Tag Archives: health and wellbeing

An optometrist’s guide to beating spring allergy season

Spring time is prime time for allergies. And, although most of us know about symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing, allergies can have a major impact on your eyes, too. Optometrist Jane Le from Sydney’s rt healthy eyes explains how allergies affect your eyes, why they occur and what you can do to ease your eyes as we enter allergy season.

Blog_small_hayfever_sneeze

Jane explains that eye allergies are common and usually mild; they can occur on their own or in conjunction with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal mucus membrane). But, for people who have chronic eczema or asthma, eye allergies can be serious and can trigger inflammation of the conjunctiva (the delicate membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid).

If you’re affected, your eyes may feel itchy and sore but some people don’t get itching – instead, they feel a burning sensation and/or tired eyes.

What causes allergies?

Like all allergies, symptoms occur when your body overreacts to a substance i.e. an allergen. The immune system makes antibodies to fight what it sees as an invader (the allergen) and this causes your body to release histamine.

Your eyes are especially sensitive to allergens because like your skin, they are exposed and vulnerable to the outside world. When allergens come into contact with your eyes, they cause cells called mast cells to break down with the release of histamine. Histamine causes itching and dilation of the blood vessels and excessive watering of the eyes, too. You might get swelling of the eyelids or conjunctiva, sensitivity to light, blurry vision and/or a burning sensation. Plus, histamine causes blood vessels to widen and this allows for inflammatory allergic molecules to flow more easily into the eye’s bloodstream. The result? Redness of the eyes, swelling and more.

Seasonal and perennial

The most common types of eye allergies are seasonal and perennial (happen all year round).

Seasonal allergies are caused by exposure to pollens, tiny potentially irritating materials released from grass, trees, mould and weeds. Pollens are at their highest concentration in spring and summer, resulting in hay fever for susceptible people.

Perennial allergies that affect the eyes throughout the year are caused by a range of ever-present allergens, from mould, pet substances (dead skin cells, hair, feathers in bedding) and dust mites. Pollution, tobacco smoke, chlorine and certain medicines can also trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people. The symptoms of eye allergies can also be triggered by direct contact with cosmetics, perfumes, preservatives, contact lenses and insect stings.

Sometimes, it’s easy to detect what’s causing your allergic eye problems. But it’s not always simple. So, your GP may suggest a few tests to pinpoint exactly what’s setting you off.

Six self-help ways to protect your eyes from allergies and reduce symptoms

1. Reduce exposure to the allergen or allergens that are triggering your symptoms. If it’s pollen, wear sunglasses to block pollen particles from getting to your eyes when you’re out and about.

Blog_small_hayfever_sunnies
2. Try to keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning when you’re in the car.

3. Wash after being outside to remove pollen from your body and hair.

4. Think about replacing carpets with hard flooring and cleaning them with a slightly damp cloth instead of sweeping (which tends to stir up allergens). And, if you can, choose blinds instead of curtains for the same reason.

5. Cold compresses and lubricating eye drops can help ease the symptoms, especially if your eyes are itchy. Or, try a sterile saline solution to help flush away allergens from your eyes.

6. Keeping your eye drops in the fridge may provide some cooling relief.

Medical treatment for mild allergies involves the use of anti-histamine eye drops. Oral anti-histamine medications can be helpful to reduce the symptoms of hay fever, too. And, steroid eye drops may need to be prescribed for more chronic (long-term) and serious allergies. See your optometrist or GP for the most effective treatment plan.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico. Currently, she works at rt healthy eyes in Surry Hills, Sydney.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

Advertisements

Quick, tasty, lovely lunches

Making fast, nutritious and delicious lunches and lunch choices can be a challenge whether you’re working, studying or running around with the family. The health and wellbeing team at rt health fund share some of their tips to selecting healthy eats – where delicious meets nutritious!

You already know the basics – fresh is best and the less processed, the better. For example, canned tuna or fresh fish trumps fish nuggets and an apple is a better choice than a sugary apple bar from the supermarket. But time and hunger can challenge the best of intentions. So, if you’re watching your weight or trying to boost the nutrient content of your diet, here are some super quick tips:

1. Fill up half of your lunchbox or plate with veggies – red, orange, blue and yellow. The more colours, the better. Go for masses of green veggies such as broccoli, kale, rocket and asparagus – these are ultra-low in calories and very high in nutrition.

Blog_small_vegetables
2. Make a quarter of your meal starchy carbohydrates – the wholegrain kinds of bread, rice and pasta are best because they have their fibre, vitamins and minerals intact. In the same way, potatoes with their skins on are better than without and sweet potatoes are a great choice. Try to avoid white flour foods, for example white bread and pastry because they have had the fibre and nutrients removed from them in processing. Without the fibre, these foods are digested quickly so you feel hungry again after a short time. So, for a steadier life, go wholegrain.

3. Make a quarter of your lunch protein foods. Fish is a great choice as it provides omega-3 essential fats (oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are especially high), lean meat provides a big hit of iron and pulses (peas, beans and legumes) are a rich source of protein with added fibre, vitamins, minerals and essential omega-3 fats.

Blog_small_omega3

4. Add a source of calcium – either dairy or a vegetarian alternative such as soy or almond milk. Many women don’t get enough bone and teeth-building calcium, which can lead to issues such as osteoporosis later in life.

5. Some fresh fruit – which provides vitamins, minerals, fibre and a whole host of protective plant pigments. Plus, when you have a meal that satisfies your savoury taste buds, you may want something sweet to finish. Fruit could do the trick and could reduce the temptation for sugary/fatty snacks.

Here are some quick lunch ideas to get you started (most can be made at home using supermarket ingredients but some can be bought from takeaway shops):

  • Canned tuna with a little low-fat mayonnaise and lots of salad on a wholemeal roll
  • Roast beef with lettuce and lots of sliced tomato on rye bread
  • Supermarket salad leaves (lettuce, baby spinach, rocket) with tomatoes, feta and a can of drained red kidney beans
  • Hummus, pita bread and a double serving of tabbouleh

Blog_small_pitahummus

  • Sushi and boiled green soybeans (edamame)
  • Quinoa with a rainbow of veggies
  • Poached eggs on wholegrain toast with spinach and avocado
  • Store-bought soup with added frozen baby peas
  • Vietnamese rice paper rolls with a large side salad
  • Falafel/chicken/lean meat roll with extra salad
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and lots of steamed veggies
  • Indian dhal with basmati rice and a big salad
  • Hot smoked salmon with mashed potatoes, green beans and grilled tomatoes
  • Mushroom and veggie omelette with wholegrain bread
  • Thai salad with fish, meat or tofu
  • Tofu and veggie stir fry
  • Homemade chilli con carne with meat or veggie mince and extra beans with tomato salad.

And for something sweet …

  • Fresh fruit
  • Sugar-free dairy or coconut yoghurt
  • A few dried peaches/apricots/prunes with unsalted nuts
  • Sugar-free jelly
  • Canned peaches or apricots (drained)
  • A couple of squares of dark chocolate.

So what is stress really doing to your body?

It’s a buzzword – one that you hear all the time. But what exactly is stress? Why do you feel it? And what is it doing to your mind and body?

Stress is a whole range of reactions to danger – it’s one of the ways your body protects itself. In the face of ­threat, a range of stress hormones are released. One result of this is the release of glucose, to provide energy for the large muscles that you need to use to fight or take flight. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises to ensure that oxygen and nutrients in your blood can reach every cell in your body. And, the systems that aren’t needed to fight or take flight are turned down a notch or two – such as your digestive system. This is one reason why stress and depression are sometimes linked with digestive problems.

Although your stress hormones play a vital role in keeping you ready to protect yourself – or others – too much of them circulating for too long can trigger physical and emotional problems over time.

And, it doesn’t have to be a major danger that triggers your stress response. It can be anything from a niggling neighbour to a frustrating experience online. If you don’t address your stress, the result can be problems with …

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory and concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches, aches and joint pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems and more.

Hello belly fat!

When stress hormones such as cortisol hang around in your body for long periods and aren’t burned off, changes in your weight can result – particularly weight gain around your middle. Cortisol orders your body to release glucose from cells raising the amount in the blood. And, when there is too much glucose in your blood, your body tries hard to normalise it and return it to within safe levels. One of the ways it does this is via the action of your liver, which converts the excess glucose into fat. Fat that’s processed in the liver tends to be laid down near the liver i.e. around your middle – hello belly fat!

Belly fat is different to the fat on other parts of your body. It is linked with many chronic (long-term) conditions such as heart disease and cancers[i]. Belly fat has four times as many cortisol receptors as other types of fat[ii] which moves fat from areas such as your bottom and thighs (fat in these areas is relatively inactive) and transports it to the belly. Belly fat is much more metabolically active and triggers inflammation. And, since belly fat has more cortisol receptors, your cortisol levels rise and rise and rise.

Blog_small_belly fat

Also on the rise …

Your blood pressure jumps every time you feel stressed. And, over time, high blood pressure damages your heart and is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can’t tell whether you have high blood pressure – this is why regular medical check-ups are important. Your GP can check your blood pressure quickly and easily and guide you about what’s needed.

How’s your emotional health?

As well as the effects on your body, high levels of cortisol are potent risk factors for anxiety and depression[iii]. Both can contribute to physical symptoms such as altered sensitivity to pain, tiredness, headaches, poor sleep or excessive sleep. Emotional problems can also trigger digestive problems and vice versa, as there are nerve cells all along your intestines which send signals to your brain in a two-way communication[iv].

So what can you do?

Find out what presses your buttons. Make a stress diary and keep it for two weeks or so. Make a note of what triggers your stress – times, places, people and situations. Then write down how you felt and how you reacted to the stress. Looking back at your stress diary can reveal some interesting insights into your personal stressors.

Then think about how you can reduce your stress. If it’s lack of time, there is no option but to start earlier. If it’s people, think about how you can see less of negative people and more of people who lift you up. And if you can’t do this, try to counter negative comments with positive or neutral ones. Decide what kind of pain you’re willing to bear. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t possible to have it all – at least not at the same time. So consider what you’re willing to give up or reduce. This isn’t a forever decision – review your views periodically to make sure you’re making the right decisions for you at the right time.

Follow Elsa’s lead. Although everyone feels guilt, too much can drag you down. The next time you feel guilty, try to pinpoint exactly why you’re feeling it. Do you need to alter your behaviour? Do you need to apologise? Or, are you making too much of it? Do what you need to do and then try to let it go. Even Disney heroines such as Elsa from Frozen now recognise that they can’t do it all and get it right all of the time – and about the need to let it go. So learn from what happened, try not to do it again and move on. And if you can’t move on, talk to someone who can help you such as a trained psychologist or counsellor. Otherwise, your guilt could fester and interfere with relationships.

Nourish yourself. What you eat, when you eat and how you eat can relieve your stress – and can contribute to it, too. For example, too much alcohol, too much sugar and too much caffeine can all stress your body triggering the release of stress hormones. Try to avoid foods made from white flour – the process of making white flour not only removes the minerals and vitamins, but also the fibre. Fibre is important as it holds onto carbohydrates in foods, releasing energy slowly and in a way the body can control, which won’t stress it. With the fibre removed, glucose is released rapidly into the blood in a way that is difficult for the body to control and adjust to.

For a calmer life, be picky about what you eat and drink. Make meals rich in veggies (five or more servings per day) and try to eat two fruits per day – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and plant pigments. Plus, the fibre they contain helps to ensure that the energy inside is released slowly. Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken and turkey, opt for fish a few times a week and use pulses (peas, beans and lentils) in your cooking. Pulses are rich in fibre and protein but low in fat and calories. Add them to casseroles, stews, soups and salads. Be careful about how much alcohol you drink, too. This can stress both body and mind and rob you of restful sleep, too. If you’re drinking too much alcohol, do what you need to do to cut down or cut it out altogether. Talk to your GP for help.

Blog_small_healthy eating

Remember stress isn’t just about your mind – it can have a whole host of physical consequences and in the long-term, trigger serious chronic conditions. So do what you can to beat your stresses today. Your mind and your body will thank you for it. And your friends and family probably will too!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it

[ii] University of New Mexico. Stress Cortisol Connection. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

[iii] Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[iv] Harvard Health Publications. The gut-brain connection. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection

 

Do you know what hepatitis is?

‘Hep’ means liver and ‘itis’ means inflammation of, so hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver.

Your liver is a large organ – it’s your body’s waste disposal system. It also regulates metabolism, stores iron and vitamins such as folate and B12 and produces proteins and bile, a liquid that’s needed to digest fats. If your liver doesn’t work properly, the result can be serious illness and it can be life-threatening, too.

The causes of hepatitis can be due to chemicals, alcohol, drug use and viruses such as the yellow fever virus and the virus that causes glandular fever.

There are seven forms of hepatitis – some types don’t cause serious health problems but others can result in chronic (long-term problems), scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer.

Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the different types of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms?

Short-term (acute) hepatitis may not have any symptoms at all and if there are symptoms, they might be pretty non-specific i.e. they can be connected with many conditions. For example, nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, getting bruised easily, a high temperature (fever) of 38 degrees Celsius, dark coloured urine and light bowel movements are signs of hepatitis.

small image_sore stomach

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis may not have any obvious symptoms, either, until the liver stops working properly and liver failure results. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) is also a sign of late stage liver failure. Hepatitis may only be picked up during blood tests.

If you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis, go and see your GP immediately.

The seven types of hepatitis are:

  1. Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bowel movements of an infected person. It is most common in countries with poor sanitation. This type of hepatitis usually passes in a few months. But, it can be severe and even life-threatening.

If you’re travelling overseas, book in before your trip to see your GP, who may recommend a vaccination.

small image_travelling

  1. Hepatitis B

Caused by the hepatitis B virus, infection is spread via the blood of an infected person (e.g. through shared injection needles).

Most adults can fight off the infection in two months or so. But infection in children may be long-term and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment may involve antiviral medications. If you are in a high-risk group, for example, if you are a health care worker or you inject drugs – your GP may recommend vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis C

Caused by the hepatitis C virus, this is usually spread via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (e.g. via shared needles or through poor health care practices). Symptoms of infection may be similar to a bout of flu and many people don’t know that they are infected.

Around one in four people can fight off the infection but most people will develop chronic hepatitis C[i], which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment is usually antiviral medication but currently there is no vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this infection only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It is not common in Australia[ii].

Long-term hepatitis D infection can increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis D, your GP might suggest the hepatitis B vaccine to protect you from getting hepatitis D.

  1. Hepatitis E

Common in developing countries, this type of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis E virus; infection is usually caught via consuming food and drink contaminated with bowel movements from an infected person. Generally mild and short-lived, the infection doesn’t require any treatment. However, for a small number of people, it can be serious (such as those with a suppressed immune system) and it can become chronic.

There’s no vaccine to protect against hepatitis E but you can reduce your risk by being very careful with food and drinks when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation. If you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is a lot of hepatitis E, especially during the last three months of pregnancy.

  1. Alcoholic hepatitis

Caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years, many people who have it don’t know that they do because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it can be detected by a blood test (liver function test). Your liver can usually recover if you stop drinking alcohol. But if you don’t, the result can be liver failure or liver cancer.

small image_alcohol

  1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the cells of the body start attacking itself. Treatment involves medication to stop the attack.  More research needs to be done to find out why it happens and if anything can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

For more information, contact:

  • Your GP
  • National Hepatitis information line on 1800 437 222
  • DirectLine (for information about where to get clean needles and syringes for drug users) on 1800 888 236
  • Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.
Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] NHS Choices. Hepatitis. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#hep-C

[ii] Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis D. http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-d/

Macular degeneration and diet

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects one in seven Australians over the age of 50[i]. It is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in the country, being responsible for 50% of all blindness; more than glaucoma and cataracts combined.

The macula is a part of the eye, which is responsible for giving you the clearest vision. In macular degeneration, the cells in this area become irreversibly damaged and the result is a loss of vision.

There are two forms of this condition – wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. There is no cure for either type of macular degeneration right now, but your optometrist can inform you about the different treatment options that can help to reduce vision loss for those with wet macular degeneration. In Australia, smoking is a major cause of blindness from macular degeneration[ii].

Why diet and vitamins are important for your eye health

Eating too many saturated fats has been shown to increase the advancement of macular degeneration[iii]. Saturated fat is found in foods such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, cream and high-fat cheeses as well as fast/takeaway/processed foods.

On the other hand, people who enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish have a lower incidence of macular degeneration[iv].

Carrots and celery

Protective plant pigments

Vegetables and fruits help to protect against macular degeneration. They contain antioxidant vitamins (such as vitamin C) and also antioxidant-rich pigments, one of which is lutein. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens (the darker the leaf, the more concentrated the pigments). Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are especially rich in pigments – these include red grapes, oranges, rockmelons and mangoes. Orange produce contains the pigment beta-carotene, which helps to protect your eyes. Try and opt for five servings of veggies and two fruits daily. A serving is equivalent to ½ cup of most foods and one cup for leafy greens.

Make more of fish

Fish is also good for your eye health – eating fish has been shown to lower the risk for macular degeneration[v]. The recommended intake of fish is two to three times a week and the best types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines.  If you don’t eat fish, think about taking a daily omega-3 supplement. Speak to your local pharmacist about the best option for you.

Salmon

What about supplements?

A specific supplement for eyes may help to protect your eye health; it may also help to reduce vision loss in people who have moderate macular degeneration. Supplements have not been shown to be beneficial in patients who do not have macular degeneration, or have only mild macular degeneration. Talk to your optometrist to find out more.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

 

[i] Macular Disease Foundation Australia. Deloitte Access Economic Report. http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[ii] Australian Government. Smoking Causes Blindness. http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/content/warnings-b-eye

[iii] PubMed – NCBI. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts and fish intake. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593

[iv] AMD.org. Diet And Vitamins for AMD. http://www.amd.org/can-diet-and-vitamins-help-macular-degeneration/

[v] University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fatty acids. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

Seven better health habits to learn from your kids

As a mum, I know that with age comes education and experience. But on the downside, I think we may also unlearn a thing or two – and it turns out that your kids can be the ones to teach you. For example, it’s natural for children to put their health first without even realising it. So, maybe it’s time for the grown-ups to do the same. Here are seven valuable lessons you may be able to learn from your kids …

  1. Better breathing

Have you ever seen a baby breathe? Noticed the way the diaphragm (the large muscle below the lungs) rises and falls? This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s the natural way to take in a deep breath and oxygenate your body. This kind of breathing expands your lungs and presses down the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to expand as the lungs are filled with air. When stressed or anxious, adults are prone to shallow breathing from the chest, which means that the bottom parts of the lungs don’t fill up, denying the body of vital oxygen.

Whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down, place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach and breathe out, exhaling completely. As you inhale, count slowly to five and the hand on your stomach will rise up. Then exhale, counting down slowly from five until that hand goes down. Though it’s not as easy as it sounds and you may need to practice it, regular abdominal breathing is a great way to keep your stress levels down, as well as slow down your heartbeat and reduce or stabilise your blood pressure[i].

small image_breathe

  1. Ask why?

Take a look at your phone. It’s always undergoing improvements, updates and revisions, and isn’t that a bit like life? It can get pretty hectic and scary for us adults, but for children, new and unfamiliar obstacles are just tasks that need to be learned and mastered. Be curious about the world and ask questions, as not only does this provide a mentally stimulating workout that may help keep conditions such as dementia at bay, but people may also consider you to be a good listener and conversationalist.

Whether you’re eight or 80, you can always learn, so enjoy the journey to discover, develop and grow. When you can, be flexible, open and embrace uncertainty, rather than letting your doubts take over. Take your time to look around, appreciate what you have and talk with others about the weird and wonderful world that’s out there. 

  1. Eat like a kid

No, this doesn’t mean order the chicken nuggets off the kids’ menu! But, do try to keep your portion sizes smaller. That way you can go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Healthy children usually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full because they follow their natural body and brain cues and are in tune with their hunger and fullness.

If you grew up being told to eat everything on your plate, even if you were full, don’t let that habit stick – make a conscious effort to stop when you’ve had enough. Making a child eat when they aren’t hungry overrides their natural appetite cues and has links to weight problems later in life. Has this happened to you? Eat smaller, more regular meals packed with veggies to avoid getting over hungry and binging on something you shouldn’t.

small image_family eating

  1. Don’t sit still

Children are always on the move and this is not only a great way to learn, but it also strengthens bones and muscles and burns kilojoules. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for adults, especially if your job means you have to sit for long periods behind the wheel or in front of a computer terminal. If that’s the case, make sure you get up frequently and stretch.

Getting fit for kids isn’t about slogging it out on a treadmill for an hour, it’s about finding something that they love doing and doing it over and over. After all, exercise shouldn’t be a chore and doesn’t need to be. Love to walk? Visit your nearest national park and enjoy a bush walk. Love to dance? Try out that Zumba class you’ve been meaning to try. You get the picture …

  1. Know when it’s time for some R&R

When was the last time your kids said ‘I want to go home’? Generally speaking, kids know when they are tired and will let you know when they need to rest. So just like them, respect your cues and listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired. Ignoring those natural signals to rest can trigger stress and illness in both your body and mind. Lack of sleep in adults has also been linked with obesity since it triggers the release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, as well as having links with type 2 diabetes, poor memory and loss of focus.

small image_relax

  1. Ask for help

When kids need help, they ask for it, whether it’s with their homework or getting something off the top shelf. As we grow up, asking for help becomes a little harder – perhaps because we fear the way we will be perceived by others. Asking for help when you need it may put you out of your comfort zone, but it helps you learn, grow in confidence and get better (whether this is better at a skill or better health wise).

Us adults feel like we need to do everything for ourselves, but there is nothing weak or embarrassing about asking for help. Whether it’s your family, friends, GP or a support hotline, someone is always ready to help you – and you and your family deserve to get that help.

  1. Look on the bright side

Not only are kids naturally inquisitive, but they’re optimistic as well (usually!). Looking on the bright side is linked with less stress and better wellbeing. One study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people who were more optimistic had higher levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides[ii], which are a type of fat. No wonder they say that laughter is the best medicine!

What are the children in your life teaching you about looking after your health?

Version 2
Simone Tregeagle, Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund, with her daughter

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
[ii] The American Journal of Cardiology. Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife. http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(13)00388-3/abstract

Protect your hardworking eyes

They work when you work, they work when you’re relaxing and they even work when you’re sleeping. So, are you giving your hardworking eyes the care they deserve?

At work …

Most eye injuries (60 per cent) occur during work[i]. According to the Australian government, the construction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries are where most eye accidents at work occur[ii]. Any job that involves airborne particles or hazardous substances carries a risk of eye injury. Protect your eyes by:

  • Wearing the right eyewear – your workplace health and safety policy advisors will direct you on the right kind of eyewear you need. Generally speaking, safety eyewear made with polycarbonate lenses and a safety frame with side shields or close fitting wraparound styles give the best protection.
  • Seeking shade – it’s not just your skin that the sun can damage, ultraviolet (UV) rays can also harm your eyes[iii]. Over time, too much sun can contribute to cataracts (where protein builds up in the lens making it cloudy and preventing light from passing clearly through it). So, if you work outside or spend part of the day outdoors, always wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Driving safely – did you know that the sun can penetrate glass and damage your skin and eyes? If you do a lot of driving, think about applying a clear, protective UV blocking film to the side windows as well as wearing sunglasses. And, if you’re suddenly more sensitive to light, see your GP.

safety at work

Protecting screen eyes

Do you find that you’re having trouble reading fine print whether you’re working in front of a screen or relaxing behind one? Called presbyopia (pronounced press-by-o-pee-a), this condition tends to affect people aged 40 and above. It happens as the lens loses its flexibility. And, in order to focus when you’re reading, the lens needs to be flexible enough to adapt and change shape.

If you work with computer screens for much of the day, you may experience eye strain – a bit like repetitive strain injury for your eyes. If this is you, your optometrist may prescribe computer glasses, which have lenses that are specially designed to maximise your vision at the kind of close-up distances that you need to be able to focus on when doing computer work. You can also make changes to your computer screen such as placing the screen about an arm’s length away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Also, make sure to take regular breaks from computer work. A good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer about 20 feet (around 6.1m) in front of you for 20 seconds.

Feeding your eyes

What you eat can benefit your eyes. So, try to snack on nuts and seeds, which contain key antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc to protect your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Flax and chia seeds are also a good option, as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and help to reduce inflammation.

Go for green, yellow, orange and blue … Veggies are low in kilojoules and packed with nutrition, so opt for a cup or more daily. Brightly coloured veggies and fruits (such as carrots, eggplant, mangoes and blueberries) are also rich in eye protecting antioxidants.

vegetables

Avoid dry eyes. Your tears naturally lubricate your eyes but health conditions, medications, dry air, allergies and getting older can all cause dry, irritated eyes. Essential omega-3 fats help to nourish you from the inside out so try to enjoy oily fish like salmon, sardines and fresh tuna two or three times per week. Or, think about taking a fish oil supplement. These fats are called essential because your body can’t make them for itself – you have to get them from your diet. If dry eyes persist, ask your optometrist about a suitable product that might help or see your GP.

Due for a check-up?

You need regular eye exams all through your life, especially if eye problems run in your family or if you have other risk factors.  An eye exam can also show other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills (NSW) on 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown (NSW) on 1300 782 571

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Epidemiology of ocular trauma in Australia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485561

[ii] Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Work-related eye injuries in Australia. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/Documents/201/WorkRelatedEyeInjuriesAustralia_2008_PDF.pdf

[iii] The Skin Cancer Foundation. How Sunlight Damages the Eyes. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes

How fatigue affects both body and mind

Feeling a little less energetic than you’d like? Diet, exercise, emotional health, sleep and work, all contribute …

Fact: Staying awake for 17-19 hours affects your concentration in a similar way to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Staying awake for longer periods is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1% – you’d definitely be off the road for both![i]

Stress makes you tired and it affects all of your body …

  • Brain – headaches and migraines
  • Lungs – coughs and asthma
  • Mood – anxiety, difficulty concentrating
  • Muscles – tension, pain and nervous ticks
  • Stomach – ulcers, heartburn and indigestion
  • Skin – dryness and rashes
  • General – tiredness and fatigue.

Watch the caffeine

Lots of us use caffeine to kick-start our day, but did you know that it increases alertness for only a short time? If you consume caffeine regularly, it may not boost your alertness as much. And, five or six cups of coffee per day can make you jittery and anxious. Caffeine can also interfere with restful sleep. Try cutting down slowly over a month or so and see if your fatigue reduces.

Nap vs. sleep

A short nap could be just what you need to boost alertness. If you can, get your head down for around 15-20 minutes – but set the alarm because longer periods can increase grogginess and leave you feeling worse.

Diet counts

  • Drink enough water – even mild dehydration can trigger tiredness.[ii]
  • Watch sugary foods and drinks – they cause a rapid rise in blood glucose (sugar) but this is followed by a rapid dip as your body releases insulin to normalise levels. The result is tiredness, irritability and hunger.
  • Opt for wholegrains instead of refined, white flour foods for longer lasting energy.
  • Eat regularly – skipping meals causes blood glucose to dip triggering fatigue.

pulses

Could you be short on iron?

This mineral is a major component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to every blood cell. One of the major signs of iron deficiency anaemia is fatigue. Oily fish, pulses, wholegrains and lean meat contain iron. Eating vitamin C rich veggies (tomatoes, capsicum) or fruit (Kiwifruit) increases the amount of iron your body absorbs each time you eat.

Exercise

Being more active actually helps you sleep more restfully, feel better about yourself and along with a healthy diet may help you lose extra kilos. All of these can boost your mood and fight fatigue.

Relax

Meditation, yoga, reading or spending time with friends and family will help boost your energy levels.

woman resting

Did you know? Psychological factors are responsible for a massive 50-80% of cases of fatigue[iii]. Professional counselling can help you to work out the issues adding to your anguish. In some cases, fatigue is also the symptom of an underlying medical problem. So, if you feel excessively tired and you’re getting enough rest, speak with your GP.

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/

[ii] Psychology Today. Fighting Fatigue with Diet. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/fighting-fatigue-diet

[iii] Better Health Channel. Fatigue fighting tips. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fatigue-fighting-tips

14 signs that could mean your child has a vision problem

A massive one in five children has a vision problem that hasn’t been detected yet[i]. Good vision is vital for learning – a massive 80 per cent is done via sight[ii]! Yet, kids of all ages have trouble recognising when they have a problem with their vision. With nothing to compare their sight with, they’ll probably accept that what they’re seeing is normal and that they’re seeing the world in the same way as everyone else. Your child probably won’t be able to talk to you about what they’re experiencing if vision deterioration is slow, too. The result? Frustration, irritation and a loss of concentration or decreased performance at school.

The common signs and symptoms of vision problems in kids

Vision problems mean that kids can face challenges at school, which are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, dyslexia or other learning difficulties[iii]. So it’s important to know the signs. Watch out for:

  1. Headaches
  2. Eye strain
  3. Blurred or double vision
  4. Cross eyes or eyes that appear to move independently of each other
  5. A dislike of reading and up close work
  6. Short attention span during visual tasks
  7. Turning or tilting of the head, or closing or covering one eye to read
  8. Placing the head very close to a book or desk when reading or writing
  9. Constant blinking or eye rubbing
  10. Using a finger as a guide while reading and/or often losing where they are up to
  11. Slow rate of reading or poor understanding of reading
  12. Difficulty remembering what has been read
  13. Leaving out words, repeating words or confusing similar words while reading
  14. Poor eye-hand coordination.

If your child shows one or more of these symptoms, it could be due to a vision problem.

girl blowing bubbles

What to do

Many kids have never had a comprehensive eye examination, which is one reason why vision problems go unrecognised for so many children. Your optometrist is trained to pick up and treat problems effectively. Book your child in for an eye exam at least once every two years – more often if your optometrist recommends it.

And, if your optometrist doesn’t detect a vision problem, your child’s symptoms may be caused by another condition such as dyslexia or another learning disability. Knowing about this early is important and your GP can refer you to an educational specialist to help find the root of the problem. Either way, your child gets the treatment they need.

[i] Optometry Australia. Your Eyes. http://www.optometry.org.au/your-eyes/your-child’s-eyes/

[ii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

[iii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

 

Healthy eats for stronger teeth

A lifetime of healthy smiles starts in childhood. So, as well as brushing twice daily, flossing and visiting the dentist, what you give your kids to eat can dramatically affect their tooth health – and their confidence, too.

A healthy diet isn’t just about limiting the amount of sugar you give them (although cutting down on sugar is better for everyone and has much wider health benefits).

Little tummies need regular feeding and healthy snacks can help to boost your child’s energy. So what are the best snacks to help your child smile?

Cheese and crackers/breadsticks

Hard cheese like Cheddar and soft cheese such as mozzarella are great for teeth because:

  1. They are rich in calcium, which is what teeth are made from. Immediately eating a small cube of cheese after a meal or a snack plugs the tiny holes in the enamel helping protect and build stronger teeth.
  2. The protein in cheese helps neutralise the acids from food and drinks, providing both protective and strengthening effects.
  3. The chewing action encourages the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s natural cleanser.

cheddar cheese

Fruits – apples, pears, melon and more

Yes, they contain sugar and acids, but fruits are good for the teeth because they contain vitamin C, which helps to strengthen blood vessels that nourish cells with oxygen and food. Vitamin C is also vital for strengthening the connective tissue, which keeps the teeth in place. It also helps to protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and even bacterial infection. This vitamin also has an anti-inflammatory action.

Encourage fruit as part of a meal because the chewing action helps to stimulate saliva, the body’s way to wash food debris away. And offer a glass of water after they eat fruit to help wash away any acids.

Raisins

Dried fruit isn’t usually a tooth friendly snack because the drying process removes water, which concentrates the sugars. Plus the sticky texture means it can cling to the teeth for longer, providing plaque-producing bacteria plenty of time to feast on the sugar and produce acidic waste, which can damage delicate enamel.

We used to think that raisins were much like other dried fruit but recent research shows that raisins are a tooth healthy option.

Like other fruits, raisins contain protective phytochemicals, which are effective antioxidants. One of these found in raisins is called oleanolic (pronounced o-lee-an-o-lic) acid. This seems to reduce the growth of two species of oral bacteria, one that causes cavities (Streptococcus mutans) and one that causes gum disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis)[i].

raisins

Legumes

Peas, beans and lentils also contain antioxidants that help boost the immune system that in turn helps the body fight bacteria and inflammation. Try hummus with strips of pita bread/breadsticks or veggie sticks.

Crisp veggies

Crunchy carrots and celery help to clean teeth, massage gums and freshen breath. They contain a lot of water, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. And, because they need a lot of chewing, crisp veggies stimulate saliva flow (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering against acids). Plus, the folate they contain helps to build healthy blood, which delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to every cell.

carrots and celery

Sandwiches

Made with fish, lean meat, hummus, egg or cheese, small sandwiches for tiny tummies are a great choice. Although small children often don’t like the strong taste of fish, canned fish like salmon is a great sandwich filling because it is rich in tooth building calcium. Opt for wholegrain bread because it contains fibre, which requires chewing. Remember children under five don’t need as much fibre as adults so stick with white bread sandwiches for them.

Milk – cow’s milk and soy milk

Cow’s milk is naturally rich in calcium as is soy milk, if it is processed with calcium. Although it’s a tooth friendly drink, always make the last drink of the day water, as milk contains the milk sugar, lactose. If allowed to stay in contact with the teeth for long periods, it provides food for plaque-producing bacteria, increasing the risk of tooth damage.

Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Both are rich in minerals including zinc and magnesium. Zinc plays a key role in wound healing – including little wounds in the mouth. Plus, they contain magnesium, another mineral which works with calcium to build strong, protective enamel that can resist decay. Lack of magnesium could mean that teeth become softer and more susceptible to cavities.

pumpkin seeds

With all snacks, encourage your kids to wash them down with some water afterwards. Water helps to wash away food debris, stimulate saliva production and most water supplies in Australia have added fluoride to help harden the enamel and protect teeth, too.

Remember, children’s milk teeth are much more delicate than adult teeth – as well as being smaller, the layer of enamel is thinner so small children are especially at risk of decay and damage. And, if baby teeth are removed because of decay, there’s more risk that the adult teeth will grow into abnormal positions.

So help them snack smarter and enjoy a lifetime of healthy smiles!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] WebMD. Raisins May Help Fight Cavities. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20050608/raisins-may-help-fight-cavities