By Gretchen Duran, PA-C
Many of us are tired of this whole COVID situation. We want to go back to work, back to school, back to dining in restaurants, and back to hanging out with friends without masks and social distancing. Unfortunately, the scientists who study this virus tell us those are all bad ideas for the time being. Spending time with people outside your stable group (i.e., family, workmates), especially indoors where there isn’t good ventilation, can increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
So, what about other activities, like getting routine preventive health care? Should you get a mammogram or colonoscopy? Should you get your teeth cleaned? Should you go in for your annual eye exam or skin cancer screening? The answers depend on several factors, including whether there is a history of cancer in your family, how long it has been since your last exam/cleaning, and whether you have a mole that seems bigger than it was last month.
Right now, everyone must make choices about how to stay healthy based on their own physical and emotional state of being. In the meantime, here are some tips to bolster your health.
Most people admit they need to eat better, exercise more, cut back on alcohol, quit smoking, and get more sleep. A healthy lifestyle that incorporates these things will certainly improve the immune system, which could reduce the chances of getting COVID (and other ailments).
Rather than trying to change everything at once, consider the changes you believe will have the biggest impact and do those first. If you’re a smoker and you want to quit, you can probably talk to your medical provider over the phone and have a prescription for a nicotine patch sent to your local pharmacy that very day. People with compromised lungs are especially at risk for complications if they get COVID.
Getting outside for a daily walk is good for your body and your mind. And if you’re careful, you can do a socially distanced walk with a friend and enjoy a little social interaction while you’re at it.
As for diet, now is the time to shop at farmers’ markets. Fresh produce is abundant, and those markets are outside, which is a safer place to be.
Although health centers know how to minimize the spread of infection, some people just don’t feel comfortable attending in-person check-ups. If you are one of those people, consider self-exams. By doing exams regularly, you’ll get to know your body and you’ll be able to recognize small but potentially important changes. Breast exams, testicular exams, and mole checks are easy to do. The following websites provide good instructions:
You can also monitor your blood pressure by ordering a blood pressure cuff for home use. It’s best to check your blood pressure first thing in the morning before you’ve had coffee or dealt with too much stress. By logging your results, you’ll be able to tell whether there’s a pattern or a change.
Sick at home
Whether it’s COVID or another virus, things will go better if you’re ready. Be sure you have a thermometer, pain relievers, electrolyte replacements to prevent dehydration, antacids, and Imodium AD to relieve intestinal pain and other diarrhea symptoms. If you can manage symptoms at home without too much discomfort, it’s fine to stay home.
Seek medical treatment when needed
However, some symptoms absolutely require medical attention. Seek treatment if you experience shortness of breath; intense, unexplained pain; a sudden altered mental state; burning when you pee; unexplained changes to your stool (e.g., color, consistency); a fever that lasts for more than a few days or a fever over 103 degrees, or any symptom that prevents you from living the way you want to.
These days, you can sometimes schedule an appointment with your medical provider over the phone or via tele-health (secure video conferencing). If you’re concerned about your health, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Give us a call.
Gretchen Duran is a primary care provider at MCHC Health Centers—a community-based and patient-directed organization that serves Mendocino and Lake counties, providing comprehensive primary health care services as well as supportive services such as education, translation and transportation to promote access to health care.