All About Alzheimer’s

November marks National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. While we may not all know the ins and outs of this disease, we know the terrifying feeling that comes with noticing changes in your own memory, or changes in someone you love. The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to provide you with an overview and help raise awareness of a disease that affects more than five million people in the United States.

What is Alzheimer’s?

While the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are sometimes used interchangeably, dementia is not considered an actual disease. Rather, it refers to memory loss and impaired cognitive ability, and is not a normal part of the aging process. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a diagnosed disease and the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60%-80% of all cases

The name comes from Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist who studied the brain of a woman after she died of unknown causes, with many of the symptoms we now associate with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s is considered a progressive disease, and to date, one with no cure. Research is ongoing, and there are treatments available to help improve quality of life. Most diagnosed with the disease are ages 65 and older, but approximately 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms usually present as struggling to remember newly learned information, since Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain responsible for recent knowledge. As the disease progresses and brain cells continue to be damaged and die off, symptoms also progress, often resulting in disorientation, general confusion, changes in behavior, trouble speaking and more significant memory loss.

The average life expectancy after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is four to eight years, but this can vary depending on other factors, with others living much longer. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Symptoms to Watch

The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled a list of ten things to look for when considering a potential diagnosis:

  1. Daily life disrupted by memory loss
  2. Difficulty with following directions or working with numbers 
  3. Trouble with regular tasks
  4. Confusion about time and place
  5. Changes in vision that lead to issues with balance, judging distance and contrast in colors
  6. Struggling to find the right words in conversation
  7. Losing things and being unable to find them
  8. Making questionable choices
  9. Inability to continue with social activities (due to trouble holding conversation)
  10. Overall changes in behavior

What Puts You At Risk?

Since Alzheimer’s is a disease that generally affects those who are older, age is naturally a factor. While men and women seem equally affected, women are more frequently diagnosed since they generally live longer than men. Having a family history, such as a parent or a sibling with Alzheimer’s, also puts you at increased risk. Additional risk factors include having Down syndrome, a past head injury, poor sleep habits, and health issues that put you at risk of heart disease (obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use, etc.).

Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

While Alzheimer’s is not preventable, you can help reduce your risk with a healthy lifestyle. There seems to be a correlation between cardiovascular health and brain health, so taking the proper precautions to avoid heart disease (eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing/managing diabetes, monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol, and avoiding smoking) can have the additional benefit of lowering your potential risk for Alzheimer’s.

It is also recommended that you keep your mind sharp. Activities like reading, playing games that make you think (cards, crossword puzzles, etc.), music and art are all good choices. Continuing to remain socially engaged and connected with others is just as important.

How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

While a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can only be determined after death when the brain is studied during autopsy, physicians use a number of assessments to help rule out other health issues. This includes conversations with the patient and/or caregiver, where the provider can learn more about their health history and current experiences; cognitive tests to look for memory impairment, language retrieval, counting issues and general problem solving; testing blood and urine; and exploring any relevant brain findings using technology like CT, MRI or PET.

What Should You Do?

If you fear that you or someone close to you may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, speak with your primary care provider for guidance in getting a proper diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a Western Carolina Chapter and a hotline available 24/7 at 800.272.3900.

Diabetes – Know Your Risks

With diabetes the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, affecting over 34 million people, it makes sense that the month of November is designated American Diabetes Month. But what exactly is diabetes? What are its risk factors and symptoms? And can you prevent it? We asked the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners to provide some clarity.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when your body cannot properly process blood sugar, also known as glucose. The food you eat is broken down into sugar, which is released in your bloodstream. When your blood sugar rises, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which allows the glucose to reach the cells in your tissues and muscles, and fuel your body. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce insulin or doesn’t properly use it. Without appropriate levels of insulin, higher amounts of blood sugar will remain in your bloodstream, which can lead to a variety of health issues.

What are the different types?

Prediabetes – Approximately one in three people are diagnosed with prediabetes, which refers to having higher than normal blood sugar. Without making appropriate changes, those with prediabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes – Most often appearing in childhood or adolescence, type 1 diabetes occurs when your body does not produce insulin. Type 1 affects 5%-10% of those with diabetes, and it is not preventable.

Type 2 diabetes – The most common kind of diabetes (accounting for 90%-95% of cases), type 2 generally affects those over the age of 40. With type 2, your body doesn’t properly use insulin and you need to work to control blood sugar levels. Implementing changes to your diet or incorporating regular exercise into your routine can help manage it, or you may need medicine to help regulate your glucose.

Gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy in women who have no previous history of  diabetes. It can increase the baby’s health risks, so women diagnosed with gestational diabetes should work with their doctors to help manage their blood sugar levels for the rest of the pregnancy. Developing gestational diabetes can put women at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, but gestational diabetes typically resolves on its own after the baby is delivered.

What are the risk factors?

Several factors put you at increased risk of developing diabetes, namely being overweight, not exercising, having a family history (parent or sibling), being over the age of 45, or having gestational diabetes when pregnant. Racial identity can also play a role, with African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian and Alaska Native at higher risk.

What are the symptoms?

With type 1 diabetes, symptoms can come on more suddenly and be more severe. While some people with prediabetes or type 2 may not exhibit any symptoms, typical symptoms of type 1 include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue, ketones in urine (that show a lack of insulin), and unexplained weight loss.

What can you do?

While diabetes is not completely preventable, you can lower your risk factors by incorporating a healthy, active lifestyle. Eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, combined  with regular exercise, can help keep diabetes at bay, or help you to manage your blood sugar levels should you develop it. If you have any concerns about your risk factors for diabetes, or want to discuss testing your blood sugar, speak to your primary care physician for guidance.

Make No Bones About It – Keeping Your Bones Healthy and Strong

Halloween brings pumpkins, bats, ghouls and goblins. And we can’t forget the skeletons. Though often serving as a scary decoration or costume, skeletons are nothing to fear. Bones play a vital role in the human body, and there is no better time than the month of October to talk about bone health. The physicians of Gaston Medical Partners are here to break it all down for you (no pun intended).

Let’s Talk About Bones

Bones are living tissue made up of collagen and calcium phosphate. The adult human body contains 206 bones, which provide structure and serve to protect our organs. Ever wonder why it seems like children heal quicker from broken bones than adults? New bone replaces old bone at a faster rate during childhood and teenage years, contributing to your overall bone mass. Girls reach their peak bone mass earlier than boys, at age 18, with boys reaching it at age 20, although bone mass can keep growing through your late 20s. The higher your starting bone mass, the less likely you are to suffer from bone diseases, like osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis

Bones become thinner as you age, and the condition osteopenia refers to bones that have weakened, but not to the point of breaking. If osteopenia does occur, it’s usually not until after age 50, and treatment can help prevent it from turning into the more severe bone disease, osteoporosis.

Over 53 million people in the United States have either already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or find themselves at an increased risk of it due to lower bone mass and deteriorated bone tissue. Both men and women can be affected by osteoporosis, but women are at a greater risk. It affects 25% of women ages 65 and up compared to 5% of men ages in the same age range. A diagnosis of osteoporosis may not be known until after someone breaks a bone, with the most common injuries occurring in the wrist, hip and spine

Why Are Women More Likely to Get Osteoporosis?

Based on their overall size, women have less bone tissue than men. The hormonal changes that come in the first few years after menopause, due to lack of estrogen, also contribute to faster bone deterioration. Women of white and Asian backgrounds are at highest risk.

Can You Do Anything to Help Your Overall Bone Health?

There are several things that you can do to keep your bones strong and help ward off osteoporosis:

  • Remain physically active with strength-building and weight-bearing exercises. 
  • Avoid tobacco use and excess alcohol.
  • Review the medications you are taking to see if they can affect your bones.
  • Know your family history, in case you are at increased risk. 
  • Make sure your diet contains enough calcium. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, increasing to 1,200 mg a day for women over age 50 and men age over age 70. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), leafy greens like spinach or kale, seeds, almonds, edamame and tofu, beans and lentils, and foods that may be fortified with calcium (think orange juice). Fun fact: Your bones and teeth contain 99% of your body’s total calcium, with the rest being in your blood.
  • Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. The RDA is 600 international units (IUs) a day, increasing to 800 IUs a day for adults age 71 and older. If you worry that you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight or food choices like fatty fish, eggs or foods fortified with it, you can get your levels checked and consider adding a supplement to your diet.

If you have any questions about your risk factors for osteoporosis or to find out if early screening is right for you, speak to your primary care doctor. Until then, be aware of the things you can begin doing to help keep your bones strong and healthy. And during Halloween season and all year long, remember there’s more to a skeleton than meets the eye.

Practical Health Tips for Women

Every October, we are surrounded by pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, a reminder to women about the importance of preventative screening. Annual mammograms are recommended for women beginning at age 40 (those with a family history of breast cancer may choose to start earlier). But what about other health conditions that impact women? The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to provide some tips on ways for women to stay healthy (and happy!).

Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

While breast cancer may be more top of mind in October, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in women (accounting for one out of every five deaths). Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, includes any condition affecting the heart, such as heart attacks and stroke.

Key risk factors contributing to heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol (specifically LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol that can clog arteries, and triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood), diabetes and smoking. The good news for women is that establishing healthy habits can help lower your risk. Staying on top of your health with an annual wellness visit will ensure that you’re aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol breakdown and overall glucose level, in case any lifestyle modifications are needed, or if medicine could be beneficial.

Healthy Habits First

In establishing the most healthy lifestyle, try to incorporate the habits below.

Eat Right
Eat a healthy, varied diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Try to limit processed foods and be aware of the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol you are consuming, as well as your salt and sugar intake. The kinds of foods you eat can have a direct impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and weight (adult women should have a body mass index ranging from 18.5 to 24.9). A well-balanced diet will supply your body with the proper fuel and the right amount of vitamins and minerals (vitamin supplements are generally not needed if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet). For healthy snacking ideas, check out some recommendations from the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners. 

Stay Hydrated
Women should make sure to stay hydrated, aiming to drink 11.5 cups of liquid a day (80% from drinks and the rest from food). Proper signs of hydration include not feeling thirsty throughout the day, with colorless or light yellow urine.

Move Your Body
Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is so important for overall health. Exercise can help you manage your weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, as well as certain kinds of cancer. Women should aim for 150 minutes of activity a week, which includes any kind of moderate activity–think a brisk walk around the neighborhood, riding bikes, dancing or playing basketball. Gaston Medical has suggestions for ways to incorporate activity at home. In addition to all of the health benefits, exercise literally helps you “feel” good, as it releases endorphins. 

Check Your Vices
Smoking has already been mentioned as a key risk factor contributing to heart disease, but it’s also linked to many other health issues, including lung cancer and emphysema. If you’re thinking about quitting, remember that your body starts to begin the healing process 20 minutes after your last cigarette! Speak to your doctor about a cessation program or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

While drinking in moderation is fine, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many health issues that impact the liver, brain and heart, as well as put you at an increased risk of breast cancer. It is recommended that women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

Mental Health
There is no time like the middle of a global pandemic to remind ourselves about the importance of our mental health. Women today have increased daily stressors that can negatively affect the body, impacting overall mood and behavior. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to larger health issues. Try to take time for yourself to connect with friends and family, and spend time doing a hobby you enjoy. Eating right and exercising, as mentioned above, also help with managing stress.

It’s Bedtime
Kids never seem to want to nap or go to bed at night, but it’s something that most adults wish would be forced on them! Adults should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even stroke.

Sun Safety
With skin cancer being the most common cancer, it is important to protect your skin when outside, starting at a very young age. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one with broad spectrum protection, which helps block both UVA and UVB rays. Read up on six ways to stay safe in the sun.

Don’t Put Off Preventative Care

It’s important for both you and your primary care physician to be aware of your family health history, as you may choose to begin preventative screening at an earlier age (think cholesterol panel, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.). Annual wellness visits will help you keep up-to-date on this and any necessary vaccines, as well as routine bloodwork and a physical exam. Our goal at Gaston Medical Partners is to keep you feeling healthy and happy.

7 Tips for Staying Healthy as You Age

You know the old adage that “age is just a number?” While that may be true, living a healthy lifestyle helps offset the effects of aging. The physicians of Gaston Medical Partners are here to remind you of ways to keep your body (and mind!) in tip-top shape:

1. Be Active

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again–staying active is key to staying healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that physical activity can help delay, prevent or manage any chronic conditions in adults ages 50 and older. And yet 28% of these adults are not active, which equates to 31 million people. Even if you cannot meet the recommended weekly guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, any amount of movement is helpful, and you can always work to incorporate more activity into your daily life. Small steps like taking a walk or push-mowing the yard absolutely pay off and there are plenty of ways to be active at home if the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your previous fitness routine.

2. Eat Right

Another of those adages is “you are what you eat.” But in all seriousness, what you put into your body as fuel plays a role in your overall health. The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting food high in saturated fats and salt and instead choosing lean proteins, high fibers, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables for cardiovascular health. Even when on the go, our doctors have shared the ways they snack healthy between meals. It’s also important to note that alcoholic beverages should be consumed within moderation (no more than two a day for men and one a day for women).

3. Lose Bad Habits

If you haven’t already, there is no time like the present to give up using tobacco. You will find that stopping smoking gives you more energy and helps you breathe easier. Your body will begin to heal itself from the effects of smoking beginning within just 20 minutes of your last cigarette and you will reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help in making this important change and discuss options with your doctor.

4. Stay Connected 

If we have learned anything from this current pandemic, it’s how much we miss the normalcy of having a regular social life. Maintaining your social connections with friends and family helps prevent feeling isolated and can lower your overall stress levels. Besides making you feel bad, stress hormones can cause inflammation and contribute to arthritis and diabetes.

5. Don’t Forget Preventative Care

Regular preventative care (think recommended health screenings and annual physicals) help address any healthcare concerns and changes and better the odds of treatment and recovery. Having an established relationship with your doctor will ensure that you have someone dedicated to your healthcare needs who knows your specific medical history and can best advise you in both sickness and health. And you’ll be sure that you’re up-to-date with your vaccines as well.

6. Keep Your Mind Sharp

It’s normal for your brain to change as you age but remember that you can exercise your brain while exercising your body (back to tip one about being active!). The Mayo Clinic reports that physical activity works the part of your brain that creates and stores memories, called the hippocampus. The other thing we think about as we grow older is developing memory issues. Dementia is a disease that affects memory and thinking but this is not a normal part of the aging process. If you find yourself or a loved one struggling to remember, speak to your primary care provider.

7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Adults should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. The amount and quality of sleep you get impacts your overall health. Being sleep deprived can make you feel tired and sluggish both mentally and physically, but sleep impacts even more than that. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to other risks from obesity and high blood pressure to stroke and type 2 diabetes. By establishing good sleep hygiene practices, you’ll find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

We want our golden years to live up to their name. By incorporating these seven tips into your lifestyle and talking with your primary care physician about your overall plan, you can stay on the right track to aging gracefully.

How to Get a Flu Shot in Gaston County

As summer’s sweltering days transition to cooler weather, we begin to think about the changing of the season. However, fall isn’t the only season we’re entering. Flu season is just around the corner.

The best way to prevent getting the flu is to be vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older receive the seasonal flu vaccine unless certain health conditions indicate otherwise. 

As part of our ongoing dedication to keeping the residents of Gaston County healthy, Gaston Medical Partners will hold three flu clinics from 10 AM – 2 PM on the following dates:

  • Saturday, September 19, 2020
  • Saturday, September 26, 2020
  • Saturday, October 3, 2020

Do I need to make an appointment?

While walk-up appointments during flu shot clinics are an option, we highly recommend making an appointment by calling 704-800-4268. Beyond the three flu shot clinic dates, it is also possible to get a flu vaccination via walk-in or by making an appointment for a nurse visit.

Do I need to be a Gaston Medical Partners patient?

If you are not a Gaston Medical Partners patient and do not have a primary care provider, we recommend making an appointment for an annual physical. During this exam, your doctor will address all your health needs, including your flu shot, and other vaccinations we need throughout our lives.

I’ve never had the flu vaccine before. Why is it so important now?

While getting your flu vaccine is important every year, it is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. We learned earlier in the pandemic that it is possible to be infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Reducing instances of the flu not only keeps you and our community healthy, but it keeps our healthcare system from becoming overburdened, and resources like personal protective equipment (PPE) from being depleted. 

How do you know if you have the flu or COVID-19?

The flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses and have similar symptoms. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell which may be responsible for symptoms without testing. If you have symptoms, it’s important to call Gaston Medical Partners at 704-800-4268 so we can help recommend the best next step, from a virtual visit with a physician to a testing appointment.

Rest Easy: Why a Good Night’s Sleep Is So Important and How to Get It

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart while I’m awake, you know?” 

– Ernest Hemingway 

It’s something we’ve been told all our lives–get a good night’s sleep. And considering we spend over one-third of our lifetime either sleeping or trying to fall asleep, there must be good reason. 

Turns out that good sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, can help protect your overall health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that not getting enough sleep can put you at risk for a variety of health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, problems with mental health, and even contribute to an early death. But how many hours of sleep a night do you really need and what constitutes good sleep hygiene? The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to break it down for you.

The Numbers

The recommended amount of sleep per night varies with age, with children requiring more to support their growing bodies and developing brains. The Mayo Clinic provides these guidelines:

Newborns 14-17 hours/day

12 Months 10 hours/night with 4 hours of naps

2 Years 11-12 hours/night with 1-2 hour nap

3-5 Years 10-13 hours/night

6-13 Years 9-11 hours/night

14-17 Years 8-10 hours/night

Adults 7-9 hours/night

Sleep Hygiene

No one likes to feel tired or low-energy during the day, but what can you do to make it easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night? Incorporate these suggestions to help establish healthy sleep habits (aka sleep hygiene):

  • Designate your bedroom for sleeping only. Do not bring in electronics, as they can be a distraction. Make sure your room is optimal for sleeping, dark and quiet enough to make you zen, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Establish a bedtime routine, where you go to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning (try not to deviate from this too much on the weekends). This helps train your body, which thrives on consistency.
  • Stop using electronics 30 minutes before bedtime to allow your eyes to adjust.
  • Your overall activity level can impact your sleep patterns–try to be active during the day so your body is ready for a rest at night.
  • If you find that you come up with your best ideas (or rehash every worry) at night, keep a journal by your bedside to jot them down to address the next day. Knowing that you won’t forget them should help put your mind at ease and shut off these thoughts.
  • There are going to be those nights where you just can’t seem to fall asleep. If it’s been over 30 minutes of tossing and turning, it’s okay to get up and leave the room to do something else for a bit. Then try to sleep again once you feel tired. Remember to dedicate the bedroom to sleep.
  • You are what you eat. It’s hard to fall asleep if you go to bed hungry or if you’re too stuffed from eating a late dinner or snack. Try to avoid caffeine late in the day and alcohol before bedtime.
  • While we all may long for our childhood days when we were forced to nap, it’s not always the best idea as an adult. Sneaking in a nap longer than 30 minutes can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. If you really need that nap, keep it to 30 minutes and earlier in the day for the least amount of disruption.
  • Don’t get into bed until you feel sleepy.

If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep and don’t feel like you adhere to any of the above, try not to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Making even one or two of these changes to your routine can have a positive impact, and you can always add more changes as you feel comfortable. Sleepless nights are no laughing matter, and your primary care doctor is available to discuss a more customized approach. Now rest and repeat.

Vaccinations Adults Should Ask About at Their Next Doctors’ Visit

As trials for a COVID-19 vaccine move forward, Americans await any news of progress. For many, the vaccine represents a “shot” at a next step in a pandemic that continues to change lives. 

In the meantime, we keep vigilant, practicing the precautions we’ve come to know so well, like wearing masks and social distancing. As we focus attention on the prospects for a new vaccine and staying healthy, another component of our ongoing wellness is making sure to keep up-to-date with existing vaccines.  

It’s easy to think of vaccines as being for children, but there are many immunizations we need over our lifetimes. New vaccines are developed and recommended at different ages, including boosters that may be needed to update to ones we received as children.

Your primary care physician, like the doctors of Gaston Medical Partners, can recommend which vaccines you need during your annual physical. Here are the most common vaccinations to be aware of:

Flu – Each year’s flu season is different as the virus strains constantly change. Annually, millions are infected with flu resulting in hospitalizations and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone six months or older get a flu vaccination every year. Learn more about getting your flu shot with Gaston Medical Partners.

Tdap – Adults who did not receive a Tdap vaccination as children should receive one as an adult to protect against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, with booster shots administered every ten years.

Shingles – As people age, their risk for shingles increases and vaccinations are recommended for those 50 and older, regardless of whether or not they’ve had singles in the past. The shingles rash shows up as blisters that scab over in seven to 10 days and clear up in two to four weeks. The painful rash often develops on one side of the body, typically on the torso or face. Even after shingles has cleared up, it can lead to postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is a longer-lasting pain.

Pneumococcal – Pneumococcus, or streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, causes infections of the lungs and bloodstream. You may be more familiar with pneumococcal illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, ear infections and sinus infections. Pneumococcal vaccination is indicated for all patients 65 and older and for younger patients with risk factors that would raise their risk for complications. Many pneumococcal infections are mild, but for older adults, they can be deadly. In fact, meningitis kills one in six older adults who contract it.

HPV – HPV vaccination protects against human papillomaviruses that causes the majority of cervical cancer and has been linked to other cancer, such as esophageal cancer. This vaccination is indicated for patients between nine and 26 years of age.

Your trusted primary care doctor can discuss your immunization history with you and help determine which vaccines may be recommended. Certain health conditions and pregnancy can also impact the need for certain vaccinations.

Across the country, many are putting off their annual exams due to COVID-19. While taking precautions against coronavirus is important, your annual physical is designed to keep you well. Be sure to schedule your annual exam and chat with your doctor about any vaccinations you may need.

Six Ways to Stay Safe in the Sun

Getting outside does your body a variety of good, and the North Carolina weather allows for that almost year-round. An active lifestyle is vital for your health, both mentally and physically. As you’re soaking up all the vitamin D and benefits of being outdoors, it’s important to make sure your skin isn’t soaking up an excess of the sun’s rays. 

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. More Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year than all other cancers combined, however, there are many steps you can take to prevent your risk. 

Before you head outside, consider these six suggestions for staying safe in the sun, from the doctors of Gaston Medical Partners.

1. Sun Safety Starts Young

In the summer months when school is out of session, children often spend their days in the sun enjoying a variety of outdoor activities. At the same time, UV rays are at their strongest during the summer months.

Damage from UV rays builds over time so starting safe sun practices early is key to preventing a lifetime of damage. Childhood sunburns can increase the chance of skin cancer years down the line.

2. Choose the Right Sunscreen

Not all sunscreens are created equally so it’s important to read the label. Look for “broad spectrum protection” which indicates the sunscreen helps block both UVA and UVB rays.

SPF stands for  “sun protection factor” and the American Cancer Society recommends opting for SPF 30 or higher. 

3. Apply Sunscreen Before Going Outside

From swimming after you eat to chlorine turning your hair green, there are many myths we hear about hitting the pool. One that’s true is that you should wait after applying sunscreen before hitting the water. In fact, it’s best to take the time to lather up before you even head outdoors. 

The chemicals in sunscreen that protect your skin should be given 15 minutes to absorb before you go outside.

4. Apply Plenty – And Reapply

To get the full benefits of sunscreen, apply liberally. Even sunscreens that are advertised as “waterproof” or “water resistant” will wear off. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or swimming and toweling off. 

5. Don’t Forget Your Eyes and Lips

When applying sunscreen it’s easy to forget your lips. A lip balm with SPF is the perfect addition not just to your pool routine but for everyday use. 

Your eyes may not experience what you think of as a typical sunburn, but UV rays have damaging effects nonetheless, putting you at a higher risk for issues like cataracts. The best sunglasses block both UVA and UVB rays.

6. Use More Than Sunscreen

Applying sunscreen is not the only step to preventing UV damage, but one tool in what should be a full box of options. Seek shade to prevent the harshest rays from finding your skin in the first place. 

Long sleeves, pants and hats also serve to block you from sun exposure. Not all activities, like swimming, are best suited for cumbersome attire, but even using a coverup when you aren’t in the water will help. Fabric doesn’t block UV rays completely, so applying sunscreen under your clothes serves as another necessary layer of protection. 

From exercise to skincare, a trusted primary care physician can help you hone in on lifestyle choices large and small that affect your family’s health.

Five Swimming Myths – Busted or Real Life?

From chlorine turning hair green to swimmer’s ear infections, the doctors at Gaston Medical Partners are often asked about common issues caused by swimming. This is especially true now that we’re in the middle of summer and hopping in the pool sounds like a great way to beat the heat.

Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, we’re hearing even more uncertainty about how to stay safe at the pool this year and what myths about swimming still stand. We asked the Gaston doctors which of these five common myths exist because they’re true and which we can debunk. 

MYTH 1: All that chlorine means you can’t get COVID-19 at the pool.

While chlorine works to kill germs in the water, that doesn’t mean you can’t come in contact with coronavirus while at the pool.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted through water, even non-chlorinated water. When used properly, and at the recommended levels, chlorine can kill most germs in the water within minutes. 

There is still COVID-19 risk associated with any activity, so don’t let the chlorine lull you into a false sense of safety. Since coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets, those droplets can still be transmitted by an infected person you’re near, even in the water, so staying socially distant from others outside your family is key. Those droplets can also be present on surfaces around the pool, like chairs and door handles. Following the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing and mask usage should still stand when you go swimming and keep it a safe summer activity.

MYTH 2: After you put on sunscreen, you should wait before getting in the water.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying sunscreen to completely dry skin 15 minutes before heading outside. To be most effective against the sun’s rays, sunscreen needs time to absorb into your skin. Sunscreen application prior to getting to the pool is also great for children who, once they get near the water, just can’t wait to jump right in!

Remember that one application isn’t enough for your whole day by the pool. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. 

MYTH 3: You shouldn’t go swimming right after you eat.

The common thinking here is that blood is sent to aid in digestion and thus won’t be available to help power the arm and leg movements you need to swim. While it is true that the body diverts blood for digestion, it isn’t enough to cause issues for your mobility. 

Minor cramping is a possibility but there is no danger in hopping in the water after a meal.

MYTH 4: Chlorine turns blonde hair green.

If you see a green tint in light hair after swimming, it’s not the chlorine that’s causing this phenomenon. Copper is the responsible party. Often found in pool water, copper is oxidized by chlorine, causing the green tint that can cling to hair. 

The green color that is a result of the oxidation process will affect any hair color, it’s just most visible in light hair.

MYTH 5: Dunking your head underwater can cause swimmer’s ear.

Excess moisture in the ear, especially after swimming, can create the damp environment bacteria need to thrive. This bacteria growth causes an infection in the ear often called “swimmer’s ear.” Cotton swabs, earbuds and other items inserted in the ear can cause the same infection. 

To prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your ears with a towel after you’ve gone swimming or have bathed. An at-home preventative of one part rubbing alcohol and one part white vinegar can also be used as ear drops to dry out the ears and prevent the growth of bacteria. 

Still have questions or need a doctor’s help diagnosing an issue? Make an appointment with a Gaston Medical Partners doctor. Virtual visits are available and we’re keeping out offices safe for in-person visits.