Cough and cold season is arriving: Choose medicines safely – Harvard Health Blog

With the summer winding down and fall moving in, colder weather will arrive soon — along with cold and flu season. Millions of Americans get the common cold each year, often more than once. To counter coughs and runny noses, many will turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications available for relief without a prescription.

Heading to the pharmacy for some relief? Read this first

While OTC medicines do not cure or shorten the common cold or flu, they can ease some symptoms. Finding a product that fits your needs, however, may not be so straightforward. A recent study evaluated brand-name OTC medications marketed as cold, allergy, sinus, and nasal remedies. It found that 14 common brand names, such as Mucinex, Tylenol, Robitussin, Benadryl, and Theraflu, accounted for 211 unique products, yet all of these products contained only eight active ingredients, alone or in combination.

Half of those ingredients turned up in more than 100 different products, very often combined with up to three other active ingredients. In total, 688 combination products were found. Many appear under the same brand name, and all aim to remedy colds, allergies, or sinus and nasal ailments. No wonder a trip to a pharmacy aisle can be confusing (and the study did not even include store-branded and generic products).

How to safely choose cough and cold medicines

So, how to choose from a myriad of similar products? First, understand that many products contain more active ingredients than you need. And yes, those extra active ingredients have side effects and may interact with other medicines you take. The simplest advice is to check the list of active ingredients on the package, and pick a product that targets your particular symptoms.

  • For sore throats, headaches, and muscle aches a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
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Discrimination, high blood pressure, and health disparities in African Americans – Harvard Health Blog

Over the past few months, we have all seen the results of significant disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high levels of unemployment, and civil unrest driven by chronic racial injustice. These overlapping waves of societal insult have begun to bring necessary attention to the importance of health care disparities in the United States.

Direct links between stress, discrimination, racial injustice, and health outcomes occurring over one’s lifespan have not been well studied. But a recently published article in the journal Hypertension has looked at the connection between discrimination and increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) in African Americans.

Study links discrimination and hypertension in African Americans

It has been well established that African Americans have a higher risk of hypertension compared with other racial or ethnic groups in the United States. The authors of the Hypertension study hypothesized that a possible explanation for this disparity is discrimination.

The researchers reviewed data on 1,845 African Americans, ages 21 to 85, enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study, an ongoing longitudinal study of cardiovascular disease risk factors among African Americans in Jackson, Mississippi. Participants in the Hypertension analysis did not have hypertension during their first study visits in 2000 through 2004. Their blood pressure was checked, and they were asked about blood pressure medications, during two follow-up study visits from 2005 to 2008 and from 2009 to 2013. They also self-reported their discrimination experiences through in-home interviews, questionnaires, and in-clinic examinations.

The study found that higher stress from lifetime discrimination was associated with higher risk of hypertension, but the association was weaker when hypertension risk factors such as body mass index, smoking, alcohol, diet, and physical activity were taken into consideration. The study authors concluded that lifetime discrimination may increase the risk of hypertension in African Americans.

Discrimination

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Shorter dream-stage sleep may be related to earlier death – Harvard Health Blog

Time and time again, adequate sleep has been shown to be critical to daily functioning and long-term health. Sleep serves numerous roles: recovering energy for the brain, clearing waste products, and forming memories. Prior studies have clearly linked shortened sleep times to heart disease, obesity, reduced cognitive performance, worsened mood, and even a shorter life. There is now new research that suggests that lack of a certain type of sleep (the dream stage of sleep) may be related to an earlier death in middle-aged and older people.

What is REM sleep?

Normal sleep is broken down into two sleep types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). NREM is further classified by depth of sleep; N1 and N2 are lighter sleep stages, and N3 is deep sleep, which is most restorative. (REM is the stage where vivid dreaming occurs.) Brainwave activity during this time appears similar to the brain’s activity while awake. REM periods generally occur every 90 minutes, and are longest during the second half of the night. REM sleep normally makes up 20% to 25% of sleep time.

How does sleep change with age?

Sleep time and sleep stages naturally change as we age. Total sleep time decreases by 10 minutes every decade until age 60, when it stops decreasing. Time in N3 sleep, the deepest sleep stage, also shortens with age; time in N1 and N2 tends to increase. As a result, people wake more easily from sleep as they age. The percentage of REM sleep also naturally decreases; thus, reduced time spent in REM may be a marker of aging.

The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that governs numerous body functions including body temperature, release of hormones, and sleep time. The internal clock “advances” with age, so older adults

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Time for flu shots — getting one is more important than ever! – Harvard Health Blog

Wondering when to get your flu shot? The best time is before influenza (flu) starts circulating widely. For most people, September or October is ideal for protection through the whole flu season, as the immune response from the vaccine wanes over time. And while changes and restrictions due to COVID-19 may make getting a flu vaccine less convenient for some this year, the pandemic makes it more important than ever.

Why do I need to get a flu vaccine yearly?

Influenza A and Influenza B cause most cases of flu in humans. Both have many strains that constantly change, accumulating genetic mutations that disguise them from the immune system. Prior exposure to one strain of flu will not necessarily protect you from other strains. Your immune system might not even recognize the same strain if it has mutated enough.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) constantly monitor changing strains of influenza around the world. They use this data to develop vaccines months before flu season starts to protect against the most likely strains to reach the US. This flu season, common strains are likely to include H1N1 and H3N2.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Although the vaccine is not perfect, it is 40% to 60% effective in most years. And if you do get the flu it is likely to be milder, because vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness or death.

During the 2018–2019 flu season, 35.5 million Americans got sick with the flu, and 34,200 died from the flu. However, last year half of all Americans received the flu shot. The CDC estimates this prevented 4.4 million cases of flu, 58,000 hospitalizations, and 3,500 deaths. That’s equivalent to saving 10 lives per day during flu season. The flu vaccine has additional benefits for people

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