Thursday, August 18, 2011

It happened again: Fire deaths preventable had there been a smoke detector

It happens every year, several times a year, but people still don't get the message. Smoke detectors aren't an extra doodad for your home - they are a vital part of your safety. Yet, hundreds of people die in fires when they would likely have lived had they had a functioning smoke detector in their home.

It happened again this week in Montreal, Canada. A kitchen fire, not that big but very smoky, took the life of a father and his three year old son. The boy's mother was clinging to life, but the news just reported that she died this morning. The sad part? When firefighters arrived on the scene, they couldn't get the front door open - something was blocking it. It was the bodies of the three people inside. They made it to the front door, but couldn't open it.

Deaths send another tragic message

Senseless deaths that could have, and should have, been avoided. They died from smoke inhalation, not the fire.

According to the local news, as always after a situation like this, local firefighters and students went door-to-door to check on neighbouring homes and whether they had functioning smoke detectors. Not surprisingly, many did not. Some had detectors but no batteries. One family had something taped over the beeper so it wasn't so loud. The firefighter who saw that one said that the alarm would not have been loud enough to wake someone from a sound sleep.

The United States Fire Administration reports that there were 356,200 fires in the U.S. in 2009; 2,480 people died and 12,600 were injured. Not all deaths and injuries were due to smoke inhalation, but they do count high in the numbers. has good information on using smoke detectors, where they should be installed and how to maintain them. If you are a renter, check your rental agreements. In many places, the building owners are required by law to provide the detectors but the tenants are required to keep them in working order.

If your landlord won't provide you with a detector, this is not something you want to be without. Consider it an investment in your and your family's lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Chemo? Remember to tell your doc about herbal supplements you take

If it's natural, it's safe, right? If this statement is true, then arsenic and digitalis wouldn't be harmful. Just because a product is natural, coming from the earth or water, does not mean that it is necessarily harmless or safe.

Of course, arsenic and digitalis are extreme examples, but even the approved products sold in the stores and recommended by natural health practitioners are not safe for everyone, which is why it is important to understand what you are taking, how it affects your body, and what interactions it may have with your own medical situation and any medical treatment you may be undergoing.

People who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer are often tempted by supplements, as well as the more standard vitamins, for a variety of reasons, the most common being to deal with the unpleasant effects of chemo and to try to keep their body as healthy as possible throughout the treatment. These are good goals, but as a press release issued last month by Northwestern Memorial Hospital warns,  "Acai berry, cumin, herbal tea, turmeric and long-term use of garlic – all herbal supplements commonly believed to be beneficial to your health – may negatively impact chemotherapy treatment." The problem isn't the supplement itself, but how it interacts with everything else your body is being subjected to.

Herbal supplements, defined as plant or plant parts used for therapeutic purposes, can interact with chemotherapy drugs through different mechanisms. Some herbs can interfere with the metabolism of the drugs, making them less effective while other herbs such as long-term use of garlic may increase the risk of bleeding during surgery. While culinary herbs used in small quantities for flavoring are generally safe, consuming large amounts for prolonged periods of time may have a negative effect on the body when going through chemotherapy. "

Recent research shows that 50 percent of patients undergoing chemotherapy did not tell their doctor they were taking alternative therapies. “Some believe it’s not important, while others are uncomfortable admitting they are pursuing alternative therapies,” said [June M.]McKoy, [MD, geriatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and lead investigator on the ASCO presentation]. “The truth is, integrative approaches can be beneficial for cancer patients, but it’s important to take these approaches at the right time and under the supervision of your doctor.” 

So, be safe - before taking any substances that your doctor and cancer team isn't aware of, check with them. You may want to bring the actual label of the product you want to take in case there is more in the product than you realize. Different brands may have different binders, dosages, etc. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back to school means colds, pain and stress... or does it?

Most parents know that when it's back-to-school time, they start seeing more colds and viruses coming home from school. Other parents see their children developing back pain (heavy backpacks may be the culprit), headaches, stress, and other ailments that they didn't see throughout the summer holidays. Much of this is preventable, with a bit of time and know how.

1- Colds and viruses: Wash your hands, wash your hands, and wash your hands some more. It's not easy to ensure your children wash their hands at school, but you can be sure they do so as they walk in the door. Make it part of the routine: come home, dump the school bag and wash your hands.

Another tip that I used at home when my children were small is we all had our own toothpaste. It was amazing how much that one new rule decreased the number of illnesses that were shared. Most of us don't share toothbrushes, right? But if one child has a cold, uses that brush on the family toothpaste, the virus is easily spread. So, every child gets their own toothpaste. This may also solve the problem that some families have: not all children agreeing on the type or flavor of toothpaste.

2- Headaches: if your child is coming home with headaches, there are a few things you can do to see if you can track down the culprit:

  • Is your child eating breakfast and lunch?
  • Is your child getting enough to drink and not getting dehydrated?
  • Is the bus ride home long and noisy?
  • Are your child's eyes ok or might he or she need glasses?

Of course, these are only a few reasons why children may get headaches, but they are common reasons. If  you can find the cause, you're one step closer to finding the solution.

3- Back pain: if your child has a heavy backpack and doesn't wear it properly, this could lead to back pain. If you're child isn't the only one with a heavy load to carry, it may be worth speaking to the school about strategies to literally lighten the loads.

4- Stress: Stress is a tough one to pin down. Some kids rarely experience it, others are stressed all the time. The important thing is to be sure that you acknowledge that your child may be stressed. It used to be that parents and teachers denied that this was even a possibility, but stress is real, no matter how old you are. If you think your child may be stressed, it may take quite a while to figure it out - sometimes they aren't entirely sure of it themselves.

To lower stress levels in the family overall, here are some tips:

  • Develop a routine for before and after school. While it may be tough to begin one, routines do help children feel secure if they are feeling out of sorts.
  • Ensure the children get enough sleep. 
  • Ensure good eating habits. Proper meals, sitting down and taking the time to eat them is not only a healthy thing to do, it's a good time to interact with one another.
  • Allow for non-scheduled activities. Allow your kids to be kids and enjoy having nothing to do. While it may seem counter-productive in this "must hurry, must be busy" society, there's a lot to be said about day dreaming and just doing nothing once in a while.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

WebQuit, a free, online smoking-cessation study

Are you trying to quit smoking and interested in participating in an online smoking-cessation study? If so, you're in luck. Until August 31, 2011  you can see if you are eligible to enroll in WebQuit, a free, online smoking-cessation study being conducted by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The study began in June 2010 and was designed to look at to improve effectiveness of online smoking-cessation programs. Many people who would like some help to quit smoking but don't want to or can't attend personal group meetings or help groups may choose to use an online program. However, they aren't always effective and can stand some improving, study directors say.

 Considering their easy availability and accessibility (24 hours a day), it may be surprising to learn that online smoking cessation programs aren't very successful overall.

According to a recent press release:

Study participants will learn new tools for dealing more effectively with urges to smoke. They also will receive step-by-step quit guides and create personalized plans for staying smoke-free.
Participants will be randomly assigned by computer (like the tossing of a coin) to one of two online smoking-cessation programs. The success rates of participants will then be compared. 

To participate, you will have to complete online questionnaires, including one 15-minute follow-up survey. Eligible participants must be at least 18 and not currently participating in other smoking-cessation programs, among other requirements.The study is funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

To enroll in the WebQuit study or for more information, please visit

Good luck!