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Self Care for Common Complaints
Links to handouts or further information:
Online Self Care Information
Hayfever or Seasonal Allergies
An allergy is an overreaction by your immune system to an otherwise harmless substance, such as pollen or pet dander. Contact with this substance, called an allergen, triggers production of the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE causes immune cells in the lining of your eyes and airways to release inflammatory substances, including histamine.
When these chemical are released, they produce the familiar symptoms of allergy – itchy, red and swollen eyes, a stuffy or runny nose, frequent sneezing and cough, hives or bumps on the skin. This allergic reaction causes or aggravates some forms of asthma.
Substances found outdoors, indoors and in the foods you eat can cause allergic reactions. The most common allergens are inhaled:
It’s not clear why some people become sensitive to allergens such as pollen. However, the tendency to develop allergies is inherited. If you’re bothered by allergies, chances are someone in your immediate family also copes with allergic reactions. You won’t necessarily be sensitive to the same allergens.
If your symptoms are mild, over–the-counter allergy medicines (usually a combination of an antihistamine and decongestant) may be all the treatment you need.
You may need further evaluation if:
A cough is a reflex – just like breathing. It’s actually a way of protecting your lungs against irritants. When your breathing passages, called bronchi, have secretions in them, you cough to clear the passages so you can breathe more easily. A small amount of coughing is ordinary and even healthy as a way to maintain clear breathing passages.
Strong or persistent coughing can be an irritant to your breathing passages. Repeated coughing causes your bronchi to constrict. This can irritate the membranes (the interior "walls" of your breathing passages).
Coughing is frequently a symptom of a viral upper respiratory tract infection, which is an infection of your nose, sinuses and airways. A cold and influenza are common examples. Your voice box may become inflamed (laryngitis) causing hoarseness, which could affect your ability to speak. Coughing also may result from throat irritation caused by the drainage of mucus down the back of your throat (postnasal drainage).
Coughing also occurs with chronic disorders. People with allergies and asthma have bouts of involuntary coughing, as do people who smoke. Irritants in the environment, such as smog, dust, secondhand smoke and cold or dry air can cause coughing. Sometimes coughing is caused by stomach acid that back up into your esophagus or in rare cases, your lungs (gastroesophageal reflex).
Seek medical evaluation:
GI Upset, Nausea, Vomiting & Diarrhea
Stomach upset has a variety of causes, such as dietary indiscretions, viral, menstrual, alcohol or stress. Usually these are self limiting, lasting 12-36 hours. Most can be handled by limiting intake to clear fluids and eating only tolerable foods.
Clear liquids include:
Foods usually tolerated well:
Avoid milk products, fatty foods, raw vegetables or fruits, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Stop eating or drinking for a few hours, and then try ice chips and clear liquids in small amounts every hour. Use Pepto Bismol tablets or liquid per package instructions.
Signs of dehydration:
The following signs and symptoms are an indication for medical evaluation:
Handout on Gastroenteritis
At least 90% of people have headaches at one time or another. More people complain about headaches than any other physical problem. Types of headaches vary and so do the methods used to treat them.
It is important to recognize the kinds of headaches you are having prevent and treat them appropriately and know when to seek medical help.
The most common type of headaches are Muscle Contraction Headaches, or more familiarly known as Tension Headaches.
They occur when muscles in the head, neck, upper back or face are tensed for a long period of time. A tension headache may be set off by physical stress, such as hunching over a desk for several hours or even from clenching your teeth as you sleep. Another cause may be mental stress caused by boredom or concentrating too long without a break.
Emotional stress caused by depression or anxiety may also cause a tension headache.
Tension Headache pain is often described as a dull ache or band tightening around the head. The pain occurs on both sides of the head, and sometimes is associated with achy shoulders and neck.
Other types of headaches include:
Vascular Headaches. These headaches are linked to changes in blood flow to the brain. The two major types of vascular headaches are Migraine Headaches and Cluster Headaches.
Headaches can be warning signs. Injury or disease causes about 2% of headaches. Tests can show which ones are serious. You should be evaluated by medical personnel if you experience any of the following: sudden severe pain, fever, stiff neck, visual disturbances, confusion, loss of consciousness, numbness, waking up during the night, a blow to the head or persistence despite treatment.
Methods for treating headaches include analgesics (pain medications), relaxation exercised, professional counseling, diet changes, biofeedback and massage. Your health care provider may recommend other treatments.
Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) may occur just before or at the beginning of menstruation and continue for one to two days. Cramps are often caused by hormonal changes.
Weight gain, breast tenderness, irritability, headache, bloating, and depression are other symptoms that women may experience before or during menstruation.
If you are allergic to aspirin or Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used.
Seek medical attention if:
Poison Ivy is an allergic contact dermatitis caused by exposure to the resin of the poison ivy plant. The allergen if frequently transferred from the hands and other contaminated items to other parts of the body where the rash then appears. The fluid in the blisters will not spread the eruptions elsewhere on the body or to other people. Only the oily resin can cause "spread" if it is not washed from the body, clothing or pets. Poison ivy can produce an allergic reaction in more than 70% of the population.
The primary symptom of contact dermatitis is itching. A typical reaction will consist of itching, redness and irregular or linear groups of blisters. In more severe reactions swelling may also occur. The reaction time after the very first exposure may be 5-21 days, while the reaction time after subsequent re-exposure may be 6-48 hours. With massive exposure, symptoms may appear in 6-12 hours.
Symptoms may last 2-3 weeks.
Avoidance of contact or wearing protective clothing are the only really effective preventive measures.
Measures useful in modifying or limiting the contamination include:
NOTE: Do not burn the poison ivy plant as the allergen can be transmitted through the air borne route.
Moderate to severe cases: your practitioner will determine treatment.
You may need further evaluation if:
Sprains, Strains, & Pains
A muscle strain can be defined as a muscle injury produced by over stretching of tendons or overuse of muscles which results in pain.
A joint may sustain minor injury where the nature of the trauma was mild, resulting in minimal stretching of the involved ligaments and contusions (bruising) of the surrounding tissue.
Usually symptoms follow a recent increase in physical activity, such as lifting or engaging in an infrequently played sport. Usually there is no (or minimal) discomfort during or immediately after activity. Within the next 12 to 36 hours, however, pain develops and is associated with a feeling of muscular stiffness.
Restricting activity that hurts the area involved provides time for it to heal. Gentle massage and stretching/warm-up exercises help recondition and strengthen the area.
Use of an ice pack alone applied 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off is most effective.
An easy to remember self-care measures for a sprain/strain is the word RICE:
R - rest and restrict activity to the injured area.
Analgesics (pain relievers) used as directed also assist in providing comfort. Tylenol and Advil (Ibuprofen) are effective over-the-counter medications.
If at any time you suspect a broken bone, an X-ray may be ordered by your medical practitioner. This is the only way to be sure a fracture does not exist.
If you feel there is no improvement after several days, seek prompt medical attention.
Upper Respiratory Problems
Common cold, Sore throat, & Runny nose
The "common cold" is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, stuffed/runny nose, cough, fullness in ears; and possible fever.
The virus is self-limiting, which means it will last approximately 7-10 days and then clear up. Antibiotics have been overused for treatment of viral infections and can lead to development of drug resistance.
Because it is a viral infection there is no medication that will cure it, but there is help to alleviate the annoying symptoms and decrease susceptibility.
The virus is airborne and passed on by sneezing, coughing, etc. It is transmitted by direct contact, via shaking hands, etc.
Break the chain of transmission by:
You can keep your personal resistance high by eating a good diet, getting plenty of rest and exercising regularly.
Certain medications and measures are appropriate for treating the symptoms of your illness, however TAKE CARE to read labels and avoid double dosing of medications when combination products are used.
Rest and Fluids
If the following symptoms occur, consult a medical provider:
A wound is a break in the tissues of the body. Injuries like cuts and scrapes are called open wounds while others, like deep bruises, are called closed wounds.
Abrasions are wounds generally caused by scraping of the skins’ outer layers. Bleeding is usually minimal. If there is foreign matter (such as dirt, glass or gravel) imbedded in the skin, it must be properly removed to avoid permanent scarring or infection.
Blisters are collections of fluid below or within the epidermis layer of the skin. DO NOT PUNCTURE BLISTERS! If a blister opens, treat it like an open wound. Some common causes of blisters are sunburn, friction from shoes, and burns.
The basics of wound care for small scratches, cuts and abrasions can be divided into 3 steps:
Wash your hands before cleansing your wound to avoid the spread of bacteria (germs) into a new wound. To cleanse your wound, gently scrub with a mild soap and water.
Ointments such as Bacitracin and Neomycin are used to aid the healing of small, minor wounds but they do not speed the healing process. Ointments should be applied sparingly in a thin layer after cleansing approximately three times a day.
A covering of sterile, "breathable" bandage material is ideal for new wounds. This will help to keep further bacteria out of the wound and prevent infection. It is important that wounds be kept clean and dry. Change bandages frequently, cleansing the wound in between and allowing the wound exposure to air. This will promote healing. If the bandage becomes wet, apply a clean bandage at once.
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a wound infection. You should watch for:
If any of these symptoms should appear, seek medical attention at once.
Keep the following items on hand to care for an uncomplicated wound:
If there is ever any concern that your wound may require stitches, consult a medical provider.