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Winter Health Woes­—Solved!


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Karen Asp

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Everyone wants to get into the holiday spirit. But spending too much time at the buffet and bar at parties, stressing out about finding the perfect gifts, and skimping on sleep and exercise can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to a grab bag of winter illnesses. Here, how to prevent and cure some top ailments so you can sail-not suffer-through the holidays.

Cold sores

Why now? Between 50 percent and 80 percent of Americans have herpes simplex virus type 1, which remains in the body and can cause an outbreak of fluid-filled blisters at any time. Usually cold sores crop up when you're stressed, tired, suffering from PMS, or in the sun for a long time (even in winter), and last about 10 days.

What to do: Get plenty of sleep, minimize stress, and apply sun protection to your face and lips. At the first tingle of a blister, apply an over-the-counter (OTC) topical cream like Abreva, which speeds healing, five times daily until the cold sore disappears, says Audrey Kunin, M.D., founder of DermaDoctor.com. If you get cold sores every few weeks, ask your doctor for a daily prescription medication like Valtrex, which impairs the virus and speeds healing.

Dry skin

Why now? Dry indoor heat, frigid outdoor temperatures, and low humidity everywhere can strip your skin of moisture.

What to do: Limit showers to 10 minutes and use warm water instead of hot, which can exacerbate dryness. While your skin is still damp, slather on a body cream with alpha hydroxy acid, a fruit acid that sloughs off the dead skin and allows your skin to retain more moisture. Also try using pH-balanced soap, applying hand cream after washing, and placing a humidifier in your bedroom.

Heartburn

Why now? Eating larger meals, dining too close to bedtime, and indulging in fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, and alcohol can aggravate the stomach lining and send acid up into the esophagus. Symptoms include burning chest pain, a bitter taste in the mouth, and the sensation that food is coming back into the mouth.

What to do: If you feel an attack coming on, pop an antacid like Tums. Still feeling the burn? Take an OTC H2 blocker such as Pepcid AC or Zantac to help slow the production of stomach acid. If these meds don't help and your heartburn gets worse, try taking Prilosec OTC, a medication that you take for 14 days to significantly decrease acid production in the stomach. If you still don't feel better, see your doctor.

Migraines

Why now? Changes in diet, weather, sleep patterns, and stress or hormone levels can trigger these headaches. You'll know it's a migraine if you have throbbing pain and nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light and noise.

What to do: Watch what you eat, especially if cheese, wine, and chocolate trigger your migraines. Also, reduce stress and maintain a regular sleep schedule. At the first twinges of a migraine, take an OTC pain reliever such as Advil. For moderate to severe migraines, ask your doctor about a prescription medication such as Imitrex.

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