Allergies are getting worse thanks to climate change
Does it feel like your allergy symptoms keep getting worse every year, and seem to last a lot longer, too? If so, you're not alone. According to a recent report from the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, warming temperatures due to climate change have increased the growing seasons for many plants. This means that common allergens like pollen are produced much earlier in the season and last longer than ever before in many regions of the United States. In addition to the extended growing seasons, these changes in temperature are also producing higher concentrations of pollen, meaning anyone allergic to or sensitive to pollen will feel their symptoms even more.
What are allergies, anyway?
Allergies are the result of a chain reaction of chemicals in your body that release histamine in response to allergen exposure, resulting in the symptoms many commonly experience such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy, watery eyes and itching of the nose or throat. Common triggers include allergens such as pollen, dust, pet dander, fungal spores and grass clippings.
Over one-fourth of all U.S. adults and children have at least one type of seasonal allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you are one of the many who suffer from seasonal allergies, you may think you can wait it out, hoping your symptoms will just go away on their own when spring is over, but the truth is that allergies can greatly impact one's everyday life.
"Allergies can significantly hinder quality of life and thus interfere with work and daily activities. You may experience sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, runny nose, sore throat, and if not treated, allergies can turn into even more severe symptoms like respiratory issues," said family physician and ZYRTEC® partner, Dr. Leslie Gonzalez.
"These symptoms can quickly worsen within hours to days, making them harder to
treat — so it's better to treat your symptoms at the first sign of an allergic reaction."
How to lessen allergy symptoms
Throughout allergy season (and beyond, if you're experiencing symptoms year-round), Dr. Gonzalez recommends the following to help reduce your exposure to allergens:
— Wash your hands and body daily — especially after spending time outdoors, and change clothes after doing yard work, playing sports or an extended time outside.
— Stay indoors when winds are strong or when pollen counts are high in your area.
— Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.
—Vacuum daily and dust often. Consider reducing fabrics in your home that allergens can bind to (such as choosing hardwood flooring over carpet), and wash bedding regularly.
— Improve ventilation in your home and consider replacing HVAC filters even more frequently during the height of allergy season.
Dr. Gonzalez also recommends taking an antihistamine immediately after the first signs of an allergic response, and then continue to take it throughout the season for the best results.✴
Mather Hospital recognized for excellence in bariatric surgery by Healthgrades
Mather Hospital has received the Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award™ from Healthgrades for the h consecutive year (2019-2023). Mather is the only hospital on Long Island to receive the award for ve consecutive years.
e award recognizes hospitals that deliver superior patient outcomes in bariatric (weight loss) surgery. Healthgrades evaluates hospital performance using objective quality measures including clinical outcomes and patient safety, as well as patient experience. Each year Healthgrades recognizes hospitals that deliver superior patient outcomes in 17 service lines.
“We are proud of our outstanding team that has been nationally recognized by Healthgrades,” said Arif Ahmad, MD, Director of the Center of Excellence in Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery™ at Mather Hospital.
Mather Hospital’s bariatric program also has been recognized by Healthgrades as a Five Star Recipient for Overall Bariatric Surgery for 16 Years in a row (2008/2009-2023).
Mather Hospital’s Bariatric Center of Excellence includes medical professionals, therapists, and nutritionists, all of whom are specially trained in supporting patients through their weight loss journey, providing them with a comprehensive plan for success.
Dr. Ahmad is one of New York’s most experienced and successful bariatric surgeons in the nation, with more than 35 years of surgical experience, 20 of those years specializing in bariatric surgery.
Dr. Ahmad and Mather Hospital also were Long Island’s rst Robotic Bariatric Epicenter and the third in New York State, joining New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Albany Medical Center. Dr. Ahmad and Mather’s surgical team also host surgeons from around the country and internationally who come to the Port Je erson hospital to learn the latest bariatric robotic surgical techniques using one of Mather’s three DaVinci® surgical robots.
An Epicenter serves as a model for robotic surgery and is considered a state-of-the-art facility with a surgeon who is a proven expert in his or her eld as demonstrated by world class standards in clinical outcomes, safety, procedural eciency, cost reduction and program management.
e Bariatric Center of Excellence o ers educational sessions led by Dr. Ahmad about obesity and treatment and surgical options, including risks and bene ts. e Center also o ers pre- and post-operative support groups and a young adult support group for those ages 18-25.
In addition to its bariatric program, Mather Hospital was also recognized by Healthgrades this year with the below distinctions:
• America’s 250 Best Hospital Award™
• Outstanding Patient Experience Award™ (2021-2023)
• America’s 100 Best Gastrointestinal Surgery™
• Critical Care Excellence Award™
• Gastrointestinal Care Excellence Award™
• Pulmonary Care Excellence Award™ (2016--2023)
• Top 5 State Ranking for - Critical Care (2023)
• Top 3 State Ranking for - Gastrointestinal Surgery (2023)
Understanding and improving mental health
One need not look very far to know that we are facing a mental health crisis. CDC data shows that youth are reporting high rates of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and a recently published report by the Surgeon General declared loneliness an epidemic.By Colleen Merlo, LMSW
For many Long Islanders, these findings are not merely statistics or verbiage. This crisis is affecting their daily lives. It may show up with a child pleased to not attend school, or through a decline in the cognitive health of an aging parent. Many of us are feeling a rawness that we cannot quite put to words, nevertheless we know it is there. For some of us it shows up as irritability and angst; others are walking around feeling exhausted.
Living through a pandemic has changed all of us and the way we think about mental health, and left us less resilient as a society. On the bright side, the pandemic has been a catalyst for increased discussion about
mental health. We need to make sure this trend continues. In the past, when people thought about mental health, the topic took a myopic view that focused on illness. While mental illnesses are common, widespread, and can affect anyone (around half of people in the U.S. will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life), this view left many people overlooking mental health and wellness, and the ways we can foster community mental health.
Every day we have a chance to focus on emotional wellness and incorporate tools into our lives. We also have an opportunity to better recognize and respond to mental distress. An important first step is to learn common warning signs for mental health conditions or crises and how to respond.
First Aid training takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations
about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder.
Understanding the risk factors for a mental health condition can be more difficult when it’s your own mental health. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to see if you see a pattern that may be caused by a mental health condition. Here are some questions to get
• Have things that used to feel easy started feeling difficult?
• Does the idea of doing simple daily tasks now feel really,
• Have you lost interest in activities and hobbies you used to enjoy?
• Do you feel irritated, possibly to the point of lashing out at people you care about?
• Have you withdrawn from family, friends, or society?
• Are you increasing your use of drugs or alcohol?
If you are concerned about your mental health, there are several options available. You are not alone — help is out there, and recovery is possible. It may be hard to talk about your concerns, but simply acknowledging to yourself that you’re struggling is a really big step.
Taking a screening at http://mhaw.org/ get-involved/online-screening/ can help you to better understand what you are experiencing and get helpful resources. After that, consider talking to someone you trust about your results, and seek out a professional to find the support you need.
A phone call to the Association for Mental Health and Wellness can help link you to support, services, workshops, and trainings. Call MHAW at 631-4717242 ext. 2. While you may not need this information today, knowing the basics about mental health will mean you’re prepared if you ever need it.✴
Colleen Merlo, LMSW, is a the Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Mental Health and Wellness in Ronkonkoma .
4 ways to cut cancer risk
Cancer affects lives in every corner of the globe and is the leading cause of death worldwide. While anyone can get cancer, 88 percent of Americans diagnosed with cancer are age 50 or older. Whether it’s encountered as a patient, caregiver or supporter, cancer will affect the vast majority of individuals at some point in their lives. That prevalence underscores the significance of learning about the disease, including ways to reduce the risk of being diagnosed.
WHAT IS CANCER?
According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Cancer can start just about anywhere, as humans are made up of trillions of cells. When a person has cancer, abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they normally should die and have new, healthy cells take their place.
Cancer cells differ from normal cells in that they don’t need signalling to grow, nor do they stop multiplying. They also do not stop growing when encountering other cells and can hide from the immune system. All of these conditions and others combine to make cancer a very serious condition. That means it could be of the utmost important to do everything possible to reduce your risk of acquiring the disease.
Though there’s no guaranteed way to avoid cancer, these four strategies are highly effective at reducing risk for the disease.
Signs and symptoms of cancer will vary depending on which part of the body is affected. However, lumps (tumors), fatigue, weight changes, skin changes, and changes to bowel or bladder habits are symptoms often associated with cancer.
Consuming a healthy diet can go a long way toward reducing cancer risk. The Mayo Clinic says people should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and even choose foods from plant sources as the foundation of their diets. Limiting refined sugars and fats from animal sources also is effective.
Eating processed meat also has been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Consumption of alcohol also increases cancer risk.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking cigarettes is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, with about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths attributed to cigarettes in the United States. Tobacco also causes cancer elsewhere in the body. The single best way to reduce cancer risk is to avoid tobacco to begin with or, for current smokers, to quit smoking immediately.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
The CDC says being overweight or obese has been linked to a higher risk of 13 different types of cancer. Diet is important in maintaining a healthy weight, but so is regular physical exercise. People should strive for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or a minimum of 75 minutes a week of intense aerobic activity.
PROTECT SKIN FROM THE SUN
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease. Covering the skin, avoiding midday sun, using a broadspectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, and avoiding sunlamps and tanning beds is essential.✴
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Bite back against lyme disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness often spread through the bite of the blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. A bacterium known as borrelia burgdorferi is carried inside a tick and can be transmitted from the tick’s saliva into the bloodstream of an animal host, whether that host be a person, pet or wild animal. Once in the bloodstream, the Lyme disease organism is carried to many parts of the body and is likely to localize in joints or kidneys.
Many dogs affected with Lyme disease are taken to a veterinarian because they seem to be experiencing generalized pain and have stopped eating. Affected dogs have been described as if they were walking on eggshells. Often, these pets have high fevers. Dogs may also begin limping. This painful lameness often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another and if left untreated, may eventually disappear, only to recur weeks or months later.
Non-specific signs which may indicate that Lyme disease is affecting the kidneys include vomiting, lethargy, anorexia (lack of appetite), and weight loss. The kidney form of the disease is less common but often fatal.
Most dogs infected with the Lyme disease organism take two to five months before they show symptoms. By this time, the disease may be widespread throughout the body.
Pet owners can employ various measures to prevent the illness from affecting their companion animals.
• Use a tick preventative. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that pet owners should speak with their veterinarians about the best tick prevention products for their dogs. Most are broken down into two classes: topical and oral. Topical tick preventatives are liquids placed on the skin or chemicals embedded in special
collars. Oral medications are consumed and absorbed by the pet. There are pros and cons to both types, which warrants an honest discussion with a pet professional.
• Stick to trails. When walking dogs, keep to clearly identified and cleared trails and try to avoid tick-infested spots. Ticks are found in sandy, wooded and grassy areas. They find their way onto animals by detecting approaching motion and then crawling or dropping on to people or animals. Also, keep home yards mowed to cut down on tall grasses where ticks can hide.
• Physically remove ticks. Inspect dogs when they come inside from the yard or after walks in parks and elsewhere. Remove any ticks that you can find. Some may be quite small and hard to detect. Carefully remove embedded ticks to keep the tick’s mouth parts intact. Rule of thumb is "freeze it, don't squeeze it!"
• Vaccinate against Lyme disease. Veterinarians offer Lyme disease vaccinations for dogs that are administered yearly. Should an infected tick bite the dog, a vaccinated animal will be less likely to contract Lyme disease. VCA Animal Hospitals says vaccination is recommended for pets who live in endemic areas or travel to areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.
• Schedule wellness visits that include Lyme testing. Annual vaccines are necessary to maintain immunity to Lyme disease. Vets often will conduct blood tests to check for the presence of Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses during wellness visits. Should Lyme disease be present, an antibiotic, typically doxycycline, will be prescribed.
Lyme disease affects all types of animals. To keep dogs safe, pet owners can embrace a mix of preventative measures, including physical inspection, lifestyle changes and vaccination.✴
AN INSPIRING COMEBACK
Huntington stroke survivor shares her storyBY STEPHANIE GIUNTA
In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month, we would like to honor a local survivor, Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, who is beyond inspirational. Here is her story.
On January 11, 2017, 34-year-old Huntington Village resident Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, went to work like it was any other day, although she remembers having a bad headache. The passionate history buff and Executive Director at the Huntington Historical Society was making some personal calls during her lunch break. As she sat down to eat her lunch, she suddenly felt dizzy; her coworker asked if she was okay, and she couldn’t speak. Out of nowhere, a simple Wednesday became the day that forever-altered Napolitano’s future: the day she unexpectedly suffered a stroke.
Once the stroke had occurred, FortunatoNapolitano couldn’t remember what happened next, though she recounted her story by way of others at the scene. She was rushed to Huntington Hospital, and was then airlifted to North Shore University Hospital, where she resided for two weeks. When she woke up, she still couldn’t speak, had weakness in her right arm and couldn't walk.
After a stint at the hospital, she was released into a rehab facility, but at the end of her weeklong tenure, needed to move back into her parents’ house. Though the mobility in her arm was very low, she was slowly regaining the ability to walk, but couldn’t tackle the stairs up to her front door. She lived with her parents for three weeks, while simultaneously beginning outpatient rehab, seeing a handful of therapists to attempt to win her life back as her own through physical and cognitive recovery.
No warning signs
Doctors were puzzled that a healthy 34-yearold, who had nothing more than a routine headache on the day of her stroke, could suffer something so unexpected and traumatic. At six months post-stroke, Fortunato-Napolitano began seeing a neurologist and underwent in-depth testing to reveal underlying notions of root cause. She tested negative for everything doctors had assumed she would test positive for. Though they could confirm that the stroke was caused by a clogged blood vessel in her brain, the actual diagnosis remains inconclusive.
A determined patient
After routinely attending speech therapy for six months, Fortunato-Napolitano still fought to talk. In our interview, she mentioned
that she struggled with aphasia for the first two years during her recovery. Her therapist alluded to the fact that her speech would not improve — that she should simply get used to this new way of life. This led her down a dark path of depression, afraid that she would never regain her full ability to communicate with others.
After 4-5 months, her parents encouraged her to seek a second opinion from another therapist who would work with her past the “6 month window.” As Fortunato-Napolitano stated during our interview, her mother “God bless her soul!” put her in touch with her current speech therapist, Judy Cavallo, who she still sees to this day. Cavallo even provides Fortunato-Napolitano with homework because she asks for it!
In addition to speech therapy, FortunatoNapolitano continues to see an occupational therapist, Ian MacManus, to aid in her physical disabilities. Seven of her fingers work, but three fingers on her right hand are bent in a fixed manner. She dreams of the ability to wear high heels again, but walking is too difficult in any shoe aside from her signature Doc Martens and Birkenstocks — which she has in a wide variety of colors. Her right foot cannot be fully-placed on the floor, and only the outside edge can go flat completely.
To this day, Napolitano still goes to outpatient rehab twice per week (once to her speech therapist and once to her occupational therapist) to improve her skills and continually progress.
Prior to the stroke, Fortunato-Napolitano was a writer. She wrote a historic Half Hollow Hills column for Patch Media on a weekly basis, as well as many articles for the Huntington Historical Society. Now, on average, it will take her about three hours to write three paragraphs. She mentioned that this has been the hardest thing for her to overcome from
a professional perspective. But Siri is her best friend. She is so grateful for technology, which helps her text, post on social media, and write emails.
A major milestone
Within the first five years of having a stroke, an individual is 50% more likely to suffer from a second stroke in comparison to a person of the same age. So, in January 2022, FortunatoNapolitano threw herself an “I Am Alive!” party to celebrate meeting this critical milestone. There were over 85 people in attendance, including her neurologist and speech therapist, and she donned a stylish, sparkly green jumpsuit. Not only was this a celebration of how far she had come, but also that statistically, her chances of having another stroke or stroke-like episode would start to significantly decrease.
Pivotal life lessons
Fortunato-Napolitano is so grateful to be alive. She could have been paralyzed and in a wheelchair; she may not have survived. But now, she makes sure that she lives every day to the fullest. She voluntarily chooses happiness.
Prior to the stroke, she was unhappy about stupid, inconsequential things. Now, Fortunato-Napolitano uses a “whatever!” mentality. She believes that life is worth living and she intends to make the most of the hand that she has been dealt. The biggest lesson she learned from her stroke, she mentioned, was, “I can be unhappy [about that] or I can just be happy. And I choose to be happy all of the time.”
Fortunato-Napolitano fuels her happiness with her work. This February, she was newlyappointed as the Executive Director of the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association. She loves her job and the challenges it provides.
She is also a travel connoisseur — something she has been passionate about from a very
Stroke symptoms and warning signs
Use the letters in F.A.S.T. to spot a stroke:
F = Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
A = Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred?
T = Time to call 911
Watch for sudden: Numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and a severe headache with no known cause.
SOURCE: American Stroke Association
young age. Her next destination includes heading to Cleveland on a baseball stadium tour for her husband’s birthday, but the top future spots on her international travel list include Africa, Argentina, Australia, and Turkey.
A message to all stroke survivors
Fortunato-Napolitano's hope is that someone in similar shoes reads this article, her story, and becomes happy due to reading it. She can’t stress enough that you can and will get better — you just can’t stop believing in yourself. At six months post-stroke, her original speech therapist told her she would never speak again. Six years later, FortunatoNapolitano is carrying on conversations beautifully. Each year, she sees subsequent progression and truly believes that she will continue to improve for the rest of her life.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel even during the darkest and most depressing of times. Her outlook on life has drastically changed from Year 2 to Year 6. She stressed the importance of self-dedication, while also surrounding yourself with a great support system.
Above all, Fortunato-Napolitano is a true inspiration. She epitomizes optimism, and is dedicated, admirable, and determined. Her new dream is to become a life coach, as she hopes to help others through similar dark and unexpected times. She would love a platform in which to tell her story publicly. FortunatoNapolitano is a happiness evangelist, a survivor to the nth degree, and only hopes she can inspire others, stroke conquerors or not, to live life to the fullest.
Follow along with Claudia FortunatoNapolitano’s journey on Instagram: @ ayoungstrokerecovery.
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Upgrade your health and wellness routine
For many, the longer days, warmer temperatures, and blooming flowers of spring and summer bring a renewed sense of energy and motivation to paint the garage or freshen up the garden. However, it is also the perfect time of the year to devote your energy to personal health and wellness improvement projects.
To prepare for the warmer seasons ahead, Dr. Leah Joseph, a board-certified primary care physician at Teladoc Health, shares her top tips for upgrading health and wellness routines.
Tidy up your sleep schedule
People tend to appreciate the longer days of spring and summer. But more early morning sunshine, along with life's other distractions, can wreak havoc on sleep schedules.
Joseph recommends that people prioritize getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night and stresses that consistency is the key to reaping the rewards of a good night's rest. "Establishing a sleep schedule that conditions your body to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends, helps your body get into a natural rhythm," she says. "To get into a routine, try setting a bedtime alert on your phone or placing a note next to your TV to remind you of your bedtime."
And when interruptions and sleepless nights do happen, people shouldn't dwell on it because the stress can make it even harder to get back into a sleep rhythm. Joseph recommends accepting the interruption as a temporary lapse and trying again for better sleep the next night.
Dig into your diet
More sun and rising temperatures make it easier to find fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables, staples of a healthy diet. Eating plenty of whole foods, including vegetables and fruits, can lower blood pressure, lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, help with digestion problems and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetites under control.
"Focus on what you can control around healthy eating choices and learn to adapt to things outside of your power," suggests Joseph. "Look for chances to add color to your plate with fruits and veggies and cook with fresh ingredients when you can."
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In addition to support from your primary care physician, registered nutritionists and dietitians can help design a healthy eating strategy with the right mix of whole foods. In many cases, meeting with dietary experts can be done easily and conveniently online.
Take it outside
Joseph says one of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to prioritize getting enough physical activity. Getting daily exercise doesn't have to be intense or complicated. Taking a quick walk around the neighborhood or local park can have significant benefits for everyone, no matter an individual's fitness level.
"If you can, find a partner to help keep you motivated to move," recommends Joseph. "Ask friends and family to work out with you, and make it unique to you. They'll help you stay on track, and you'll have more fun doing it." She advises that there's no one-size-fits-all approach
to exercise, and that people need to try different activities until they find at least one that they enjoy enough to engage in regularly like walking the family dog.
Pick up with your PCP
It is always easier to stay on top of health goals and priorities with an expert by your side. Your primary care provider (PCP) can help navigate every aspect of health and wellness, from a new health goal to a new health diagnosis.
Scheduling an appointment with a PCP is the best way to stay on top of health needs. Regular check-ins are key to disease prevention, controlling common chronic diseases, mental wellness and coordinating testing and specialist care, when it's needed.
"Too often, I see that people wait to see a doctor until there is an issue or an emergency," commented Joseph. "With regular visits, I can establish relationships with my patients and help them identify any potential concerns early and often. It saves a lot of time and pain down the road."✴
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