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Cough And Cold Meds: The Good And The Bad

Want to try to avoid a visit to the doctor for that cough or cold? Why not go to the pharmacy to get an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine? In this video from local TV news, I talk about the good and bad of OTC cough and cold meds. Will that medicine from the pharmacy actually help you get better faster?

 

*This blog post was originally published at Doctor Anonymous*

App-Tracking The Flu

As a part of the TheraFlu campaign, Novartis has developed free Android, Blackberry and iPhone applications for tracking flu outbreaks in the U.S. These days it’s become inevitable to develop free apps on all platforms in order to promote your product. From Novartis:

Keep up-to-date on the most active cold and flu reports around the country. The WheresFlu™ app follows sickness incidence levels from week to week and keeps track of the current top 5 affected cities in the nation. The WheresFlu™ app will find your current location and provide you with results for that area. Or you can enter a ZIP code to get information for that area.

If you’re wondering how it actually works and how it differs from Google Flu Trends, here it is:

WheresFlu™ measures weekly activity for cold and flu based upon real-time reports of symptoms from SDI FAN® (a source used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). As the longest-running respiratory tracking program in the US, SDI FAN® covers illness levels in 135 regions across the country utilizing panel-member reporting along with patient-specific data. Advanced tracking uses illness status levels to predict change in the affected population for the nine US Census Regions.

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*

Treating The Common Cold

For the last week I have had a cold. I usually get one each winter. I have two kids in school and they bring home a lot of viruses. I also work in a hospital, which tends (for some reason) to have lots of sick people. Although this year I think I caught my cold while traveling.  I’m almost over it now, but it’s certainly a miserable interlude to my normal routine.

One thing we can say for certain about the common cold — it’s common. It is therefore no surprise that there are lots of cold remedies, folk remedies, pharmaceuticals, and “alternative” treatments. Finding a “cure for the common cold” has also become a journalistic cliche — reporters will jump on any chance to claim that some new research may one day lead to a cure for the common cold. Just about any research into viruses, no matter how basic or preliminary, seems to get tagged with this headline. (It’s right up there with every fossil being a “missing link.”)

But despite the commonality of the cold, the overall success of modern medicine, and the many attempts to treat or prevent the cold — there are very few treatments that are actually of any benefit. The only certain treatment is tincture of time. Most colds will get better on their own in about a week. This also creates the impression that any treatment works — no matter what you do, your symptoms are likely to improve. It is also very common to get a mild cold that lasts just a day or so. Many people my feel a cold “coming on” but then it never manifests. This is likely because there was already some partial immunity, so the infection was wiped out quickly by the immune system. But this can also create the impression that whatever treatment was taken at the onset of symptoms worked really well, and even prevented the cold altogether.

What Works

There is a short list of treatments that do seem to have some benefit. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can reduce many of the symptoms of a cold — sore throat, inflamed mucosa, aches, and fever. Acetaminophen may help with the pain and fever, but it is not anti-inflammatory and so will not work as well. NSAIDs basically take the edge off, and may make it easier to sleep. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Fungus: An Unwanted Yoga Partner

Yoga is good for your mind and body, including your skin. Yoga mats, on the other hand, might not be. Using someone else’s yoga mat for an hour could lead to an infection.

Fungal infections are common and appear as athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, and ringworm. Unfortunately, the fungus can survive on surfaces like mats long after the infected person has left. Although most people blame the gym locker room when they develop athlete’s foot, you can catch the fungus from a variety of places anytime you walk barefoot.

Fortunately, even if the fungus comes into contact with your skin, it doesn’t always lead to infection. Dry, cracked skin, or soft, wet skin disrupt your primary defense against the fungus — the densely packed barrier of skin cells, oils and proteins on your healthy skin’s surface. Here are five ways to prevent taking a fungus home with you from your next yoga class:

1. Bring your own mat. At least you know what you have.

2. Use an alcohol sanitizer on your hands and feet after your class. Sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol are excellent at drying up the fungus and killing it long before it has a chance to infect you. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

Book Review: “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”

A friend suggested she was tired of hearing about vaccines. Her comment and our subsequent conversation seemed to reflect an important shift in parent sentiment: The conversation about vaccines is beginning to get somewhere.

While much of this was born of the mainstream media’s newfound realization that the vaccine-autism connection was cooked, some of this is due to the tireless work of those like the Children’s Hospital of Philedelphia’s Dr. Paul Offit who get the story right.

As part of his passionate agenda to expose vaccine truths, he’s published “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” (Basic Books, 2011). For those looking to understand the origins of anti-vaccine sentiment, read this book.

What struck me is the deep history behind the anti-vaccine movement. From Jenner’s smallpox fix to modern-day MMR struggles, Offit draws fascinating corollaries surrounding immunization that seem to defy the generations. Vaccine resistance was not born of Andrew Wakefield, but broader concerns rooted in religion, individual liberty, fear and propaganda. “Deadly Choices” puts the anti-vaccine movement in a historic sequence that reads like good suspense. I couldn’t put it down. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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