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December 2008

Happy holidays

December 23, 2008 | | Comments (0)

Winter_riverside_drive_2 We are taking a little break for the holidays, and will publish our next post on Thursday, January 8, 2009.

All the best to you and yours now and in the new year!

CHIS (who are: Susan, Donna, Marietta, Glynis and Sylvia)

Winter health and safety

December 18, 2008 | | Comments (0)

Here it is: Canada’s famous season — winter! For people who enjoy winter activities such as ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowshoeing, there are no better winters anywhere. However, for people who are new to Canada or who are physically vulnerable, winter can be not only unpleasant but downright dangerous unless adequate health and safety precautions are taken.

Canada’s winter includes December, January and February. Depending on which part of the country you live in and what month it is, the temperature can be drastically different. For example, in Ontario, the average daily temperatures in January range from near -24°C in northern portions of the province to a relatively balmy -4°C in south-western portions. (Source)

In cold weather, your body may lose heat faster than you can produce it. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. It can make you sleepy, confused and clumsy. A body temperature below 95°F (35° C) is a medical emergency which can lead to death if not treated promptly. If you are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, skin and underlying tissues may freeze and result in frostbite. (Source and more information in MedlinePlus)

To avoid hypothermia and frostbite, it is a good idea to check weather report before you go outdoors so that you can dress warmly and properly accordingly. It is suggested,

  • To dress in layers so that you can easily adjust to the changing conditions, and preferably the first layer is wind/waterproof.
  •  To wear a scarf, and a hat that covers your ears (due to most of your body heat is lost through your head and neck area).
  •  To protect your feet by wearing waterproof and insulated boots,
  •  To keep your hands warm by having mittens on instead of gloves.
  •  To remove you wet clothing as soon as possible (wet cloths draw heat from your body).
  •  To avoid drinking caffeine/alcohol or using illegal substances.

Winter is also cold and flu season: no matter how healthy we are, they occasionally sneak up on us. It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Indeed, the best way of coping with colds and flu is to avoid them altogether!

Both are contagious viral infections of your respiratory system. To avoid them, always make sure to:

  • wash your hands thoroughly and frequently
  • sneeze or cough into tissues or into the bend of your elbow if you don’t have a tissue
  • avoid crowds during flu season
  • get an annual flu vaccination (flu-shot clinics)
  • eat well and sleep enough, exercise regularly.

 Although both diseases are viral infections, the common cold is viral infection of your upper respiratory tract. More than 200 viruses can cause it, the most common culprit being the rhinovirus. It's highly contagious. Signs include: runny nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, etc. There is no cure for common cold. (Source and more information

The flu (influenza) is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system, including your nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. It is caused by three types of viruses — influenza A, B and C. Symptoms include: fever over 101° F (38° C) in adults, and often as high as 103° to 105° F (39.5° C to 40.5° C) in children, chills and sweats, headache and dry cough, etc. Usually you need nothing more than bed rest and plenty of fluids to treat the flu, in some cases antiviral medications are prescribed. (Source and more information

Once you are well-prepared, just relax and enjoy winter.

Sylvia Chen, for the Consumer Health Information Service at Toronto Public Library

Further reading

Winter clothing shopping

Winter driving

Hypothermia and frostbite

Colds and the flu

'Tis the season: Can holiday stress affect your health?

December 11, 2008 | | Comments (0)

It seems as though stress is an unavoidable part of modern life, particularly at this time of year, and this year in particular. You, your friends, family, co-workers and neighbours may be coping with stress on a daily or even hourly basis.

What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of reacting to the demands of the world. The stress response is sometimes called the “fight or flight” response.

Back in caveman days, stress was frequently of short duration and needed to be responded to immediately. For example, caveman stress might be caused by seeing a sabre-toothed tiger. The brain perceived the danger, flooding the caveman’s system with stress hormones, which quickened his heart rate to give energy to his legs, his breathing became shallower to provide more quickly accessible oxygen, and panic ensured the caveman removed himself from that danger as quickly as possible.

Stress is not necessarily a negative thing: it can push you to perform better and faster than you might normally have done, leaving you with a great feeling of accomplishment and, as in the example above, possibly extending your life.

What is bad is over-stress or chronic stress, a state of constant stress-arousal that depletes your energy and, in the long term, weakens your health.

Causes of stress
There are different causes of stress: internal or external, long-term (chronic) or short-term (acute), big stressors and small stressors. All of these stresses add up to big problems for Canadians.

External stressors include major life changes (births, deaths, marriages, moving, quitting smoking), environmental stressors (noise, poor air-quality, overcrowding), unpredictable events, family relationshipsworkplace stress, exam stress and social stress (such as public speaking or large gatherings).

Internal stressors are pressure you put on yourself: fears, uncertainty or doubts, negative attitudes such as blame and unrealistic expectations are all stresses people place on themselves. Other factors, such as a poor diet or a lack of exercise or sleep, also contribute to the level of stress in your life.

You are never too young or too old to experience stress: teens and children, adults and seniors all experience stress, although they may show different signs and feel it for different reasons. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else.

Job stress in Canada
A 2007 study by Statistics Canada suggests that people who make less money tend to have higher levels of stress. For example, almost 28% of workers with incomes of less than $20,000 had high-strain jobs, compared with only 18% of workers earning $60,000 or more. (source) (related article)

The same study found that more working women (28%) reported having a high-strain job than did men (20%). One-third of women felt quite a bit, or extremely, stressed most days at work, compared with 29% of men.

The report concluded that a supportive work environment may reduce job interruptions due to stress, but that negative coping mechanisms (such as increased smoking or drinking) caused more job interruptions.

Health effects of stress
Chronic stress can have negative health effects. It can affect your heart, how you sleep, how you work and how much you enjoy your life. It may also cause other physical symptoms, such as headaches, neck and shoulder pain, or bad skin

Chronic stress also may cause increased accidents, psychological disorders, and diseases such as ulcers, cancers and those resulting from an impaired immunes system.

Symptoms of stress (source)
There are many cues your body sends to tell you might be under too much chronic stress:

  • Thoughts: Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things? Are your thoughts constantly racing, or do you feel anxious a lot of the time?
  • Feelings: Do you feel tired, anxious, stressed? Do you have mood swings, or feelings of despair?
  • Physical symptoms: Do you get headaches, have trouble sleeping, feel tightness in your chest or feel constantly exhausted?
  • Behaviour: Are you drinking more coffee or alcohol? Are you eating too much or too little? Do you tend to overreact? Are you having problems with your family or friends, or having trouble keeping up at work?

Coping with stress
Strong social supports are important: having a network of family, friends and people you can trust and to whom you can turn when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Learning how to say ‘no’ to certain demands is also important. For example, improving your ability to turn down extra work or unwanted social obligations can take pressure off of you, and leave you time to relax and recharge.

The opposite of the stress response is the relaxation response, also called “autogenic relaxation”. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, progressive relaxation techniques and guided meditations are all ways of encouraging the relaxation response. The more you practice these techniques, the more quickly your body learns to “turn off” the stress response.

Donna MacLeod, for Consumer Health Information Service at Toronto Public Library

Further reading

About the health effects of stress:
Healthy Ontario. Stress.  (undated)

HealthInsite. Stress. (January 2008)

Mayo Clinic

Pressure Point Cyber Youth Clinic. Stress. (undated)

About coping with stress:
Canadian Mental Health Association.

Health Canada. It's your health: Mental health — coping with stress  (January 2008)

Healthy Ontario. Stress management toolkit. (2006)

BC. Here to Help.

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Responding to stressful events. (2005)

Alberta Mental Health Board. Exam stress? (undated)

Meditation Oasis. Guided meditation podcasts. (free, downloadable MP3s) 

University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center. Relaxation techniques. (2008)

Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Relaxation techniques. (undated)


Mayo Clinic.

About stress in Canada
Statistics Canada.

Bey, Eli. Stress facts for organizations to consider (undated)

Stress in children and teens:

Travel health: what to know before you leave, while travelling and when you return

December 4, 2008 | | Comments (0)

If you’re planning a trip, do some preparation before you leave to ensure a safe, healthy time.

Start with a travellers checklist  that not only covers health issues that you need to be aware of, but also covers all the documents that you will need and other practical tips.

Sign up for the Registration of Canadians Abroad Service so that you can be contacted and assisted in an emergency abroad (such as a natural disaster or civil unrest) or notified about a family emergency at home.

Before you go

Arrange for health and travel insurance

Check if there are diseases in the area where you will be travelling and read advisories about health conditions abroad.

Take care of health needs, such as prescription medicines. (Keep them in their original, labelled containers.)

Take documentation if you have any artificial limbs or implants Main-image-eng

Check if you need vaccinations well in advance of your trip:

  • leave sufficient time for a set of shots (6-8 weeks)
  • first talk with your doctor: doctors can provide some of the shots that you may need;
  • contact a travel clinic 6-8 weeks before your trip – you may have to wait to get an appointment
  • N.B. many costs are not covered by provincial / territorial insurance plans and can be quite expensive
  • there are about thirteen recommended immunizations for those traveling outside Canada

If you have a disability or are travelling in Canada with a person with a disability:

If you are pregnant

During your trip

If you require medical assistance while travelling abroad:

When you come home

Susan Murray, for the Consumer Health Information Service at Toronto Public Library

Further reading

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Public Health Agency of Canada

World Health Organization.International travel and health (2008)

Canadian Transportation Agency

Government of Canada. Access to travel: special needs information source (February 16, 2003)

Alberta Health Services. Pregnancy and travel (undated)

Toronto Public Library helps find reliable, understandable health information for you and your family.