Korin Miller

Please, I’m Begging You: Stop Using Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears

Please, I’m Begging You: Stop Using Q-Tips to Clean Your Ears

Have you ever read the label of your Q-tips box—like, really read it? If not we encourage you to head to your bathroom and read the directions for how to use them. You’ll surprisingly find those instructions have absolutely nothing to do with cleaning your ears. Cotton swabs (more commonly referred to as Q-tips, thanks to the popular brand) can be used in so many helpful ways: touching up eyeshadow or mascara, cleaning all the nooks of your computer’s keyboard, and wiping away messy nail polish, to name a few.But let’s be honest: You’ve probably used a Q-tip to clean your ears. For some, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of digging out a large clump of gooey ear wax. And for doctors, there’s nothing quite like the “don’t use a cotton swab in your ear” spiel.But is it really that bad to clean your ears with a Q-tip? Even if you’re super careful? Read on to learn what experts have to say about this.Yes, using a cotton swab to clean your ears really is a bad idea.Having a lot of earwax build-up isn’t ideal, but trust us: You wouldn’t want to get rid of the sticky substance entirely even if you could. Earwax is made by glands in the outer part of the ear canal to help protect your ears from dust, germs, excessive water, and other questionable substances, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. So if you notice a little gunk in there, it’s understandable to want to clear out the area. Enter the cotton swab.It’s so tempting to dig out that wax yourself, but doctors say doing so is never a good idea. Your ear won’t spontaneously combust from using cotton swabs to clean them, but there is a good chance you might injure yourself, Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. The problem is that it’s really hard to see inside your ear, meaning there’s no way of knowing what you might poke with that little stick of cotton. Think of it like this: Using a cotton swab to dig out ear wax is a little bit like driving a car while wearing a blindfold.“We typically see complications like people losing the cotton tip in the ear, traumatizing the ear canal and causing painful infections, or poking through the eardrum with a cotton swab,” Dr. Mehdizadeh says. In addition to potentially setting the stage for an infection, puncturing your eardrum can lead to permanent hearing loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.This may seem like a fluke, but cotton swab injuries are a common occurrence in emergency rooms, Elliott Kozin, MD, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston, tells SELF. And some injuries happen for reasons that you may not even expect. “There are true stories of individuals forgetting that they have a cotton swab in their ear and then accidentally brushing the side of their head, resulting in major trauma to the ear,” Dr. Kozin says.

8 Ways People With Multiple Sclerosis Care for Their Mental Health

8 Ways People With Multiple Sclerosis Care for Their Mental Health

Over the past few years, doctors and public health experts have stressed the important link between positive mental health and good overall health. If you’re living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (M.S.), it can be even more crucial to focus on taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally.Experiencing unpredictable physical symptoms like pain, muscle weakness, and tremors can take a toll. Anecdotally, many people with M.S. say they experienced depression after their diagnosis. And research supports that too: A 2016 review of studies published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences1 found that roughly 30% of more than 87,000 people with M.S. experienced depression.With that in mind, we spoke to several people with M.S. to learn how they prioritize their mental health. A major takeaway: While it isn’t easy, people with M.S. say that making mental health a priority is an important part of living well with the condition.1. “M.S. has truly made me prioritize the word ‘no.’”Briana Landis, 24, was diagnosed with M.S. in 2001 when she was just three years old. “It feels like M.S. has always been a part of my life,” Landis tells SELF. Landis has experienced different symptoms throughout her life, including going temporarily blind in one eye when she was eight. “I more recently had a flare where half of my body went completely numb,” she says. “That was the first time that has ever happened. Usually, I get headaches but that’s about it.”Landis says she’s noticed that stress can prompt a flare-up. “If my mental health is not in a good place, then my M.S. is not in a good place,” she says. “M.S. has truly made me prioritize the word ‘no.’ I wish I could attend every event, support every friend, and play every sport, but my body just can’t handle that,” she says. Landis relies on using a calendar to visually look at her schedule. “If I am doing too much, I can see that and then take something off or politely decline an invite,” she says. “Having periods of rest is important to both my mental health and M.S.”2. “Being athletic plays a really big role in my M.S. and mental health.”Landis’s doctors have always encouraged her to stay active to help with muscle tightness. “Ever since I was little, I have been athletic,” she says. “I played soccer and baseball as a kid and ran cross-country and track in college.” Now she likes to kayak, walk, hike, and do water aerobics.“Being outside and being athletic plays a really big role in my M.S. and mental health,” she says. “I feel a difference in my mental and physical health when I exercise and when I don’t. Specifically, she feels a sense of control, which is important when managing a disease that can be so unpredictable.3. “I found an amazing therapist.”Cory Martin, 42, was diagnosed with M.S. in 2007 when she was 28. “For about six to eight months after the diagnosis, I would stay up until three in the morning searching for information about M.S. on the internet,” Martin tells SELF. 

Yes, Wearing a Mask Is Worth It Even If You’re the Only One

Yes, Wearing a Mask Is Worth It Even If You’re the Only One

Why? It’s due to the way COVID-19 spreads, Collins says. The main way SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads is through respiratory droplets and small particles called aerosols that an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes out, per the World Health Organization (WHO). Having two layers can help catch those droplets and keep them from getting into your system. A respirator mask works in the same way. “The idea behind respirator-style masks is that they can easily capture these particles and filter them out,” Collins says. “So, they get caught in the mask and don’t make it into your lungs.”How to boost your protection if you are the only person wearing a maskAgain, one-way masking works, but it really works when you meet certain criteria. Here are the biggies:You need to have a high-quality mask.“You should be wearing the highest quality mask in terms of filtration—ideally an N95, KF94, or KN95 mask,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF. The CDC specifically recommends that people choose N95 masks or similar masks (like the KN95 and KF94), which filter out up to 95% of airborne particles. You do have to be careful about where you buy your masks though, as up to 60% of the KN95 masks on the market are counterfeit, per the CDC, and it’s difficult to know if the mask you purchase is legitimate. Here are some tips for finding an acceptable mask.Your mask needs to fit well.Having a high-quality mask and “making sure it fits your face well” is crucial, Dr. Russo says. Gaps in your mask—which can be caused by wearing the wrong size or type of mask, or wearing a mask with facial hair—let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges, the CDC points out.The CDC specifically recommends you do the following to ensure you have a well-fitting mask:Make sure it fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin.Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask.Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.You should feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath if your mask has a good fit.If you have a well-fitting, high-quality mask, “you will notice immediately that breathing is more difficult because you’re breathing through the mask and not around it,” Dr. Schaffner says. “That means the mask is doing its job,” he adds.You need to know when to throw out your mask and use a new one.If we’re talking about surgical masks, those are considered one-and-done deals. Throw it away after each use. But when it comes to respirators, the CDC recommends checking the manufacturer’s instructions to determine how long they can be worn. A good rule of thumb for these types of masks is to throw them away when the straps become stretched out and the mask no longer fits snugly against your face, or it becomes damaged, wet, or dirty, per the CDC.You need to feel comfortable wearing your mask.With all the concerns about protection, it’s kind of easy to forget that a mask also has to be comfortable to wear for the duration of time you’re wearing it, Dr. Russo says. “If you have a high-quality mask and it’s not comfortable or doesn’t fit well, it defeats the purpose.” So make sure you can handle cruising through your local grocery store or mall with your mask on in relative comfort. If not, Dr. Russo says, you may need to find a different mask.Overall, experts stress that you should feel relatively safe if you’re masked up and no one else is. “While two-way masking with N95, KF94, FFP2, and KN95 masks is significantly better, the masks are still effective if just one person is wearing it,” Collins says.Sources:Related:

We Know You’re Dying to Talk About Period Poop

We Know You’re Dying to Talk About Period Poop

Certain aspects of having a period are talked about more frequently than others, like dealing with menstural cramps, sore boobs, and bloating. But there’s one common symptom that, for whatever reason, gets less buzz: period poop.Yup, it’s not just you—pooping habits can get weird during your period. “Many people do get bowel changes just before or during their period,” Kyle Staller, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF. That includes a whole potential host of things, from period constipation to period diarrhea, with some people just pooping more than usual during that time of the month.Maybe you just happened to notice that period poop is a thing for you and are simply curious about what, exactly, is going on down there. Or maybe period poop is a problem for you and you need a solution ASAP. Either way, getting to the bottom of this (no pun intended) can go a long way toward helping you understand your body and figuring out a solution if your period poops start to interfere with your life. Here’s what you need to know about this totally normal phenomenon.What are period poops?Some people refer to changes in bowel movement that happen around their menstrual cycle as period poops. As with most other period wonkiness, you can thank hormonal fluctuations for this phenomenon. “The reason that this happens is largely due to hormones,” Dr. Staller says. That includes constipation that starts before your period and subsequent diarrhea or excessive pooping that happens once aunt Flo has actually come to town.Preperiod constipation could be a result of an increase in the hormone progesterone, which starts to increase in the time between ovulation and when you get your period.1 Progesterone can cause food to move more slowly through your intestines, backing you up in the process.But levels of progesterone plummet around the same time that your period starts.1 Simultaneously, there’s an increase in hormone-like compounds in your body called prostaglandins. The cells that make up the lining of your uterus (known as endometrial cells), produce these prostaglandins, which get released as the lining of your uterus breaks down right before and during menstruation. These chemicals cause the blood vessels and muscles in the uterus to contract. If your body has high levels of prostaglandins, they can make their way into the muscle that lines your bowels.There, they can cause your intestines to contract just like your uterus and push out fecal matter quickly, Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells SELF. (Fun fact: These prostaglandins are also responsible for those painful menstrual cramps you might get every month.) This explains why you might have diarrhea or poop so much more often during your period.Of course this can all vary for different people. But if you notice you experience constipation or diarrhea right around your period like clockwork, this may be why.Back to topCan health conditions cause period poop changes?Certain health conditions like endometriosis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis, can flare up during menstruation, leading to bowel changes. For example, if you struggle with Crohn’s disease, which can often cause diarrhea, or IBS-D (a form of IBS that causes people to have diarrhea), your body’s release of prostaglandins during your period may exacerbate your condition, worsening your diarrhea. But if you suffer from IBS-C (IBS that causes people to have constipation), you may find yourself struggling even more to have a bowel movement on your period as progesterone further slows your bowels’ activity. Since ulcerative colitis can lead to both diarrhea and constipation, you might experience an uptick in either during your period.Back to topWhat does it mean if it hurts to poop during my period?There are a few potential reasons why it might hurt to poop on your period. If it’s something you notice here and there—especially if you’re dealing with a lot of diarrhea—it could be a side effect of diarrhea itself, like cramping in your stomach or even irritation around your anus from going so often, Dr. Farhadi says.

11 Possible Reasons You Always Feel Cold

11 Possible Reasons You Always Feel Cold

That being said, it’s still worth getting checked out if you’re cold all the time but don’t feel like anything else is amiss, Dr. Besson says. Your doctor will likely look at your medical records and ask about how often you’re cold, along with teasing out any other symptoms you may not have noticed, Dr. Vyas says. That can help determine what kind of testing might be necessary to land on a diagnosis, if any.2. You have hypothyroidism.Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid does not produce sufficient levels of the hormones that regulate your metabolism, which in turn slows it down, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can happen for various reasons, the most common being Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that prompts your immune system to attack your thyroid, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).Since a slow thyroid affects a bunch of metabolic functions, hypothyroidism can cause a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, unintended weight gain, constipation, dry skin, thinning hair, a depressed mood, heavy or irregular periods, and—that’s right—an increased sensitivity to cold, per the NIDDK. Dr. Besson points to fatigue as the usual tip-off, so if your energy levels are dragging and no amount of fuzzy sweaters can keep you warm, you should definitely mention that to your doctor.Treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking a daily dose of a synthetic replacement for thyroid hormone (thyroxine or T4) called levothyroxine. You’ll also need ongoing blood tests to ensure your hormone levels are up to par once you start treatment, so it may take some time to find the right dose for you.13. You have anemia.Anemia is a blood disorder that happens when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body, according to the American Society of Hematology (ASH). There are many types of anemia, but the most common one stems from iron deficiency, according to the Mayo Clinic. When you don’t have enough iron in your blood, you can’t make sufficient hemoglobin, a protein that allows your red blood cells to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide. This leads to less circulation to your limbs, causing you to feel colder, Dr. Vyas says, particularly in your hands and feet. Other common anemia symptoms include weakness, fatigue, an irregular heartbeat, paler skin, chest pain, and headaches.2Anemia can also be the result of your body making too few red blood cells, destroying too many red blood cells, or losing too much blood for some reason, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains. Blood loss due to heavy periods can cause anemia, as can pregnancy, which increases your blood volume. (This is why iron is a key component of prenatal vitamins.) Other forms of anemia are connected with deficiencies in folate and vitamin B-12, which are necessary for producing red blood cells. Genetics can also be to blame, such as with the chronic illness sickle cell anemia.The cause of anemia determines the treatment, the goal of which is to increase your levels of healthy red blood cells by addressing the underlying condition or deficiency. This can involve taking iron supplements, making dietary changes to get more folate or vitamin B-12, or more intensive methods such as blood transfusions if you have a chronic condition.24. You have Raynaud’s disease.Raynaud’s disease is a condition that causes your extremities to become cold, discolored (red or blue), numb, and even painful when you’re in cold temperatures or stressed out. “It happens because your blood vessels are constricting,” Dr. Besson explains.

Ticks Are Spreading in the U.S., Spurring New Health Threats

Ticks Are Spreading in the U.S., Spurring New Health Threats

It happens every year: Warmer weather brings out ticks, along with an increasing threat of tick-borne diseases and illnesses.In 2019 (the most recent year with available data), there were 50,865 reported cases of tick-borne disease compared to 47,743 cases in 2018, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you look back even further, CDC data shows a worrisome trend: Tick-borne diseases have more than doubled between 2004 and 2019.Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection that can cause fever, chills, and a red rash, is the most prevalent tick-borne disease. But new tick-borne threats are gaining more attention this year: Powassan virus disease, which can cause severe infections like meningitis or fatality; alpha-gal syndrome, an allergic reaction to mammalian meat triggered by tick bites; and heartland virus, a still poorly understood virus that can be deadly. All are caused by tick species that are growing in population and expanding geographically throughout the U.S.For example, between 2011 and 2015, there were anywhere from 6 to 12 reported cases of Powassan virus per year; from 2016 to 2021, that number jumped to 20 to 39 per year, according to the CDC. Earlier this month, the Connecticut Department of Public Health reported its first 2022 case of Powassan virus. And while we don’t have concrete figures for alpha-gal syndrome cases, the number of people affected has steadily increased, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.All of this sounds unsettling—but is there any reason to panic? SELF talked to experts about this year’s tick season, so you can keep yourself as safe as possible.Why are tick-borne diseases and illnesses on the rise?In short, ticks are thriving in the U.S., leading to more bites and tick-borne illnesses. But the reasons for the tick explosion are complex. Generally speaking, ticks thrive in warm weather and grassy, wooded environments, though the preferred temperature and humidity of each species vary. Changes in climate patterns, such as warmer-than-typical spring and summer temperatures, allow populations of ticks to live in areas they previously couldn’t survive in, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As a result, tick populations are moving further north, Nancy Troyano, PhD, a board-certified entomologist for Ehrlich Pest Control, tells SELF. For instance, lone star ticks were predominantly found in the southeast, but have moved to the midwest and northeast, popping up in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan. This spread has heightened talk about alpha-gal syndrome, which is an allergic reaction to red meat caused by lone star tick bites, according to the Mayo Clinic. When they bite, lone star ticks transmit alpha-gal, a sugar molecule, into a person’s body, which may trigger the allergy.Another factor driving an uptick in populations? Animals like deer and white-footed mice, both of which ticks feed on, are abundant in locations where the parasites are found, Dr. Troyano says.

Could Changes in Your Poop Be an Early Sign of Pregnancy?

Could Changes in Your Poop Be an Early Sign of Pregnancy?

When you’re trying to conceive, it’s understandable to hope that sudden bodily changes indicate that it’s finally happened. You may wonder, “Is diarrhea a symptom of pregnancy?” if you’re now hitting up the bathroom all the time. The answer isn’t so straightforward.“Pregnancy can affect your bowel movements, but it’s also common to just get diarrhea for other reasons,” Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, tells SELF.But your bathroom habits may clue you into the state of your G.I. tract and uterus. Let’s dive in.What is diarrhea, exactly?Diarrhea is basically poop hell. But more technically speaking, it’s defined as loose, watery bowel movements that occur three or more times in a day, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). It usually lasts just a day or two which is called acute diarrhea. (Diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days may signal a more serious problem, as can diarrhea lasting a few weeks, called chronic diarrhea1.)Ever wonder what’s actually going on in your body to make your butt expel its contents so violently? There are a few different potential mechanisms, depending on the underlying cause (of which there are many, which we’ll get to). But generally speaking, diarrhea occurs when your digestive system fails to remove enough water from your stool, Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. That commonly happens when stool moves too quickly through the digestive tract, as Merck Manuals explains, or when your stool is diluted by excess water secreted by the intestines.Back to topIs diarrhea a symptom of early pregnancy?The answer is going to take a sec, so pull up a seat.Your hormones fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, and you might know that these hormonal changes can make your poop real weird around the time of your period2. That’s largely thanks to a hormone that helps prep your body for pregnancy called progesterone.Progesterone levels increase after ovulation, anticipating that the egg your ovaries just released will be fertilized, the NLM explains. If you don’t become pregnant, progesterone levels fall back down, and you get your period. If the egg is fertilized and you do become pregnant, your levels of progesterone will continue to rise, Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, an ob-gyn at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, tells SELF.How does this early pregnancy progesterone surge affect poop? Progesterone helps relax the smooth muscles, like your uterus and intestines. While relaxed intestines might sound like a recipe for the loose, speedy bowel movements that characterize diarrhea, that isn’t what actually happens. In fact, without your G.I. muscles contracting as hard to move things along, food passage starts to slow down and bowel movements become sluggish, G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, an ob-gyn at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.In other words, high levels of progesterone result in constipation, i.e. the exact opposite of diarrhea. Many people experience constipation in early pregnancy3, so diarrhea really isn’t an accurate sign of early pregnancy, Dr. Rosser says.Total caveat alert: some people have the opposite reaction.“While constipation is more common in early pregnancy, sometimes the hormonal changes in pregnancy impact people differently and result in diarrhea,” Dr. Greves says. What’s more, some people may be pregnant and crave foods that don’t agree with them, which can lead to diarrhea, Dr. Greves says. For instance, maybe you are lactose intolerant but can’t get enough cheese.Of course, diarrhea can happen for other reasons completely unrelated to growing a baby. One super common cause is a stomach bug, which is caused by consuming food contaminated with parasites, bacteria, or viruses4, Dr. Rosser says. But numerous other things can lead to loose stool, including bacteria-contaminated food or water, viruses (like the flu or norovirus), parasites, certain medications (like antibiotics), and food intolerances, according to the NLM. (And sometimes, the cause is a mystery, but that’s typically NBD if it goes away after a couple days.)

5 Ways People With Ulcerative Colitis Plan for Events

5 Ways People With Ulcerative Colitis Plan for Events

Life doesn’t stop just because you have ulcerative colitis. Friends have dinner parties, family members get married, workout classes happen, and it’s more than understandable to want to get out there. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy though. Ulcerative colitis symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain can be unpredictable and don’t exactly wait to appear until you’re resting at home.Hearing how other people deal with this dilemma can help. SELF connected with five individuals who have ulcerative colitis to find out how they plan for social events. Try their tips the next time you have big plans on the horizon.1. Be mindful of what you eat in the days leading up to an event.Megan S., 38, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2002, and currently experiences very few flare-ups thanks to her medication. But Megan’s symptoms, which include urgent bowel movements, abdominal pain, and fatigue, can still be unpredictable—so she’s always a little nervous they might affect her plans.A few days before an event, Megan does her best to avoid foods that typically trigger her symptoms—especially if she’s already experiencing some bowel changes or abdominal pain, she tells SELF. “I’ll dial back on the harder-to-digest foods like vegetables and salad, and maybe coffee,” Megan says.Katie K., 24, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when she was just 6 years old, so she grew up navigating adolescent milestones, like attending sleepovers and high school graduation, around her condition.“Until I was about 18, I constantly passed up invitations to go out for fear of feeling crummy in a place where I couldn’t get quick access to a restroom,” Katie tells SELF. “I missed out on a lot of experiences and opportunities to make new friends because of this.”Through trial and error, Katie learned that lighter meals generally don’t irritate her stomach—so she avoids eating heavier things like fried foods on days she has plans. “It’s just a matter of lessening the likelihood that I’ll need to use the restroom while I’m out,” she says.2. Research the bathroom situation.Wondering if you can use a bathroom when you need to is a significant barrier when it comes to making plans. There’s a lot to consider: Does the venue have public bathrooms? Are multiple stalls available so you don’t have to wait for one to open up? To ease her mind, Katie tries to find out that information ahead of time.“If I’m going out to someplace new where I feel uncertain about the restroom situation, I’ll read through the venue’s reviews on Facebook and Google to see what people say about the restrooms,” she says. “I also use the We Can’t Wait app from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to find restrooms when I am out.” You can search for public restrooms on the app as well as establishments that allow people to use employee-only bathrooms, according to the foundation’s website. Flush is another app that lists public restrooms, but it’s only available on iPhones.

4 People on How Their Lives Changed After Finding the Right Psoriasis Treatment

4 People on How Their Lives Changed After Finding the Right Psoriasis Treatment

Although Skiles still has a few psoriasis patches on her elbows, knee, and scalp, her confidence has improved to the point where she now wears sleeveless shirts and skirts that show her skin—something she never did before. “Psoriasis used to impact what I wore because I wanted to cover my skin,” Skiles says.3. “I participate in my life again.”Kendra Gerein, 27, was diagnosed with psoriasis when she was just a year old. She says her skin was always dry, itchy, inflamed, scaly, and painful, which affected her life in every way.Gerein had a bad experience with treatment as a child—the details are fuzzy but it ended with her becoming so itchy that she was hospitalized at age 6. After that experience, Gerein didn’t take any prescribed medications for her psoriasis, and her pain got worse.“I would not go to events or join in on fun activities due to discomfort, insecurities, and irritability,” Gerein tells SELF. “I remember my parents took me to the Grand Canyon and I barely got out of the vehicle because the wind hurt my skin, my knees were cracked so I couldn’t walk, and I constantly scratched,” she says.Now, Gerein has figured out a skin-care routine, with the help of her dermatologist, that has greatly reduced her psoriasis flare-ups. She takes Epsom salt baths, uses moisturizing, fragrance-free lotions and soaps, and manages her stress as much as possible. Stress can trigger psoriasis, and Gerein notices a correlation between her stress level and frequency of flare-ups. Gerein only has a few plaques during flare-ups, which has transformed her life. “I have more energy, I am happier, and I participate in my life again,” she says. “I love the outdoors now,” she says. One of her new favorite activities is swimming in the ocean. “The water used to sting so badly that I didn’t experience many ocean swims or activities when we were on vacation,” she says.4. “The psoriasis seems more predictable than it was in the past.”Samantha Holmgren, 31, was diagnosed with psoriasis when she was just two years old. “It went away for a while when I was a kid but came back around age 10 or so,” she tells SELF.At one point, psoriasis plaques covered Holmgren’s neck, back, and calf and dotted her lower back and thighs. In her teens and early 20s, Holmgren only wore clothes that hid her psoriasis, which kept popping up all over her body. “I was never quite comfortable in my skin,” she says. Several years ago, Holmgren started using a high-strength prescription steroid cream, which reduced her psoriasis plaques so only her ears and scalp were affected. When she became pregnant in 2020, Holmgren switched to an over-the-counter steroid cream that comes with fewer side effects—and she still uses it. “I just have to remember to use the cream every day to get the psoriasis back under control,” she says. “I’m getting fewer new patches showing up. The psoriasis seems more predictable than it was in the past,” she says. Even more importantly, Holmgram says she feels more comfortable and confident in her skin. In fact, she wore a sleeveless dress at her wedding in 2017 despite having plaques on her shoulder. “That was the moment I realized how far I’d come in feeling comfortable and confident.”

Should Humans Be Worried About Bird Flu?

Should Humans Be Worried About Bird Flu?

Bird flu has been making headlines for months. Since February, it has killed 36.6 million birds in the U.S., some of whom were put to death to keep the infection from spreading, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The good news is that bird flu rarely infects humans, and so far, only two human cases have been reported.The first human infection occurred in late 2021 in the United Kingdom, and it did not spread to anyone else. The most recent case popped up at the end of April in Colorado, and it also seems to be an isolated infection. Both people who contracted this strain of bird flu were working closely with birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).The CDC stresses that health risk to the public remains low. But you probably still have questions, like what is bird flu, exactly? And how would I know if I have it? Here, infectious disease experts explain everything you need to know.What is bird flu, exactly?Bird flu, also known as avian flu, is a disease caused by a family of viruses known as avian influenza Type A viruses, according to the CDC. The virus originates in wild birds, but it can spread to domestic poultry and other animals, causing large outbreaks. Bird flu spreads when infected birds shed the virus in their saliva, mucus, and poop, the CDC explains. Just like the human flu, the virus can mutate—the strain that’s currently circulating is called H5N1, and it’s extremely contagious among birds.How can bird flu infect humans?“Bird flu mainly infects and spreads within bird populations, but occasionally it can spread to other species, as well—including humans,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF.Indeed, the CDC notes that it’s rare for bird flu to infect humans. But when it does happen, it’s because someone has been in close quarters with birds on a farm, or they work with animals. “Sometimes, if you live or work closely with birds, the virus manages to get into you and cause illness—but it rarely spreads to others,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF.Why doesn’t bird flu spread easily from person to person? It could be because bird viruses have a hard time latching on to cells in our nose and throat in the first place, according to an older study published in the journal Nature. The regular flu latches on easily, but the bird flu (thankfully) does not. 1 This means that the virus can’t get into our cells efficiently enough to cause an infection. Since bird flu doesn’t spread easily from bird to human, it doesn’t readily transmit from person to person either.What are the symptoms of bird flu?The symptoms of bird flu in humans are similar to those of the human flu (think: Fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and shortness of breath), and they can range from mild to severe, according to the CDC. In some cases, “You can get very sick,” Dr. Schaffner notes. Other less common symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or seizures, per the CDC.How can I avoid bird flu?Again, the chances of you contracting bird flu are super low, unless you work with birds. If you do, the CDC has a list of tips for minimizing your risk. The most important thing to do is wear protective gear, such as gloves, a medical-grade face mask, and eye protection when working with birds. Afterward, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water, change your clothes, and then throw away your gloves and face mask to avoid contamination.

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