The Real Horror of Trick-or-Treating

halloween kidsAlthough historically All Hallow’s Eve was dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows),martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers, these days for most kids Halloween is all about the candy.

It is estimated that by the end of the evening, each child’s bag of goodies contains about 4,800 calories and has 3 cups of sugar and 1 ½ cups of fat. The real horror in the Halloween trick-or-treat bag is the contribution it plays to an already scary epidemic of childhood obesity.

halloween candyKids and teens love Halloween. It’s filled with fun parties and costumes, and free candy. Halloween can be a great time as long as parents make sure their child doesn’t go overboard eating all that candy,” said Garry Sigman, MD, director of the pediatric weight management program at Loyola University Health System.

So how can you balance healthy and happy for your kids this Halloween? Here’s some great tips from Dr. Sigmam:

  • Focus on fun, not candy. Find fun activities for your kids to do instead of just walking door-to-door getting candy. Plan a party with fun games or have a pumpkin-carving contest. You could watch a scary movie or have a costume parade.
  • Set limits. Limit the time your kids are out trick-or-treating. Instead of the pillowcase look for a small bag that they can use to collect candy. When they get home let them pick out two pieces to eat and then put the rest away in a freezer or hidden place to save for another day. All children should eat no more than one or two pieces of candy a day. If a child is obese he or she should not eat more than one or two pieces of candy a week.
  • Host a candy trade-in party. When the kids get back from trick-or-treating the candy in each child’s bag is weighed. Kids can exchange their candy for prizes based on the bag’s weight.

jack-o-oranges healthy halloween treatsAdults can also help by providing healthier alternatives to candy.  For example: Fruit leathers, packs of sugarless gum, boxed dried raisins, 100-calorie packs of cookies or snacks, granola bars, snack-sized bags of popcorn or non-food treats such as play-doh, spider rings, bubbles, temporary tattoos, sidewalk chalk or cookie cutters.

How are you planning on making your Halloween healthier?

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Is Halloween Haunting You?

scary halloweenAs October  31 approaches, businesses are capitalizing on the psychology of fear.

This year alone, Americans will spend around $7 billion on Halloween costumes, haunted houses fright fests and generally scaring the heck out of themselves and others.

We don’t have many other holidays that are really directly connected to a strong emotion that is almost universal – fear and the dark side,” says Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University who specializes in thrill-seeking and extreme behavior.

So why do we enjoy Halloween thrills so much?

One 2007 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research  dispelled earlier assumptions that humans respond to pleasure and avoid pain. They explored why people love horror movies and discovered that people actually like to be scared. Previously it had been assumed that people watch horror moves because (a) they are not actually afraid, but excited by the movie or (b) that they are willing to endure the terror in order to enjoy a euphoric sense of relief at the end.

woman-scaredThe authors argue that horror movie viewers are happy to be unhappy. This novel approach to emotion reveals that people experience both negative and positive emotions simultaneously. People may actually enjoy being scared, not just relief when the threat is removed.  The authors concluded: “Pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful.” And compared horror movies to the thrill and fear of extreme sports.

But not everyone likes being scared. How a person responds to fear is wired in their personality. Those who thrive on fear are so-called T-types.  They are thrill-seekers, according to Farley, who coined the term in the 1980s.

They like uncertainty, suspense, unpredictability, the unknown,” he said. “Uncertainty is the prime source of fear. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Movie makers and amusement park ride creators know how to induce fear. There is intensity of stimulation.  It can be the sound of screams or the visual – something comes out of nowhere into your face, like a house of horror.

JawsMusic is also important, like the pulsating theme of the movie, “Jaws,” as the white shark leaps out of the water.

Sometimes the sensation is tactile, when walking through an unstable platform in a fun house.

Roller coasters are the ultimate thrill ride. “Where else are you expected to throw your hands in the air and scream at the top of your lungs?” Farley asked. “The intensity factor is important. Thrill rides really jerk a person around. They rotate the body and change the G force and people are screaming. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

Novelty and contradiction is also a factor in fear –  a clown who kills or a child who is a monster.

Movies and books that exploit the most basic of human fears come dangerously close to reality. And experiencing that horror as a child can be a dress rehearsal for facing fear in the adult world.  Children have an uncanny attraction to frightening stories and psychologists say they project their fears and come to terms with them through stories.

Some of the most popular children’s fiction involves ghost, vampires and skeletons. Harry Potter enthralls readers with witches and warlocks.

But the concept of scary children’s stories is not new. The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, first published in 1812, were culled from folk stories that had been recited over generations. Many of the original stories were gruesome. Some involved rape, incest, child murder bullying and cannibalism.

grimmsAlthough they have since been sanitized, in the original “Snow White,” the queen asks for the young maiden’s liver and lungs, which she intends to serve up for dinner. Likewise, in the original “Sleeping Beauty” our heroine is bitten and then raped by the king (not kissed by a prince), and she gives birth to his two children in her sleep.

Fairytales are a path to dealing with fear, to figure out how it works, what it is and recognizing it,” says Farley. “Pulling your head out of the sand when you are surrounded by horror or fearsome things has a high survival value.”

halloween-haunted-houseMaybe that’s why we like Halloween so much…or perhaps it’s just the candy and hot apple cider!  Let us know what you think.

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Pumpkin Carving without the Cuts

carved pumpkinIn previous years we’ve blogged about the health benefits of pumpkins. This year, as Halloween approaches we thought we should provide a little fair balance and warn our readers of the inherent dangers of these autumnal fruits.

While pumpkins aren’t exactly going to jump out of the patch and spook or attack you, carving them can lead to significant injuries.

Every Halloween season we see four or five patients — both adults and children — who come into our office with severe injuries to their hands and fingers,” says hand surgeon Jeffrey Wint, MD. “Treatment can often run three to four months, from the time of surgery through rehabilitation.”

pumpkin carving injuryTo prevent hand injuries, we bring you the following safety tips:

Carve in a Clean, Dry, Well-lit Area
Wash and dry all of the tools that you will use to carve the pumpkin, including the knife, cutting surface, and your hands. Any moisture on your tools, hands, or table can cause slipping that can lead to injuries.

Leave the Carving to Adults
Never let children do the carving. Instead, let kids draw a pattern on the pumpkin and have them be responsible for cleaning out the pulp and seeds. And it’s not just young children who need to be supervised.
All too often, we see adolescent patients with injuries because adults feel the kids are responsible enough to be left on their own,” says Wint. “Even though the carving may be going great, it only takes a second for an injury to occur.”

Sharper is Not Better
When you do start cutting, cut away from yourself and cut in small, controlled strokes. A sharper knife is not necessarily better, because it often becomes wedged in the thicker part of the pumpkin, requiring force to remove it. Injury can occur if your hand is in the wrong place when the knife finally dislodges from the thick skin of the pumpkin. Injuries are also sustained when the knife slips and comes out the other side of the pumpkin where your hand may be holding it steady.

pumpkin-carving-toolsUse a Pumpkin Carving Kit
Special pumpkin carving kits are widely available. These usually include small serrated pumpkin saws that work better because they are less likely to get stuck in the thick pumpkin tissue. And if they do get jammed and then wedged free, they are not sharp enough to cause a deep, penetrating cut.

Should you cut your finger or hand, here’s what to do. If the cut is minor, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth and bleeding should stop spontaneously. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, an emergency room visit may be required.

Better still, follow the above advice. Don’t let your Jack-o’Lantern jinx you and hold off on the Halloween Hand Injuries.

pumpkin face

Staying Healthy this Halloween

SRxA’s Word on Health wishes all of our readers a Happy and Healthy Halloween.  For the 50 million or so people living on the Atlantic Seaboard of America affected by Mondays’ Frankenstorm we hope you are staying safe and recovering from the devastation wreaked by Sandy.

Although the United States experiences hurricanes almost every year and most people have a rudimentary knowledge of the dangers, there are a number of health risks that people seem to forget about in every storm. And frequently, it’s these things that cause unnecessary deaths, injuries, and illnesses.

While many people believe that high winds are the greatest risk from a hurricane, that’s simply not true. According to Ready.gov the majority of deaths are from flooding.   Flooding deaths often result from people trying to wade or drive through moving water or water of unknown depth.  Six inches of water will stall most vehicles – a foot of water may float a vehicle. Sadly, many flood deaths happen as a result of misadventure. Victims who chose to ignore warnings and drive around barricades set up to restrict travel in flood danger areas.

Other deaths happen when people walk or drive through flood water and discover that the ground has been washed away or the water is too deep to cross. Falling trees and tree limbs are another cause of hurricane deaths and injuries. Wait until the storm passes to begin any work on these hazards, even if they have fallen on a house or car. And even then take extreme care.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that tree parts can move without warning by a mistaken cut of a saw.  If in doubt call your local fire department or check out the CDC’s advice on preventing chain saw injuries.

High winds and flood produces power outages and electrical dangers. Electrical providers suggest that all downed wires should be considered as live. Stay ten feet away, at minimum. And remember don’t touch tree limbs, fences or other objects that a power line is touching since they can conduct electricity, sometimes for hundreds of feet.

Flooded homes and flooded appliances inside homes represent another electrical hazard. Don’t use power outlets or lights in a building that was flooded until the electrical system has been inspected by an electrician. Carbon monoxide poisoning is another oft overlooked danger after a hurricane. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless and exposure can be deadly. Please remember that generators, charcoal grills, hibachis and other similar cooking methods should only be operated outside.

And even when the worst of the storm is over, as things start to dry out, those that got wet in the flooding will begin to mold. The CDC offers a web page about how to reenter a flooded home and another on dealing with the dangers of mold. You should also keep in mind that any surface that was flooded, especially basements may be contaminated with sewage.

Also consider the dangers from food spoiled by loss of power. If the power is out for less than 2 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer should be safe to consume. However, if the power is out for longer than 2 hours, then you should remember the following:

A freezer that is half full will only hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Beyond that you will need to toss the contents.

So whether you hunkering down, bailing out or trick-or-treating today, please stay safe and healthy.

Halloween Health Hazards

While fake blood and creepy costumes help make Halloween a howl, this October 31, beware of the hidden hazards that can turn the night downright dangerous. SRxA’s Word on Health shares these top tips from top docs, to keep you safe.

While there’s few things that says Halloween like a Jack-O’-Lantern, the American Academy of Pediatrics caution that pumpkin carving is no craft for children. Instead, they suggest that young kids limit themselves to drawing designs that adults can cut out. And rather than using candles to light your lantern, they suggest you consider glow sticks to get that long-lasting luminosity.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, warns that if you want to see another Halloween you shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the increasingly popular crazy colored contact lenses on sale in party stores.  Although cat-like contacts may look cool, these over-the-counter lenses aren’t worth the risk. They can cause serious eye disorders and infections that could result in blindness.

And it’s not just contact lenses. Other parts of your Halloween costume can also be hazardous to your health. Over-sized costumes can quickly turn trick-or-treating into trip-and-tumbling.  And to avoid having to drop and roll, the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you only wear costumes made from flame-resistant fabrics.

Similarly, choose your mask carefully. Whether you chose “The Scream, Frankenstein, or Romney, make sure so you can see what’s coming. Some masks limit peripheral vision, so much so that you may end up being the thing that goes bump in the night.  But before you decide to skip the mask in favor of  makeup, don’t forget this has its own hazards too.  Sure, well-applied makeup can transform seven the most perfect skin into ghoulish festering  wounds, warts and scars, but it can also leave a rash that lingers into November. The FDA suggests testing the makeup on a small patch of skin a couple of days before using it on your face. And check out the agency’s list of approved makeup additives. If the makeup contains unapproved ingredients, toss it.

Finally don’t get tricked by your treats! The FDA recommends that children have their Halloween loot  inspected by an adult who can remove risky treats and anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. If you’re not sure what it is – get rid of it.

Whatever you do, please stay safe out there this Halloween.

Nightmare on Allergy Street?

With Halloween rapidly approaching, do you have more than ghosts and ghouls and things that groan in the night to worry about?  If you suffer from seasonal allergies then your answer is almost certainly yes.

Seasonal allergies occur when outdoor allergens such as mold spores, tree, grass and weed pollen are inhaled and cause an allergic reaction.

This year allergy sufferers were subjected to the “perfect storm” of a mild winter, including an unseasonably warm February, and an early spring caused trees to pollinate earlier than normal.

This has been a very strange year for allergies,” says Dr. David Chudwin, an allergist from Crystal Lake, IL. “It’s been the strangest year in the 30 years that I’ve been practicing.”

The early spring was followed by a hot dry summer that kept pollen counts high, day after day.  Then in late summer and early autumn, record-breaking mold counts resulted in county wide air-quality alerts that resulted in even mild allergy sufferers dreading the outdoors.  Although mold is typically associated with dampness, mold spores also are associated with dying vegetation.

Many molds grow on rotting logs and fallen leaves, in compost piles and on grasses and grains. Unlike pollens, molds do not die with the first killing frost. And mold counts can change quickly, depending on the weather. Certain spore types reach peak levels in dry, breezy weather. Some need high humidity, fog or dew to release spores. This group is abundant at night and during rainy periods.

To makes things worse, retreating indoors may not be the answer. For, those bothered by indoor, as well as outdoor, allergens, the season of suffering is just beginning.  As we start to run furnaces and our pets elect to curl up in front of the fire, dust and dander levels start to rise.

According to most of the country’s leading expert on allergies, more Americans than ever are sneezing, sniffling and itching. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, estimates 450 million Americans suffer from allergies.

As previously reported by SRxA’s Word on Health, our squeaky clean lifestyle is probably to blame for the rising numbers.  According to the hygiene hypothesis – Children that lead too clean a life are not exposed to enough germs to properly adjust their immune system.

People who are less prone to allergies include children from large families, children who live on farms, children in underdeveloped countries,” Chudwin said.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, we suggest a trip to your local allergist, who can help prepare you for sneeze-free trick-or-treating and the other joys of fall and winter.

Manicure and pedicure – $100… avoiding hepatitis – priceless.

Having survived the ghostly ghoulishness of Halloween, those of us living in Virginia thought we could rest easy for the next year.  Not so.  According to a new report, a mani-pedi could result in way more than beautiful nails.

The study by the Virginia Department of Health entitled, “Assessment of the Risk of Bloodborne Pathogen Transmission in Nail Salons and Barber Shops and Regulatory Requirements in Virginia” concluded that the risk of disease transmission cannot be excluded.

And although the current Virginia regulations (dated September 1, 2011), are sufficient to preventing bloodborne pathogens transmission, there is little evidence to show that they are being followed.  David A. Johnson, M.D., FACG of Eastern Virginia Medical School who analyzed the report said “The risk of transmission of infectious disease, particularly hepatitis B and C, in personal care settings is significantly understudied in the United States.”

Repeat use instruments such as nail files, finger bowls, foot basins, buffers, clippers, and scissors all constitute a threat if they are not fully cleaned and disinfected.

A recent case of acute hepatitis C (HCV), a disease that can result in liver chirrosis, liver cancer and even death, was “clearly related to a manicure/pedicure treatment” said Johnson.  This case prompted the evaluation of the current safety regulations in Virginia and compared them with those in 13 other states and the District of Columbia.  This review of the published literature identified eighteen papers, including nine case-control studies, three case-series studies, and six population-based surveys, that assessed manicure, pedicure, or barbering as potential risk factors for hepatitis B (HBV) and/or HCV infection. Of the nine case-control studies, five evaluated HBV and/or HCV in nail salon settings and three of the five showed association with HBV and one of the five showed association with HCV.

Uggggh!   Nevertheless, caution is required in interpreting these findings because of the substantial heterogeneities in the population studied, sample size, case and control selection, analytic method, and control of confounding variables across studies. Furthermore, none of the nine case-control studies was conducted in the United States.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have specific guidelines for the prevention of HBV or HCV infection in nail salons and neither the current CDC case report form for HBV or HCV nor the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System captures manicures or pedicures as risk factors for transmission of hepatitis.

“The true magnitude of this risk has yet to be defined and clearly needs further study,” commented Dr. Johnson.

In the meantime, he urged nail salon customers to be aware of the potential risks for hepatitis transmission, and to take precautions including asking questions to determine whether or not the establishment is properly cleaning and disinfecting their equipment. “No one should accept on blind trust that a business is taking the necessary steps to prevent transmission of bloodborne infections such as hepatitis,” said Johnson.

SRxA’s Word on Health won’t be giving up our well earned trips to the salon just yet…but we will probably starting bringing our own clippers, and nail files with us .

Halloween “Creepy-Crawlies” give parents the Heebie-Jeebies

For many parents one of the scariest things this Halloween will be the note their little monster brings home from school saying that a case of head lice has been detected.

While the make-believe vampires are prowling for candy, head lice are looking for a real blood meal,” says Dr. Andrew Bonwit, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Loyola University Health System.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children aged 3 to 11.

Although head lice biting feed on blood the bite will rarely, if ever, be painful. In fact, the two main consequences of lice infestations are itching and emotional distress, particularly of the parent!

So, in the interests of parents mental health this Halloween, SRxA is pleased to share with you Dr Bonwit’s Top Tall Tales About Lice. (Try saying that one with your mouth full of candy!)

Myth 1: Lice are caused by being dirty. Personal hygiene and socioeconomic status have nothing to do with having or transmitting head lice. The head louse is an equal-opportunity pest!

Myth 2 Pets spread lice: Animals are not known to carry head lice nor to transmit them to people

Myth 3: Beware sharing hairbrushes and personal items to avoid lice. Although it’s probably best not to share such items as combs, hairbrushes and hats, these do not seem to transmit the pest. Transmission of lice seems to occur only by direct head-to-head contact from one person to another

Myth 4: Kids with lice should be sent home from school immediately. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse “no-nit” policies that exclude children from school because nits are present. In fact, even the presence of mature head lice is not considered a valid reason to exclude children, only a cause for prompt referral to the physician for treatment

Myth 5: Lice carry disease. Head lice do not transmit serious infectious.

Having got that straight, it’s worth emphasizing that lice are very treatable.  A simple over-the-counter or prescription insecticidal shampoo or lotion applied to the scalp, left on for a specified time and rinsed off is usually all that’s needed. As the life cycle of lice is about seven days from the laying of the eggs to the hatching, a second treatment, seven days after the first is recommended to prevent further infestation.

Which only leaves you with the vampires to worry about!

Happy Halloween.

Falling for Pumpkins

Here in the nation’s capital, the cooler temperatures and brilliant colors of Fall are upon us. Pumpkin patches are opening everywhere and among the neighborhood kids, the countdown to Halloween has begun. This year, rather than throwing out the pumpkin seeds after carving lanterns or making pie, nutritionists are suggesting that we eat them. Pumpkin and its seeds provide many nutritional benefits including:

  • Protein: pumpkin seeds are high in protein
  • Essential fatty acid oils: to help maintain healthy blood vessels, nerves, tissues and hair

 Snack on a quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds and you will receive 46% of the daily value for magnesium, 29% for iron, 52% for manganese, 24% for copper, 16.9% for protein, and 17% for zinc.

It’s claimed that pumpkins can also support kidney, bladder and prostate health; minimize osteoporosis, help get rid of parasites & tapeworms, and lower cholesterol due to the high levels of phytosterol.  Pumpkin seeds may also alleviate symptoms of depression as they contain L-tryptophan.

Dr. Helen Lee of ChicagoHealers.com recommends four ways to incorporate pumpkin into your everyday diet.

  1.  A handful of raw pumpkin seeds as a snack or mixed with trail mix, on top of cereal
  2. Pumpkin seed butter spread on toast
  3. Pumpkin pie/desserts/pancakes/waffles
  4. Pumpkin baked or browned with spices in risotto, chili, rice, spaghetti

SRxA‘s Word on Health’s personal favorite is pumpkin seed oil, a wonderful thick, green- oil that is produced from roasted pumpkin seeds. Try it drizzled on pumpkin soup or mixed with balsamic on salads. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even do as the Viennese, and add a few drops on vanilla ice cream.

Go on, share your favorite pumpkin recipe with us!

Tales of the Unexpected

We know that our readers like the occasional bizarre medical story, so in honor of Halloween, we have decided to bring you a whole collection.

We have borrowed from Ripley’s latest edition of Believe It or Not! which contains tales of unbelievable medical mishaps and amazing stories from around the world.

For example, the Chinese builder who slipped while climbing scaffolding and impaled himself on a crowbar.  The offending object sliced through his chest, missing his aorta by just ½ inch

Another unlucky Chinese man accidentally swallowed a pair of scissors 3 ½ inches long and 1 ½ inches wide.  He was allegedly using the scissors as a toothpick but when he suddenly laughed, they slipped down into his throat.  He tried unsuccessfully to cough them back up and the scissors eventually had to be removed by surgery.

Talking of removing things, the book goes on to recount the tale of a 70-year-old woman who had been suffering from constant nosebleeds for five days.  During surgery, doctors at a hospital in India removed 40 maggots from her nose. Turns out, a housefly had entered her nose and laid eggs inside it. When the eggs hatched, the larvae started feeding on her flesh, causing her nose to bleed.

Not ghoulish enough for you?  Then you may want to go ahead and order your own copy of the book. Believe us there are plenty more tales awaiting those who wish Halloween would come more than once a year.

Happy haunting!