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How Cotton Swabs Can Be Damaging to the Ears

How Cotton Swabs Can Be Damaging to the Ears | Dr. Ali Ghahary

In a recent article published by CBC this week, health experts warn about the dangers of using cotton swabs.

While cotton swabs might seem harmless and are quite commonly used by many individuals, family physicians in Vancouver, like Dr. Ali Ghahary, and Otolaryngologists (also known as ear, nose and throat specialists) across Canada and the United States, say using cotton swabs to clean your ears can do some serious damage. These healthcare professionals have seen everything from impacted wax to punctured eardrums, pain, and even ear infections – all the result of using cotton swabs on a regular basis. You could even do damage to your hearing.

Contrary to popular belief, our ears actually need earwax; it works as a defense mechanism and helps combat infectious microorganisms. In many cases the ears do not need to be cleaned – for two different reasons. First, the ears have a self-cleaning mechanism; and secondly, because when we shower or bathe enough water often gets into the ear canal and looses the accumulated wax, and can sometimes be wiped away by using a warm washcloth. However, some people tend to produce more earwax – and much quicker than others, which can lead to wax build-up. In these cases, patients may have difficulty hearing and have a clogged or plugged sensation of the ears, hear ringing, as well as notice some pain. It’s also not uncommon to feel dizzy as a result of wax build-up.

When any of the aforementioned symptoms occur, the wax may need to be removed by a trained medical professional. At Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, Dr. Ali Ghahary removes wax from patients’ ears by irrigating them. (Irrigation can be done with warm water, sodium bicarbonate, as well as prescription-strength eardrops.) Depending on how severe the wax build-up is, gentle suction may also need to be applied. While this might sound like an uncomfortable procedure, it is generally quite quick and painless.

While ear infections are quite rare as a cause of wax build-up, they can still occur. The most common symptom associated with ear infections are earaches, which can be mild to severe. While most ear infections will go away on their own, Dr. Ali Ghahary may need to prescribe patients with a course of antibiotics (either taken orally, or in the form of eardrops) to get rid of the infection. To treat the pain associated with the ear infection, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends treating it with over-the-counter pain relief medication such as acetaminophen.

Australia’s Newest Study on Sugary Drinks

Sugary Drinks | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Summer might be a long way’s away for Canada, but in Australia where it’s currently between 26 and 30 degrees Celsius, cooling down is exactly what’s needed. While some people might choose to stay in an air-conditioned room or building, others opt for cold, frozen drinks, such as slushies, to help keep them from feeling overheated. However, according to recent news articles, those frozen drinks might actually contain more sugar than what was initially thought.

In light of this finding, LiveLighter and Rethink Sugary Drink have launched their ‘Don’t Get Sucked In’ campaign in effort to shine a spotlight on these and other sugary beverages.

Along with slushies, soft drinks (depending on the size of the can/bottle) can contain anywhere from 10 to 20 teaspoons of sugar, while energy and sports drinks range anywhere from 8 to 16 teaspoons. This means that you’re consuming up to an entire week’s worth of sugar in just one day, which is definitely not good for your health.

Sugar has no nutritional value and tends to store itself as fat and is high in calories, therefore over consumption of sugar can lead to obesity, and obesity can lead to the development of other health problems such as type II diabetes, heart disease, and even dental-related issues (such as cavities.) Because of these reasons, family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary urge patients to avoid consuming sugar.

Unfortunately, due to the fact that sugary drinks are easily and widely accessible – for example, in schools, fast food restaurants, grocery stores and sporting/concert arenas) – actually being able to say “no” and avoid those temptations can sometimes be difficult. However, while we cannot control every single environment we find ourselves in, we can certainly control what we choose to put in our bodies as well as what’s at home. For some, cutting out sugar can be as difficult as quitting smoking, especially if sugar consumption has been a part of your diet for quite some time. If this is the case, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends finding distractions. Ask yourself what you can do when you start craving sugar. A distraction could be something as simple as calling a friend, reading a book, listening to music, or even going for a walk – and, as Dr. Ghahary has mentioned in his articles many times before, exercise has many health benefits.

There are also many alternatives to sugar – and much healthier ones, at that! If you’re craving a sugary drink, Dr. Ali Ghahary says patients should always opt for water instead. There are many health benefits when it comes to drinking h20, and it can be flavoured with a few squeezes of fresh lemon and lime, or other fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. These fruits are also just as good to eat on their own.

For more tips on healthy eating, follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Instagram by clicking here.

Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 Deficiency | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Along with iron, vitamin B12 deficiency is also considered to be one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in Canada.

Vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin, has many different benefits. It can improve your mood, improve your heart health, increase your energy levels, promote healthy skin and hair, help with digestion, and can even boost your mood. It also helps the CNS (central nervous system) by maintaining the health of nerve cells, as well as forms the cell’s myelin sheath, which is the protective covering of the nerves. If your levels of vitamin B12 are low, you can experience a decline in some (or many) of the things mentioned above.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

With a Vitamin B12 deficiency, you may experience some of the following symptoms: Loss of appetite, diarrhea, gas, pale or yellow skin (also known as jaundice), heart palpitations, shortness of breath, numbness or tingling of the hands, legs and/or feet, joint pain, poor memory, lack of concentration, changes in mood, vision loss, light-headedness, dizziness, and weakness. However, the most common complaint in those deficient in vitamin B12 is fatigue. As a result, vitamin B12 can sometimes be hard to diagnose simply by looking at a patient, as fatigue can be the result of many other underlying medical conditions – such as chronic fatigue. It’s also not uncommon to feel increased levels of tiredness if you’re coming down with a cold or the flu.

Who’s Most At Risk?

Anyone can develop a deficiency in vitamin B12, but it’s much more common in elderly patients as they have impaired digestion and produce much less stomach acid, which is required to convert B12 correctly.

How is Vitamin B12 Deficiency Diagnosed?

If Dr. Ali Ghahary suspects a patient may be deficient in vitamin B12 based on their symptoms, he will usually send that patient for a blood test to check their B12 levels. The specific blood test that is done is known as a methylmalonic acid test. If your methylmalonic acid levels are high, it may be indicative of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Alternatively, some patients may experience symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency but their blood tests could still come back normal.

Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency

There are three different ways in which you can increase your vitamin B12 levels:

  1. By consuming a B12-specific diet (poultry, fish, meats, eggs and milk contain the most vitamin B12 out of any other foods.)

  2. Taking a multivitamin/supplement.

  3. Seeing your physician for weekly vitamin B12 injections.

To determine the best course of action, you and your physician will come up with a plan together.

Destigmatizing Dementia

Destigmatizing Dementia | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a decline in mental ability. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a form of dementia. It is characterized by mild memory loss that progresses over time.

Dementia by the Numbers

25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year. Currently, there are an estimated 564,000 Canadians living with dementia and that number is expected to rise to as many as 937,000 within the next 15 years. Out of the current 564,000 individuals with dementia, 16,000 are over the age of 65, and 65% of those diagnosed are women.

Risk Factors

You are at a greater risk of developing dementia if there is or has been a history of it in your family. Studies have also suggested that certain lifestyles play a factor in being diagnosed with dementia. For example, if you are a smoker, your risk of developing dementia increased by as much as 45%. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of physical activity.

In order to prevent dementia as well as maintain and improve your overall brain health, family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary urges patients to make some crucial (and easily modifiable) lifestyle changes – such as keeping physically active, avoid smoking and alcohol consumption, keep your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight levels at healthy ranges, consume a well-balanced and healthy diet, reduce your stress and anxiety levels, and keep challenging your brain by doing things you’ve never done before – for example, learn a new language, take a course, or play a new game. It’s also recommended that you wear protective gear (such a helmets) when playing sports to avoid brain injuries.

The Stigma

Many individuals diagnosed with dementia often say they feel as though they’re treated differently by society. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to attach labels to the illness; this is due in part to the stereotypes and misinformation that still surrounds the disease. Sadly, these stigmas can hurt those suffering from dementia and discourage them from speaking out to others and getting the proper help they need.

There are certain steps that those with dementia can do to help decrease the stigma that surrounds it. The most important thing is to not be ashamed to talk about it. By talking about it, you lessen the fear and help give people a better understanding of what it is you’re dealing with. For those with friends or loved ones diagnosed with dementia, don’t use phrases like “they’ve lost their mind.” Instead, treat those with dementia with the same level of respect and dignity that you would treat other human beings – as well as how you would expect others to treat you.

As part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia has launched the website ilivewithdementia.ca. There you can find information directly from individuals living with dementia, test your knowledge on dementia, as well as find resources in your community.

Romaine Lettuce Linked to Outbreak of E. coli Infections

Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak | Dr. Ali Ghahary

As many as 60 people in both Canada and the United States have fallen ill, and 2 have died, after consuming what is believed to be E. coli tainted romaine lettuce.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the E. coli infections have occurred in 13 different states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. The Public Health Agency of Canada says Canadian provinces affected by the outbreak include Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

While no new cases have been reported since December, and with Health Canada saying the risk of developing E. coli is now considered low, some major grocery stores and restaurant chains have chosen to pull romaine lettuce from their menus and store shelves as a precautionary measure. In Atlantic Canada, these restaurants include Boston Pizza, Swiss Chalet, Milestones, East Side Mario’s, and New York Fries; while Sobeys Inc. says they have removed over 300 products from store shelves across all Canadian provinces, including Safeway, Thrifty Foods, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo and Lawton’s Drug Stores.

Because lettuce is usually consumed as a raw vegetable, it is much easier for E. coli to develop if it is not washed properly. Lettuce can become contaminated during harvesting, from handling, as well as storage and transportation. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician practicing in the city of Vancouver, says it’s crucial to not only wash your hands, but to also wash fruits and vegetables – including lettuce – before eating them, by using warm or hot water. When handling food you should also make sure there’s no potential for cross-contamination with things like meats or other fresh produce, as E. coli can be easily transferred. Things like utensils and cutting boards can also cause cross-contamination.

It may take as little as 1 day or as many as 7 days for symptoms of an E. coli infection to develop. Milder symptoms include abdominal pain/cramping, gas, sudden or severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to an entire week. Someone infected with E. coli may also experience pale skin, have a decreased urine output, bloody urine, fatigue, dehydration, and fever. These symptoms are considered severe and you should seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of them.

Diagnosing E. coli is fairly easy, as it can be found by doing a simple stool test. In most cases symptoms of an E. coli infection will go away on their own if you get rest and drink plenty of water. However, you may also require further treatment such as fluids given intravenously, as well as antiemetic medications to reduce the nausea and vomiting. Anti-diarrheal medication should be avoided as it can slow the digestive system down, which then prevents your body from being able to get rid of the toxins.

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies

Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies | Dr. Ali Ghahary

As pointed out by Dr. Ali Ghahary in previous articles, vitamins and minerals provide a wide range of benefits when it comes to keeping us healthy – including giving our immune systems a boost as well as repairing tissues, just to name a few. While most vitamins and minerals come from food sources, it’s possible to be vitamin and mineral deficient if you do not have a healthy diet, suffer from food allergies and sensitivities, or have other underlying medical conditions.

While all vitamins and minerals are good for you, some are more important than others – iron, folate, vitamin A, and B vitamins (such as B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 and B12) especially. Because these vitamins and minerals are so crucial, it is also more common for Canadians to become deficient in them compared to other vitamins and minerals.

Iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to our blood. If your body does not have enough iron then it is unable to provide the blood with the amount of oxygen it needs. In severe cases of iron deficiency, you can also develop anemia. The most common cause of anemia is blood loss, particularly in females with heavy menstrual periods. As a result of low iron and anemia, you may feel fatigued, weak, have headaches, as well as have a pale appearance to your skin.

Folate is crucial in tissue growth and the multiplication of cells. Pregnant women who are folate deficient could be at an increased risk of giving birth to an infant with birth defects – such as anencephaly and spina bifida. These conditions occur when the infant’s brain is exposed to amniotic or spinal cord fluid. You are also at risk of becoming folate deficient if you consume cereal and few fruits and/or leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin A is essential in helping the body fight infections, promotes proper growth, and reproduction. Insufficient levels of vitamin A can cause impaired vision, and it is also the leading cause of blindness in children.

Vitamin B12 helps to keep the body’s nerves and cells healthy. It also breaks down food we eat into glucose, which gives you energy. Without enough vitamin B12 you could develop neurological deterioration as well as impaired function of the immune system.

Zinc is relied on by the human body as it performs many different functions. Not only can it heal wounds and repair tissue, it can also promote proper blood clotting, helps you metabolize carbs, proteins, fats and alcohol, promotes the production of sperm, and can even correct the function of your thyroid. Symptoms of severe zinc deficiency include recurrent infections, diarrhea, and mental disturbances.

Keep checking back here throughout the week and be sure to follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary for much more information on vitamins and minerals.

Explaining the Myths and Facts of Vitamin C

Vitamin C: Myths and Facts | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Vitamin C is often the go-to vitamin for people suffering from a common cold or flu. But does it actually stop illness all together? The short answer is no. While Vitamin C can’t stop a cold in its tracks, it can shorten the symptoms of a common cold, the duration, as well as decrease the frequency in which you get colds – but only if you consume vitamin C on a regular basis. Think of it as an immune booster rather than a cure.

Common colds aren’t all vitamin C is good for, however. It’s also beneficial for the growth and repair of skin, bones, teeth and other tissue, can reduce your risk of developing certain cancers, and it can even help with the absorption of iron.

Because our bodies cannot produce this water-soluble vitamin on its own, it’s a nutrient we need to get from food or supplements. The amount of vitamin C you need every day depends on your age and gender. Family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, recommends males and females aged 19 or older have an intake of anywhere from 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day, while pregnant women should have an intake of 85mg, and breastfeeding women have an intake of 120. To compare, a medium orange would be the approximate equivalent of 70mg of vitamin C. You should always stay below 2000 milligrams, as taking too much vitamin C can lead to digestive problems. It’s also possible to be vitamin C deficient, though this is rare. Symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency include rough or dry skin, bleeding gums, nose bleeds, swollen joints, and bruising.

Along with oranges, fruits that contain high levels of vitamin C include guava, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, mango and grapefruit (but be careful with this, as grapefruit can interact with certain medications.) Vegetables such as red, green and yellow peppers, broccoli, cabbage, snow peas, kale, asparagus and tomato also contain vitamin C.

For a complete list of all the fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C, visit the Dietitians of Canada website at dietitians.ca.

Choosing the Right Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Vitamins and minerals are essential because they perform a wide array of roles when it comes to keeping the body healthy. For example, boosting the immune system, giving us energy, strengthening bones, healing wounds, and repairing damage done to our cells.

The best way that you can get vitamins and minerals is by eating a healthy diet. As a family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients include a variety of fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, whole grains and seafood as part of their food plan. In some cases, individuals may not get the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals required to keep them healthy. This could be due to a number of reasons; everything from having an unhealthy or calorie-restricted diet, food sensitivities or allergies, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Certain health conditions can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For example, anemia and low iron levels go hand in hand. Even those with healthy eating habits may find it difficult to keep track of whether or not they’re getting all the essential nutrients they need. This is where supplements come in.

Standard multivitamin supplements usually consist of water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12), fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K), as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.

When choosing a supplement it’s important to pay close attention to the labels as certain supplements are specifically designed for certain age groups and genders. For example, supplements designed for women tend to contain extra iron due to the fact that women actually lose iron during their periods, as well as extra calcium as women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than males. Oppositely, men require less iron than women; therefore supplements that are designed for men contain lower levels. Supplements designed for seniors also contain less iron and vitamin K, and higher levels of vitamin D and B12. Women who are pregnant (or are planning to get pregnant) should take prenatal supplements, as they contain higher levels of folic acid, which helps to prevent birth defects. It’s also important to make sure the supplement you choose contains a variety of vitamins and minerals and not just one specific type. It should also provide the recommended dietary allowance for each vitamin and mineral listed (and does not go any higher than that recommended allowance.) Certain vitamins and minerals, if taken in excess, can actually lead to health problems. Lastly, make sure you always read the labels for ingredients, as certain supplements may contain things like wheat, eggs, corn and gelatin, which some people may be allergic or sensitive to.

If you are having trouble picking the right supplement, Dr. Ali Ghahary is able to answer any questions you might have and is available to see patients on a walk-in basis at Brentwood Medical Clinic. Alternatively, pharmacists can also help you find a supplement best suited for you and your health needs.

Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma Awareness Month | Dr. Ali Ghahary

More than 400,000 Canadians and 60 million individuals worldwide are affected by Glaucoma today – a progressive condition and one of the leading causes of blindness.

There are two main types of glaucoma: Open-angle glaucoma (which accounts for at least 90% of all glaucoma cases) and Acute closed-angle glaucoma. These types of glaucoma are characterized by an increase in the intraocular pressure of the eyes, as well as damage to the optic nerve. Open-angle glaucoma is caused when the drainage canals become clogged. It generally develops slowly and is painless; therefore patients with open-angle glaucoma may not even notice any symptoms until it has progressed. Similarly, acute closed-angle glaucoma is also the result of blocked drainage canals, with intraocular pressure rising suddenly. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, symptoms of acute closed-angle glaucoma are very noticeable and you should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any sudden changes with your eyesight.

As mentioned, open-angle glaucoma typically does not present with any symptoms. Without symptoms, patients may not feel the need to go for an eye exam. When it comes to acute closed-angle glaucoma, symptoms are much more obvious. They include eye pain, blurred vision, and you may also notice halo-like images around lights. Even without symptoms, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, recommends seeing your optometrist for regular eye examinations – as your eye health is just as important as all other aspects of your health. A complete eye examination is also the only way to definitively detect glaucoma.

While glaucoma can affect people of all ages and walks of life, there are certain risk factors that can contribute. For example, it is more likely to affect Canadians over the age of 60, if there is a history of glaucoma in your family, or if you have certain medical conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease), or have suffered past eye injuries. Long-term use of certain medications like corticosteroids can also put individuals at risk of developing glaucoma.

Glaucoma can be treated a number of different ways – though because glaucoma is progressive, said treatment may need to be adjusted from time to time. In many cases, patients will be prescribed a medication to help reduce elevated intraocular pressure. However, if medication is not enough, surgery may also be considered to reduce eye pressure; including laser surgery as well as drainage implant surgery.

For more information on Glaucoma Awareness Month, follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary and visit the Canadian Association of Optometrists website at opto.ca.

How Minerals Help the Human Body

How Minerals Help the Human Body | Dr. Ali Ghahary

When it comes to out health, minerals are essential for a wide variety of functions.

In previous articles, Dr. Ali Ghahary discussed the importance of both water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins – 13 in total. Today we’ll take a look at some of the 16 essential minerals that are also required to keep us healthy – including calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, sulfur, chloride, copper, iodine, zinc, fluoride, and sodium…as well as some of the minerals you might be less familiar with, such as selenium, manganese, molybdenum, and chromium.

Iron and calcium are, perhaps, the most common minerals. However, they’re also the two minerals that many Canadians aren’t getting enough of!

Calcium, found in food sources such as cheese, milk and yogurt, is essential for keeping our bones and teeth strong, while iron is responsibly for carrying enough oxygen to the to the cells in our body. When you’re lacking these minerals, this is known as a deficiency. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include frequent broken bones, dental cavities, and even high blood pressure. Those who suffer from iron deficiency usually experience fatigue, weakness, and can even become anemic. Iron deficiency can be caused due to blood loss from an ulcer or other gastrointestinal related issues, your menstrual cycle, or something as simple as not including enough iron-rich foods in your diet. For those who lack an iron-rich diet, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, recommends eating more meats, fish and poultry.

Zinc, another essential mineral, is especially important during pregnancy and childhood, as it helps the body grow. It also boosts the body’s immune system, helps promote wound healing, and can break down carbohydrates. Research has suggested that taking a zinc supplement upon the first sign of symptoms of the common cold may not only reduce the severity of those symptoms, but also reduce the length of time in which your cold lasts. Natural sources of zinc include spinach, beans, oysters, cashews, and even dark chocolate.

The body also heavily relies on potassium as it helps to maintain and balance fluid and electrolytes. If you have low levels of potassium, you may develop high blood pressure and be at an increased risk of developing heart disease, arthritis, digestive disorders and cancer. Low potassium has also been linked to infertility. Symptoms of low potassium include headaches, heart palpitations and dehydration. To ensure you’re getting enough potassium, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends including these potassium-rich foods in your diet: Avocado, sweet potato, apricots, pomegranate, and wild salmon.

Click here for more information on other essential minerals, and don’t forget you can also follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary!