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5 ways winter affects your health

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Winter—especially in areas like the Midwest—can seem like the longest season of all. Aside from the stress of hearing snowbunnies and sun lovers debate the merits and setbacks of the snow and icy season, there are a few winter health issues to be wary of as well.

1. The winter blues
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? SAD is a type of depressive disorder that is brought on by winter’s shorter days—with early sunsets and late sunrises, the lack of natural sunlight causes some to experience increased sleepiness, increased appetite, a heavy sensation in the limbs, loss of interest, a sense of hopelessness and social withdrawal. The endorphins gained from exercise can be helpful with SAD symptoms, as can light therapy, which uses a special lamp to make up for missing natural sunlight. Make sure to speak with your provider if you experience these symptoms.

2. Winter dry eye
Between the cold, dry air and the dryness from indoor heating (especially space heaters), winter can often be a time of burning, itching eyes. These symptoms, along with a feeling of grittiness, indicate that your eyes are not producing enough tears to keep them comfortably moist. Dry eyes can be relieved with artificial tears, using a cool-mist humidifier and eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such fish and flax seed. In severe cases, a procedure that closes the ducts that drain tears from the surface of the eyes may be needed.

3. Dry skin
In addition to dry eyes, winter’s cold air and low humidity can also cause severely dry and cracked skin. A cool-mist humidifier is also helpful in this situation, as is taking shorter showers and skipping baths, which tend to exacerbate dry skin. A good moisturizer is key during cold months, and don’t skimp on places like elbows and feet, which are especially prone to dryness and painful, cracked skin. Use a moisturizer with SPF—even if the sun isn’t out long during winter months, its rays can still cause damage. Continue Reading »

What’s sweet about sweet potatoes?

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Sweet potato: the tan skinned, orange-fleshed vegetable that is a vitamin powerhouse. It is nature’s treasure of beta-carotene, and consuming sweet potatoes more than meets our vitamin A needs. In addition to the aforementioned orange, some sweet potatoes are purple-fleshed. This variety is also rich in vitamins and antioxidants.

Aside from vitamin A, sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C. They also contain fiber, which helps our digestive system.

Sweet potatoes are a sweet-tasting, starchy root vegetable. It is North Carolina’s state vegetable but originates from South America. Fun fact: the majority of sweet potatoes we consume come from China, where sweet potatoes are used for livestock feed. Continue Reading »

My experience using HealtheVisits

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It was 4:40 p.m. and all of a sudden I realized that, while I had put off going to my primary care provider, the symptoms I was experiencing were not going to go away. At this time of day, working across town from my provider, I clearly wasn’t going to be able to make it in for a same-day appointment.

Then I remembered the new HealtheVisits service that Affinity Health System offers. As a Lean Leader at Affinity, I wanted to observe and study it personally. I signed into the site and selected my symptoms. The system took me through a series of questions that I easily answered in four minutes (I was timing it).

What stood out the most in this process was that the program filtered out my allergy to one of the most popularly prescribed antibiotics for my particular symptom. Another benefit was that it offered a choice of how I would be contacted when my plan of care was completed—via text, email or phone. After selecting my preferences, I hit the submit button, paid the $35 out-of-pocket cost and six minutes later my plan of care was ready.

I received a text message with my diagnosis and link to my prescription, and found that I needed an antibiotic, which made me appreciate the allergy-filter that much more. The link I was provided allowed me to send my prescription to the pharmacy of my choice, showing me the locations in my zip code.

I packed up what I had been working on and headed for the pharmacy, I was thrilled that my prescription had been received quickly and my medication was ready right away. The HealtheVisits experience couldn’t have been better for me, and I would highly recommend the service. Thanks to everyone who put this together and the Affinity Medical Group providers who are managing the service, I was able to receive an accurate, convenient diagnosis, get treatment and go on with my day. It’s a great service!

To learn more about HealtheVisits, visit affinityhealth.org/healthevisits.

Author: Marie Larson – Lean Leader at Affinity Health System

HealtheVisits: an inside look

healthevisits My phone buzzes. I pick it up and see the message “There is one HealtheVisit in the queue.”

In this case, the visit is for June (name changed), a 45-year-old woman who has had burning with urination for about 24 hours. Before the message appeared on my phone, June had been to the HealtheVisits website and supplied a thorough description of her current illness as well as relevant medical history. Giving this information was easy thanks to the interview questions on the site that took her step-by-step through the process. June is otherwise healthy and has no symptoms requiring a face-to-face visit, so the answers to her questions are packaged and sent to me.

Upon seeing the notification of a waiting HealtheVisit, I log into the website and read through June’s information. Some of the more important bits are highlighted for me in red by the computer. It appears that June has had several urinary tract infections in the past and recognized the symptoms of this one as soon as they appeared. She has had no fever or back pain. She is allergic to amoxicillin. After careful review, I move on to the treatment options page. Here the website gives me several options all based on the best medical evidence. I choose uncomplicated urinary tract infection (UTI) as the diagnosis and check the box to send a prescription for an appropriate antibiotic. Hitting the “send” button notifies June that her HealtheVisit has been completed.

Not all HealtheVisits, however, are quite this straight-forward. Many symptoms, while miserable, will not improve if treated with an antibiotic. When this happens, we do our best to suggest ways to relieve symptoms and provide education as to what warning signs indicate the need to be rechecked.

My phone buzzes again and I look at the message, “The HealtheVisit queue is empty.” This online diagnosis and treatment system has helped another patient, and will bring fast, accurate medical care to many more.

To learn more about HealtheVisits, visit affinityhealth.org/healthevisits.

Healthy eating out options in the Fox Valley made a little easier with SmartPlate

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Americans are eating out more than ever. It used to be a struggle to eat healthy when eating away from home, but in the last few years restaurants and other eateries have been making some changes to remedy that. Kids’ menu items now include fresh vegetables such as baby carrots and steamed broccoli as side dishes, and fruit cups for dessert. Lighter fare and gluten free options can now be found on the menu in some restaurants. These changes are a breath of fresh air and whole-heartedly welcome. Many health professionals hope that more changes will arise as more consumers demand healthy food when eating out.

One way to choose healthier options is to look at the nutrition information. Big chain restaurants, by law, now have to provide nutrition information upon request by the consumer. Smaller or local eateries are encouraged to do so as well.

In the Fox Valley, a community-wide initiative highlighting menu items that get a “thumbs up” from local health professionals was developed to help patrons identify healthier foods when eating out. The initiative is called SmartPlate and it involves the collaboration of many local partners including Affinity Health System, local health departments, re:TH!NK, Community Action for Health Living and others.

These community partners have been working with local restaurants, caterers and Fox Valley Technical College to offer and identify items at restaurants that include healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. These SmartPlate items use fresh herbs, spices and natural flavors to create delicious food without using too much salt, fat and sugar.

The SmartPlate icon clearly identifies menu items that you can eat everyday. Look for it at local restaurants like Lara’s Tortilla Flats, Mahoney’s, and Manila in Oshkosh; Fin ‘N Feather in Winneconne; Landreman’s Family Restaurant in Kaukauna, Copper Rock and Bagelicious in Appleton; Angie’s Main Café and Luigi’s Pizza in Shawano; and Granary Supper Club in Sherwood.

Thinking of catering a meal for a work party or celebration? Catering options are also included in the SmartPlate program. LaSure’s in Oshkosh and Bridgewood Resort in Neenah are two new partners that are offering SmartPlate items as part of their catering options. So if your workplace ever needs to order lunch or there is a group hosting an event, just ask for the SmartPlate menu and feel good that your co-workers, and guests, are eating foods that are SmartPlate approved.

For more information about SmartPlate visit: www.smartplatewi.com or watch this short informational video. http://www.thenorthwestern.com/videos/life/2014/12/01/19734335/

Disclaimer: The information found on Affinity's blog is a general educational aid. Do not rely on this information or treat it as a substitute for personal medical or health care advice, or for diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider as soon as possible about any medical or health-related question and do not wait for a response from our experts before such consultation. If you have a medical emergency, seek medical attention immediately.

The Affinity Health System blog contains opinions and views created by community members. Affinity does endorse the contributions of community members. You should not assume the information posted by community members is accurate and you should never disregard or delay seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this site.