Archive for Health

Lung update

I had the pleasure of performing a pulmonary function test (PFT), chilling with my lung doc and getting chest x-rays Wednesday.  A PFT can feel like running a marathon while sitting in a chair with a tube coming out of your mouth.  I’d much rather go running than do these things, but you get used to them.  At one point in my life I was having to do PFTs every few weeks and sometimes multiple times in a single doctor visit.

If you’ve never done a PFT or are going to and wonder what happens, I’ll give you the cliff notes.

  • Your weight and height should be measured
  • You sit in a chair
  • Some clips are put on your nose so you’re only breathing through your mouth
  • You’ll be asked to breathe into a tube at varying rates, take a deep breath and hold it, etc

I’ve had some doctors give me a “PFT” which consisted of me simply exhaling into a tube.  To me this just seems like a Peak Flow meter.  The important thing to remember when doing one of these is to play it cool like the Fonz.  If you’re uptight and try to fight it, you’ll just have to repeat everything.

pft-results

Once you’re done there will be different numbers your doctor will go over with you.  The easiest value for me to understand is the FEV1/FVC ratio.  Based on your age, height and weight there’s be an expected ratio compared to how you actually performed.  FEV stands for forced expiratory volume and FEV1 is the most air you can breathe out in one second.  FVC stands for forced vital capacity or the most air you can exhale after inhaling as much as possible.

Like everything else, there are multiple ways to interpret this ratio, but if you’re within 80%-120% of expected, things are supposed to be normal.  The hard thing for some doctors to realize is “your normal” may have nothing to do with textbook normal.  Over the past 6 years I’ve gone from 135% to about 95%.  I’m still “normal,” but have lost 40% of my lung function and it keeps decreasing every time it’s measured.

The good news is that I am coughing less, wheezing less and hurting less when breathing.  I feel like I’ve been able to do more in the past six months than I have in the past couple years.  I can’t really say I feel good, but things aren’t nearly as bad as last fall.

Gearing up for allergy season

If you have allergies, you’re most likely aware it’s started in force.  Trees have been blooming like it’s no tomorrow and experts are saying this could be THE WORST ALLERGY SEASON EVER.  If you didn’t guess already, these kinds of statements remind me of…

The Sandlot (1993)

The Sandlot (1993)

Exaggerated statements like this are what created the terms Snowpocalypse and Snowmageddon.  They rarely turn out to be as bad as predicted, except for hurricanes and tornadoes, and grocery stores make out like bandits when folks rush to buy all the milk and bread in a 20 mile radius.  Wait a minute, I was talking about allergies.

So last year, 2012, was an awful year for allergies.  I happen to be allergic to molds, grass, ragweed, and trees, as well as dust and dust mites.  There is no off-season for me and mold came around twice.  If you suffer from allergies like me, or are lucky enough to suffer from only one, I want to share a few tips with you.

  1. Wear big sunglasses – they not only keep the sun out of your eyes, they can also block pollen and dust.
  2. Take a shower before bed – this not only leaves you refreshed, you’ll also wash any pollen off your face and out of your hair.  There’s nothing worse than transferring pollen from your hair to your pillow and waking up with swollen eyes.
  3. Be active early or late – if you’re wanting to work outside or exercise, try to do it early in the morning or late at night.  Pollen levels tend to peak during the middle of the day, which is also the hottest.  If you do have to be outside try to take some precautions.
  4. Take your medicine – do I really have to say this?
  5. Keep the inside of your home and car clean – if you’re going to be stuck inside, it might as well be a safe zone.  If dusting isn’t a great option for you, try finding someone else to do it for you.  I pay someone to mow my lawn and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
  6. Get a HEPA air purifier for your home or office – I’ve been running a Honeywell 50250 at home since 2006 and it’s really saved my bacon.
  7. Encase your pillows and mattress – this can really help with dust and dust mites, as well as pollen.
  8. Drink lots of water – staying hydrated will help keep the mucous flowing which sounds gross, but keeps all the tiny attackers at bay.
  9. Swap your contacts out for your glasses – if my eyes are bothering me, one of the easiest things to do is take my contacts out.
  10. Know your limits – I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve found myself in a bad place and just tried to act like I was fine.  While every boy from the 80s wants to be Rambo, Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris – none of them really are.  McGruff taught us to just say no, so do it.

These are just a few tips, but hopefully they’re enough to get you started.  Hang in there and hopefully 2013 doesn’t turn out to be allergy hell.

Beards are healthy

I’ve seen this message before, but came across an article today touting the health advantages of bearded men.  Some of the advantages can be up for debate, but it’s hard to argue with the homemade scarf protecting one’s face from weather and UV rays.

I’ve been personally growing facial hair since 1999.  I was blessed with productive hair follicles and rarely have to wait long to try something new.  In college I let my sideburns turn into their own zip codes and played around with braids here and there.  Obviously I can’t do that now as a working professional, but that’s what college is for, right?

If you’d like to start growing a beard and aren’t sure what to do, or have limited options – be sure to check out these charts…

http://zouchmagazine.com/the-hierarchy-of-beard-moustache-charts/

beard-mustache-facial-hair-types

 

hierarchy of beards

…and then there’s this one, the Trustworthiness of Beards in case you’re trying to give that unspoken message

trustworthiness_of_beards

NeilMed Sinus Rinse

Spring is finally here, kind of, and so the trees are gracing us with their pollen.  For me this can mean horrendous sinus congestion, swollen eyes and a scratchy throat.  Rinsing out my sinuses does wonders for all of these symptoms and I prefer to use the NeilMed sinus rinse bottles.  Friends of mine have used the neti pots which look like miniature tea pots and basically do the same thing.  I like the ability to control the water pressure with the bottle.

For several years now I’ve always purchased my supplies at various pharmacies and drug stores.  I used to be able to buy either one squeeze bottle with 50 pre-mixed saline packets or purchase a box of 100 pre-mixed packets.  Lately all I seem able to find are boxes with one bottle full of saline with a few mixed packets included.  This would be great if I were on a business trip or vacation, but it’s not what I want to buy when at home and the added cost seems ridiculous.  I try to support local business as much as possible, but I finally turned to Amazon.  I recently discovered I could get two bottles and 250 pre-mixed packets for the low price of $24.

To purchase the bottles and pre-mixed packets separately I’d probably end up spending around $40.  I’m always up for finding a deal and saving money when it comes to medicine and medical supplies.  One other problem I’ve always had is finding a good place to clean and store the bottles in between use.  I noticed the Neilmed Nasadock Plus Stand for about $6 and added that to my order.

This provides a great solution to the problem of cleaning and storing the bottle.  In the past I’ve left it next to the bathroom or kitchen sink on a towel or paper towel.  The bottle has never dried well lying on its side or right side up.  I’m often a fan of buying online because I tend to think of things I need when stores aren’t open.  I’m quite pleased with my purchases and will most likely try Amazon first next time I need more supplies.

Cinnamon Challenge

So I’ve been hearing about this thing for a while where people challenge each other to digest a teaspoon of raw cinnamon without any beverage.  It sounds like quite a “manly” thing to do with the exception that this can actually damage your lungs and airways.  This isn’t as simple as eating a jar of jalapeños, lighting farts or drinking a gallon of milk.  Most takers on this challenge might cough, cry and spew out cinnamon dust – but those of us with pre-existing lung conditions could really screw ourselves over.

Cinnamon is derived from the bark of trees from the genus cinnamomum.  This bark, or cinnamon sticks, is then ground up into what most of us know as that spice added to many desserts and drinks.  Because it derives from tree bark, cinnamon is largely composed of cellulose fibers which do not break down within the lungs once inhaled.  The oils contained within the spice can cause allergic or toxic reactions.  The reactions plus the lingering materials can cause tissue scarring and long term damage.

collapsed_lung

Collapsed Lung

This is nothing to laugh at unless you’d like to end up in a hospital for a week.  I know I’m totally sounding like a parent here, which I am, but please find something else stupid to impress your friends.  It’s not worth it for those of us with existing respiratory illnesses to further mess up what lung function we still have left.  If you’ve ever been in the hospital for respiratory problems before and experienced an arterial blood gas test in your wrist, you might want to put the cinnamon back on the spice rack.

Arterial Blood Gas Test

Arterial Blood Gas Test

GlaxoSmithKline and Theravance create new lung drugs

I just found an article talking about the FDA’s review of a new drug developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Theravance.  It’s called Breo and is targeted towards COPD patients.  If you’ve always heard “COPD” but don’t know what it is, the acronym stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both.  It’s a scary thing.  Now if you don’t have COPD, but do suffer from asthma or related lung condition, this drug could still be for you.

Breo is a combination drug containing both fluticasone furoate (corticosteroid) and vilanterol (long-acting beta-agonist).  Other drugs similar to this on the market include:

  • Advair (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol)
  • Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol fumarate dihydrate)
  • Dulera (mometasone furoate and formoterol fumarate dihydrate).

Lots of big words in there, but these are all comprised of a steroid and a long-acting bronchodilator or beta-agonist.  I tend to always be prescribed the latest and greatest, so I’m wondering if I’ll be switching to this some time in the future.  One change Breo brings to the game is one dose a day.  Many patients using combo drug inhalers are needing to take them both morning and night.

Also mentioned in the article is Anoro which could be competing with Spiriva.  Anoro contains both vilanterol and umeclidinium.  Vilanterol, a LABA, is one-half of Breo and umedlidinium is a long-acting muscarinic receptor antagonist.  Supposedly this is the first LABA-LAMA combination drug.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/15/us-glaxosmithkline-breo-idUSBRE93E0J120130415

Pari Trek S Portable Aerosol System

In 2010 I was finally fed up with trying to lug my giant nebulizer compressor from home to work and anywhere else I needed it.  After a lot of research and internet searching, I came across the Trek S offered by Pari Respiratory Equipment.

 

 

 

Some of the first things that stuck out to me:

  • I could power this with a standard electrical outlet (AC), car adapter (DC) or a battery pack (DC)
  • Weighs 0.8lbs by itself or 1.2lbs with the battery
  • Comes with a carrying case
  • Comes with two Pari LC Sprint Reusable nebulizers and two sets of tubing
  • Produces decent air flow (14.5psi standard and 35psi max)
  • Has great reviews on Amazon

I ended up purchasing it for an upcoming trip and LOVED it.  Since then I’ve pretty much carried it with me everywhere I go.  The small size and compact carrying case allows me to carry it or drop it into any backpack, messenger back, etc that I’m also traveling with at the moment.  The compressor comes with a three year warranty and the battery pack has a six month warranty.  I’m going on three years of use and haven’t had any hiccups with either the battery or the compressor.

This unit ships with two Pari LC Sprint nebuilzers that are good for six months.  Pari also provides a sticker indicator that will let you know when six months is up.  To make it easy on myself I replace mine in January and July every year.  I have two in use at a time so I always have one at home and one wherever else I happen to be.

If you or a family member has serious asthma like myself and you’re getting tired (pun intended) of dragging that giant compressor around I highly recommend getting something more portable.  General complaints I’ve heard and read about other hand-held models are noise levels and lack of air pressure creating a longer wait to complete a treatment.  I’ve had neither issues with the Trek S.  I’ve used this many times on airplanes where variations in the cabin pressure make it difficult for me to breathe, in cars, outdoors, indoors and anywhere else I happen to find myself.

Amazon used to have several vendors selling this, but they happen to only have one for sale at the moment.  If you’re interested in getting the deluxe package with the car adapter and the battery pack, I’d suggest trying JustNebulizers.com.  This is where I purchase all of my Pari LC Sprint nebulizers, filters, tubing, etc.  There was one time I had a slight glitch in my order and they fixed it for me immediately.  They also email coupons and sales periodically so you can get a good deal on whatever you’re buying.

The Ides of March

When I was in high school there was an English teacher who was really into Julius Ceasar by Shakespeare.  She did this whole “beware the ides of March” thing trying to prank other teachers.  I think it was my senior year that a biology teacher left a dissection tray with eyeballs on it and a note saying, “BEWARE THE EYES OF MARCH.”

ides of march

I kind of forgot about the whole mid-March thing until a few years ago when I started getting sick every March.  This is the also the time of year allergy seasons start because winter is usually slipping away and trees are starting to pollinate.  The first time I wasn’t feeling so great and coughing a fair amount.  Out of no where I coughed up some blood.  My wife has this rule that if I cough up blood I HAVE to go to the hospital.  I ended up missing a work trip and staying home a few days recovering.

Last year I came home early from a workout at the gym because I was having some weird chest pains when exerting myself.  Not too long after I started coughing profusely and was coughing up mouthfuls of blood for the next 30 minutes or so.  Another trip to the hospital and another few days spend at home trying to recover.

This year I “almost” came down with bronchitis.  I spent the better part of a week hanging out at home watching my oxygen saturation levels dip below 90% and trying to decide how I’d get to the hospital if I needed to.  Maybe there is something to this whole Ides of March thing because this always happens to me between the 14th and 16th of March.  That old soothsayer wasn’t so crazy after all and if nothing else, I can say I have something in common with Doc Holiday.

doc_holliday-huckleberry

CMS50L Pulse Oximeter – Review

Back in May I decided I wanted a pulse oximeter handy just to check my oxygen saturation. Often times I would feel absolutely awful and this is one way I could track symptoms. This was before I had been diagnosed with severe obstructive apnea, and was something that could help me tell my doctors my oxygen levels drop when lying down a certain way.

So where to start….I decided to go to Amazon and look to see what they had. If you’ve ever had your oxygen tested in the hospital or at a doctor’s office, there’s a good chance a handheld device was used. These cost about $400-$500 and aren’t something most people buy to use at home. You can get the smaller devices that just clip onto your fingertip for much less. They start around $20 and range up to $200 or more.

I looked around, found one between $20-$30 and saw that it had decent reviews on Amazon. By decent I mean it had a 4 out of 5 stars. Usually this isn’t too bad. I read some of the bad/poor reviews and saw some were pissed off with the device. I’m used to purchasing computer parts and other electronics and you always see these reviews. I didn’t think much of it and purchased the CMS50L Pulse Oximeter. Even though it wasn’t the best thing out there, I thought for $20 I couldn’t go wrong.

The device arrived in the mail and seemed to work great.  It takes two AAA batteries, and would be easy to replace.  Whenever Liz tried the device out, it showed her at 98 or 99%.  When I tried it out I would be anywhere from 90 to 97%.  This made complete sense because of how I was doing at the time.  I did notice it always started out at 97%, and often eventually got there, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Fast forward a month or so and that is when the oximeter fell off my nightstand onto the ground.  Shouldn’t be a big deal since there was carpet and the fall was all of 36″, but that’s when the thing started acting weird all the time.  It started “freaking out,” not taking readings, would reset randomly, and occasionally gave really odd readings. I often had to hold the device shut on my finger just for it to work.  The device always start at 97% and if I wore it long enough, would often get back up to 97%.  As time has passed, the pulse oximeter has become more and more sketchy and I figured it was time to get something different.  I went back to Amazon and took a closer look at those reviews.

For starters the company who fulfilled my order was Clinical Guard.  They had a customer satisfaction rate between 95% which I thought this was pretty good at the time.  It’s currently down at 91% which actually isn’t very good at all.  This made me start wondering why people aren’t happy with their purchases.

I then looked back at some of the user reviews for the device, especially the bad ones.  I started noticing all my complaints were listed in those bad reviews.  It seemed as if  some of those good reviews were written too soon or maybe the users never compared the readings to a calibrated device with a medical professional.  Another common thread was all problems starting about a month after use.  Since my oxygen levels have been documented by medical professionals in the 70s, I’d like to have a device that gives me accurate results.  Sometimes this is how I determine whether to go to the hospital or stay home.

Apparently the Nonin models are the cadillacs of oximeters.  The low end model is around $100 and the mid-range recommended model is about $200.  I’d really like to avoid spending $100 right now, so I found another one made by Concord for $40.  Even though this is another relatively cheap product, there are some big differences between it and what I currently have.  The reviews are almost all positive and it is sold by it’s manufacturer Concord Health Supply.  I check their customer satisfaction rating and they’re at 100%.  The only negative reviews of the item are by medical professionals saying it’s not as perfect as their high-end, expensive devices at work.  I can live with that.  So I ordered one last night.  I have high hopes it’ll work out better and will let you know how it compares.

Candy for big kids

Remember way back in the day when you’d go to the doctor and get a sticker, sucker or what have you?  Well about about us big kids?  What do we get?  Tonight I found out what it takes to earn a Taco Bell Beefy Melt Burrito $5 Box.

  • 10 or so puffs on a rescue inhaler
  • 7 nebulizer treatments
  • 1 Z-pack
  • 85mg prednisone
  • a couple muscle relaxers
  • anti-anxiety medicine
  • codeine cough syrup
  • a 4hr coughing fit
  • continually turning purple
  • and my 3rd trip to the ER this year

Is it worth it?