We’ve had a lot of cottonwood particles floating around this year. Can you be allergic to them? How do you treat that?

You can indeed be allergic to the cottonwood particles that have been filling the skies. Those that are allergic to it may notice sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion and itching on the skin which are all common signs and symptoms of any allergic reaction. Many individuals have what we call “seasonal allergies,” which means that these individuals tend to experience these allergy symptoms particularly in the spring and fall when dust, rag weed, pollen and mold counts are increased in the air. As with “seasonal allergies,” cottonwood allergy can be treated with some common over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays. If the allergy is severe, to the point where it may be causing airway compromise or swelling of the face, then you should seek emergency treatment at the nearest ER.

I woke up with a cramp in my calf that didn’t want to go away. It took nearly an hour to see improvement and then I worried about what might have caused it. What is that? What do you do to end it?

There are various reasons that may cause cramps in your calves but a few of the more common reasons are electrolyte imbalance, muscle overuse and decreased blood supply. When the cramp initially begins, the best thing to do is actually stretch the muscle because this helps prevent the muscle from tightening and causing that cramping sensation. If decreased blood supply is the culprit of the muscle cramping, stretching won’t necessarily help but with the other two causes it will. In regard to the electrolyte imbalance, deficiencies in B vitamins and Potassium are what may cause the cramps and those could be cramps in any muscle in the body, not just the calves. Eating a well-balanced diet and ensuring you’re getting those nutrients will help prevent cramps in that instance. If you recently started an intense exercise regimen or did a strenuous activity where you may have used your calf muscles more than usual, this could also be the reason for the cramps and proper stretching will help prevent these cramps. If you have recently noticed cramps in your calves after walking and then the cramps improve if you sit down and rest, this could be a sign that you have a decrease in blood supply to your lower legs. If this is the case, it is best to go to your primary care provider for further physical exam and work up.

What exercises do you recommend to strengthen my ankles and my Achilles tendon?

Weak ankles and Achilles tendons tend to go hand in hand. Some common stretches to do to help strengthen the two include standing calf raises where you lift yourself up on your toes and then back down for 15-20 repetitions. To increase the difficulty, you can try holding hand weights while doing this or try standing on one foot at a time while doing this. Another exercise includes just simply walking on your heels. A third exercise includes hopping on one foot at a time. Whichever ankle needs strengthened, you’re going to stand on that leg then hop forward, sideways, backwards, then sideways again to make a square. Do 15-20 repetitions of this as well. It is recommended to do this with both feet. Lastly, a good exercise that is more for the Achilles tendon is what is commonly known as a "wall stretch." Standing in front of a wall, place your heel on the floor and toes pointed up on the wall. As you lean in close to the wall, you should feel your calf stretch which is also stretching your Achilles tendon. For anyone, especially adolescents and teens with weak ankles, it is also a good idea to wear ankle support braces while doing any strenuous or athletic activity. The more you’re able to support your ankles while you are young, the less likely you are to have injuries when you get older.

How protective is clothing when you’re out in the sun? Are some fabrics not very good at helping you?

Depending on the type of fabric you are wearing in the sun will depend on how protective it is. Fabrics are made of tiny fibers woven or knitted together. Under a microscope, you can see a lot of spaces between the fibers. Ultra violet light (UV), which is given off from the sun and damages our skin, can pass directly through these holes to reach the skin. The tighter the knit or weave, the smaller the holes and the less UV can get through. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic are more protective than bleached cottons. Shiny or lustrous semi-synthetic fabrics like rayon reflect more UV than do matte ones, such as linen, which tend to absorb rather than reflect UV. Finally, consider the fabric’s weight and density; light, sheer silk gauze will provide far less UV protection than heavy cotton denim. Regardless of how much clothing you have on outside in the sun, always remember to apply sunscreen to the areas not covered by clothing; especially the neck, face, ears and top of your head if you are bald.

How long can you go without eating vegetables? What problems does that cause?

Theoretically, you could go forever without eating vegetables, but it is HIGHLY NOT recommended. Vegetables (and fruits) contain many vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that our bodies need, which include but are not limited to magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper and boron.

Common signs and symptoms of these nutrient deficiencies include generalized fatigue or tiredness, brittle or dry hair, rigid or spoon-shaped fingernails, sores in and around the mouth especially at the corners and changes in your skin. Significant deficiencies in magnesium and potassium can also lead to heart arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms. While many individuals don’t like vegetables, there are other ways such as drinks, supplements and vitamins to which you can get the needed vitamins, minerals and electrolytes.

I’ve had brown spots on my legs that look like bruises but they’re not bruises. What causes that?

Without seeing the spots on your legs, I can’t specifically say what they are, but my suspicion is that they are what we call solar lentigines; also called sun spots, liver spots or age spots. They tend to be dark spots on the skin that vary in size and can occur anywhere, especially to sun exposed spots like the face, hands, shoulders, arms and legs. Solar lentigines are harmless and don’t need any kind of treatment. For some individuals, these spots will be bleached or lightened in color for cosmetic purposes. Regularly using sunscreen and avoiding the sun is essentially what will help prevent these spots. If you do have a spot (anywhere on your body) that looks concerning such as being dark in color, rapidly changing in size, has irregular boarders, has an unusual combination of colors, or is accompanied by itching, redness, tenderness or bleeding; having your primary care provider evaluate it initially and then on a periodic basis is best.

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