It likewise can cause difficulties when trying to eat or swallow.
Other complications of GERD include:
- Esophageal stricture, or the narrowing of the esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus, or the changing of the lining of the esophageal cells, which can result in cancer
- Respiratory issues like chest congestion, asthma, hoarseness, or laryngitis after inhaling stomach acid
Treatment for GERD
Your doctor may first recommend you try to change your lifestyle habits and diet.
If those changes fail to curb the symptoms, you may then be prescribed medications like prokinetics, which strengthen the LES and cause the stomach to empty faster, or proton pump inhibitors, which neutralize acids in foods. Another category of medications that you may be prescribed is H2- receptor antagonists that strengthen the LES and reduce the inflammation and irritation in the esophagus.
Anything that blocks any of the sinus cavities can contribute to respiratory problems, facial pain, distracting sinus headaches, and other issues that can affect quality of life. If drainage pathways are being blocked by structural abnormalities, swollen or damaged tissue, problems with mucous membranes, nasal polyps, or tumors, surgery may be recommended. Severe symptoms related to sinusitis may also contribute to a need for surgery involving one or more of the sinus passageways.
Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS)
A thin, flexible instrument called an endoscope can be inserted into the nose for diagnostic purposes to get a better view of sinus cavities. An endoscopy done for treatment purposes involving sinus cavities is referred to as functional endoscopic sinus surgery. It’s performed with special instruments an ear, nose, and throat doctor may use to remove scar tissue, nasal polyps, or other sources of obstruction. Since the entire procedure is performed through the nostrils, there’s no scaring.
This is a newer procedure that may be done when there isn’t a structural issue with the sinuses or obstruction that needs to be removed. Performed through the nose, a balloon sinuplasty involves the use of a thin tube with a small balloon attached to the other end. It’s inflated to clear the affected sinus cavity to improve drainage and minimize issues with congestion.
With this type of endoscopic surgery, a 3D mapping system is used to help with the placement of instruments and provide a more detailed view of the affected area. It’s a process that involves CT scans and infrared signals. As with other endoscopic procedures, special instruments are used to correct sinus blockages or remove tissues with better precision. In some situations, image-guided surgery may be done as a follow-up to traditional sinus surgery if other issues need to be addressed.
If there is a growth blocking a sinus passageway or a need to improve drainage, a Caldwell-Luc operation may be performed. It’s a more invasive type of sinus surgery that involves creating a pathway between the maxillary sinus below the eye and nose. An incision is made into the upper jaw inside of the mouth to access the affected sinus cavity.
Most sinus procedures involve the use of sinus or nasal packing to control bleeding. If packing is internally placed, it may be absorbable. Otherwise, it will be removed following the initial healing period. Medication may be prescribed to manage post-surgery discomfort. It’s normal to experience fatigue or temporary nasal congestion after some procedures. Patients typically have follow-up visits to an ENT doctor to determine if recovery is progressing as expected. Recovery periods are usually shorter with minimally invasive sinus surgery.
If sinus surgery isn’t absolutely necessary, an ear, nose, and throat specialist may suggest antibiotics to resolve blockages linked to recurring infections. Oral steroids may be a first attempt at treatment for tissue swelling in nasal cavities.