Kids back in school … colorful leaves … Halloween costumes and candy … the smells of apple cider and pumpkin spice … Thanksgiving — personally, fall is one of my favorite seasons. The weather isn’t too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. It’s a quiet pause between the activity of summer and the hectic winter holiday season.
Fact: It’s true that some people, such as children, seniors, and people with certain health conditions, are more at risk of complications from the flu, and it’s also true that some people, such as health care workers, are more at risk of catching the flu.
But — everyone can benefit from getting an annual flu shot. Even generally healthy people can catch the flu and spread it to others, including others at a greater risk of more serious flu complications. You can spread the flu to others even before you feel sick — so don’t just get the flu shot for yourself, get it to help protect those you care about and interact with.
And don’t just take my word for it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot every fall. There are several different options for flu shots — ask your doctor which one is right for you. Also, talk to your doctor about your options if you’ve had a reaction to a flu shot in the past.
Along with getting a flu shot, you can reduce your risk of getting the flu by avoiding contact with people who have the flu, washing your hands frequently, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Fact: On Halloween, people who frown upon excessive sugar consumption may choose to give “natural” or “sugar-free” treats. While limiting sugar consumption is smart no matter what time of year it is, it’s also important to remember that healthy eating doesn’t begin and end with whether or not sugar is involved. Another caveat: Phrases like “no sugar added” or “all natural ingredients” can be misleading.
When it comes to “healthy treats,” don’t let the marketing fool you, check the label: some granola bars and fruit-based snacks may have more grams of sugar per serving than the “treats” you’re avoiding!
Similarly, it’s good to know the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. “Sugar-free” doesn’t mean “calorie-free” or that you can eat or drink as much of something as you want without potentially harmful effects.
Fact: Speaking of Halloween, each year brings scary stories of apples with razor blades, candy bars with needles, and so on. I remember my parents and grandparents checking my Halloween goodies for signs that they had been tampered with before we were allowed to dig in. The community hospital in my hometown even opened its radiology ward to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night so that kids and their parents could X-ray their goodies to find any bad things hidden in them.
As it turns out, most stories of tainted treats are hoaxes. That’s not to say that they’ve never happened — and parents should absolutely check for any signs that treats are tampered with.
But we don’t want to become so focused on sensational but very low-risk dangers that we overlook more mundane, but higher-risk problems — such as vehicle-pedestrian accidents. The Centers for Disease and Prevention estimates that children are four times more likely to be hit by a motor vehicle on Halloween than any other day of the year. One factor in that — children walking after dark and being less easy to see — is a danger throughout fall as days get shorter and then we turn our clocks back an hour and it gets darker even earlier.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has some great tips for keeping your trick-or-treaters safe on Halloween — and many of the tips are good to remember all year round.
Fact: Some people who are allergic to certain grass and tree pollens during spring and summer months find that fall brings relief — but for others, allergy symptoms remain a constant. And still others find that allergy symptoms get worse in the fall.
One key culprit in fall allergies is ragweed. Ragweed releases its pollens with cool nights and warm days in August, and can last into September and October. About three out of four people allergic to spring plants also have reactions to ragweed.
Mold, household dust and dust mites are other common causes of fall allergies. Mold spores can grow in damp areas inside your house like basements and bathrooms, and outside in piles of damp leaves. When you turn on the heat in your house or car for the first time in the fall, dust, dust mites and other allergens can get stirred up into the air.
If you’re dealing with allergies, ask your doctor about how you can best manage them. Also make sure to have your home and car heating systems serviced regularly.
Fact: Fall brings the “harvest moon” — but do full moons bring changes in people’s behaviors?
Popular legend has it that a full moon brings out the worst in people — think about words like “lunatic”, which comes from the Latin “luna” meaning “under the influence of the moon.”
One rationalization for this belief is that since the moon’s gravity affects ocean tides, it also affects our bodies — especially our brains. But studies on the connection between moon phases and human behavior have found no clear connection between full moons and seizures, psychiatric ward and emergency room visits, or anything else that people sometimes credit to a full moon.
One way that full moons may make a difference is that the extra light might keep people awake longer or interfere with sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause or contribute to many health problems; the good news is that, while there is no way to change the phases of the moon, there are plenty of lifestyle changes and treatments that can help you get enough sleep.
Fact: Just as the robin is a sign of spring, the pumpkin spice latte and its many pumpkin spice relatives tell us that fall has arrived.
Sadly, some people pass on all pumpkin-spiced treats for fear that they will trigger heartburn. I wish I could dispel this as pure myth, but the specific triggers for heartburn differ from person to person and certainly include foods and beverages: tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated products, and peppermint, to name a few common offenders. Large meals and eating too close to bedtime can also trigger heartburn.
So, when it comes to pumpkin-spiced deliciousness, trust your own experience — if such foods and drinks cause heartburn or discomfort for you, limit or avoid them. However, if you are experiencing heartburn often, talk to your doctor. It may not be the pumpkin spice latte or any other food, it may be a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Untreated GERD can lead to more serious problems, such as damage to your esophagus.
Fact: You may decide to sneak up behind someone and shout “BOO!” for lots of reasons — but curing their hiccups should not be one of them.
Hiccups are caused by a spasm in your diaphragm, the large sheet of muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity. This spasm causes an intake of breath that is suddenly stopped by the closure of the vocal cords and causes that annoying “hiccup” sound. There are many reasons why this happens, from drinking too much alcohol to emotional stress — but hiccups can also happen for no known reason at all.
There are oodles of home remedies for getting rid of hiccups, ranging from the effective, to the humorous, to the ridiculous. Getting a scare trends toward the ridiculous end of that range.
On a more serious note — if your hiccups last more than three hours or interfere with eating, breathing or sleeping, seek medical attention immediately.
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