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Ever since we fell back, I’ve had difficulty sleeping. Can something like a time change be that significant? How do I deal with the effects?

First of all, yes! Something like a time change CAN be that significant! Most people generally notice a bigger affect to their sleep in the spring when we “spring forward,” causing us to lose an hour of sleep; however, plenty of people also experience this in the fall, even though “falling back” generally gives us an extra hour of sleep. The reasons can be various, but most sleep experts agree that the amount of daytime light is a major contribution. Humans operate on something called a “circadian rhythm”, a cycle in the brain that tells us to be awake when the sun is shining and to sleep when it’s dark (this is also why people have a hard time on the night-shift). Daylight savings was invented to try to get us some extra light during the day, but the fact remains that the daylight hours are still shorter than in the spring and summer, so we’re naturally fighting our instinct to go to bed earlier. Additionally, this time is also colder, which makes people want to snuggle in and, consequently, fall asleep. To help combat your daylight-savings sleepiness try some of the following:

• Reset your sleep hygiene clock: go to bed and get up at the same times each day. This helps train your “inner clock” about when you really should be sleeping

• Use bright lights, or better yet, SUNSHINE earlier in the morning to help wake you up. More important, avoid bright lights (including TV, iPad, computer and phone screens) within two hours of bedtime. This will help your brain start to “turn off.”

• Exercise! Aside from the million reasons we healthcare providers go blue in the face encouraging you to exercise, it also helps regulate your sleep. Exercising in the morning helps energize and jump-start your day, but it also gives you that worn-out feeling at the end of the day when it’s time for bed.

• Use your bedroom only for sleep. You can trick your brain into feeling tired when you go into your room if it only ever associates that space with sleep. So turn off that highlight reel and catch some zzz’s!

My son, who’s in middle school, complains frequently about headaches. Is this something we should be concerned with? How should we treat them?

In general, headaches are a frequent complaint in the doctor’s office, and most of the time there’s nothing dangerous about them. The reason your provider might freak out when you get a headache is because there are a (very) few times when they can be a BIG deal-like a tumor, brain bleed or fracture- and we have to rule those big deals out. Some adolescents suffer from headaches frequently, and the causes can range from dehydration to hormone shifts (proving that puberty really can be a pain in the neck) to tension from doing lots of reading or studying. Additionally, the teenage years are often the time in life when nasty migraines start, which have a whole range of scary symptoms from blurry vision, nausea and vomiting, and splitting pain to slurred speech and sensitivity to light. To be safe it’s best to see your healthcare provider at least once if you or your child is experiencing frequent or repetitive headaches so we can rule out the big, bad, and ugly and help get you feeling better. Some simple tricks to fighting your average, run-of-the-mill headache:

• Drink plenty of water. Sounds simple, but you’ll be amazed how much better you feel.

• Try some Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Ibuprofen (Aleve is similar) if your doctor is OK with it (and while you’re at it, finish the glass of water you used to take the pills).

• Use gentle stretching of your neck from side to side and to the front. You can also gently rub your temples to relieve some tension in your scalp muscles.

• Treat yourself! Massage therapy can be greatly beneficial for chronic headaches. Osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture and chiropractic therapy are also worth talking to your doctor about.

• If the above remedies aren’t helpful it’s probably time to call your doc (if you haven’t done so already). Keep in mind sinus congestion, allergies, and all kinds of viral infections can wreak havoc on headaches.

My skin is so dry I can never seem to use enough lotion. Is there something better? Why is it like that?

Tis the season . . . for dry skin, Bah, humbug! During the winter months the air is much drier than during warmer months, and, unfortunately, your skin takes a beating. Usually dry skin is more annoying than serious, but in severe cases can cause super chapped and even cracked skin (called a fissure). Any time there’s a hole in your skin the potential for a problem arises, as microscopic germs can creep in and turn into an infection. But fear not, my friends, I can help.

• Make sure you’re using a good lotion. In this case expensive does NOT mean better, but thick and greasy does! A thicker product (think more of a cream than a lotion) penetrates the top layer of skin better and protects it from the elements.

• Also, avoid those good-smelling lotions. You may want to smell like an apple-cherry blossom-gingerbread-cotton-whatever but trust me. Your skin will thank you for a scent-free variety. The reason for this is that most scents are supplied by alcohol-based solutions, and these can really dry out the skin (remember how thirsty you were after your last hangover? So does your skin).

• The same applies for your soap. Try to stick to the creamy, non-scented bars for the best effect.

• And speaking of showers, hot and steamy is out. Warm is in this season! As relaxing as a super-hot shower can be it also dries out your skin, so stick to a quick 5-10 minute shower no more than once daily at a boring temperature to avoid dehydrating your skin. Then pat or blot dry. Wiping and rubbing also can cause skin damage.

• Use a humidifier in your home. No, silly, you don’t need to go buy a million-dollar variety for the whole place, there are machines for individual rooms that work perfectly well. Just add water, plug in and voila! (and for our friendly safety enthusiasts: remember to turn these off or unplug when you leave the house and set them on a hard surface, to avoid risk of fires).

If all of these other options have failed a virtually fail-proof option exists in good old petroleum jelly. Yup, that cheap Vaseline can work wonders for dry skin. Slather on a good dollop and rub it in for best results. Keep in mind it doesn’t really absorb into the skin. It works by blocking the skin’s access to the air, thereby keeping moisture in. A few pointers: don’t use this on your face around prom or family pictures. It has been known to cause a pimple or two. Also, make sure you don’t wear said prom-dress while using this product, as it can rub off on your clothes. Petroleum jelly is non-scented and works brilliantly for chapped skin and that space under your nose that kiddos love to lick when their lips are dry.

I’ve gotten up several mornings this week with a bloody nose. Is that because my house is dry or could it be something else? I don’t have a humidifier on my furnace. Would a small humidifier be enough?

Speaking of glad tidings, I give you . . .the bloody nose! This time of year people are cursed with bloody noses, especially the elderly and young kiddos. Most of the time they’re simply a frustrating mess, but if you can’t get it to stop within 30 minutes call your healthcare provider (note: if it’s causing symptoms of dizziness or lightheadedness to the point you’re worried you may pass out skip the 30 minutes and call your doc). This, too, is a side effect of cold, dry air that hits the “skin” lining of your nasal passages every time you breathe. It’s typically worse in the morning (or whenever you first wake up) because most of us breathe deeper through our nose while we sleep. This is especially true for people who use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, as that dry air is literally forced into your lungs. Luckily, I have some tricks for this ailment as well.

• Use a humidifier in your home (see above). This will help prevent the nosebleed from the beginning.

• Use some lotion or petroleum jelly (again, see above, I’m sensing a theme today . . .) on the inside of your nose to moisturize the tissues. Keep in mind that if you use a scented lotion you may end up tasting it for a few minutes.

• If you do get a nose bleed use a towel/washcloth/tissue and pinch the sides of your nose together. Tilt your head slightly forward (note: do NOT tip your head backwards, this will drip blood down your throat and you can either swallow it or choke, and ain’t nobody got time for that). Hold this pressure and position for 10-15 minutes.

If you’re getting nose bleeds regularly or if you have one that you can’t get under control, it’s time to call your provider.

Is there such a thing as a leaf allergy? This fall has been terrible. Does it end once we get a freeze?

How could such a simple question require such a complicated answer? The quick answer is: yes. Technically you can be allergic to almost anything (I heard of a lady once who was allergic to ice, but I’m pretty sure there were some other issues), including trees and, by association, leaves. The long answer is that frequently when people think they’re reacting to the leaves they’re really reacting to what’s IN the leaves.

Ragweed: this obnoxious weed blooms around August but can pester you well into the fall. It generally stops after a good freeze kills it off, but it’s quite prevalent in the rural Midwest (oh hello, Sioux City!). Keep an eye on your daily allergy report in the fall, and stay inside with the windows shut if the count is high. Additionally, take your shoes off when you come home to avoid trekking it all over your house. Keep in mind this gem of an allergen can bother people in the spring, too.

The fungus among us: mold and mildew LOVE the fall weather. It grows in . . . dare I say it . . . moist environments and can spread throughout fallen leaves. That giant pile you raked for your kids to plow through? Tons of mold and mildew just waiting to itch your nose and water your eyes. Mold and mildew can grow inside, too, (especially in basements) so avoid TOO much humidity by using an air conditioner when it’s really hot outside, and pitch those fallen leaves (or compost them far from home) to help keep your symptoms to a minimum. While you’re at it go ahead and clean your gutters for maximum affect.

Keep an eye on Spot and Fluffy. Animals, while our own fur-babies, are known for accidentally tracking in allergens from outside on their fur, then rubbing it into your carpet, sheets, etc. If you have animals that go outside make sure to brush them frequently and give them the occasional bath to help cut down on the dander and allergens.

If your allergies are making you miserable, talk to your provider about trying an allergy medication, like Zyrtec, Claritin or Benadryl, to help with those pesky symptoms. If that doesn’t help you may need more serious allergy testing to find what’s bugging you.

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