Cold and flu season is upon us. With it, comes the dreaded stuffy nose. Add to that the pressure of congested sinuses and painfully plugged ears and you’ll be willing to try almost anything for relief. But beware: some over the counter decongestants carry hidden danger.
There are dozens of products available to treat cold symptoms that are readily available on the shelves of your neighborhood retail pharmacy, from pills that promise to relieve a multitude of symptoms, to colorful flavored syrups that are said to do the same for your children. The choice can be difficult at times, and, there are some choices that you may regret.
The over-the-counter topical decongestant sprays oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan, Vicks Sinex, etc.) or phenylephrine (like Neo-Synephrine), may cause problems if used for longer than a few days.
Afrin and other sprays work by shrinking small blood vessels in the nose that would normally contribute to the swelling and mucous drainage, thereby drying the nose and opening the breathing passages. They initially have an instant and almost magically powerful effect in relieving nasal, sinus and occasionally ear symptoms. They are easy to use and do not have a major effect on the rest of the body since they are not taken orally.
However, with each subsequent dose, the effects of the drugs decrease. After a few days, the effects begin to wear off more quickly and are replaced by rebound congestion that remains long after your cold ends. This can create a vicious cycle, as the user begins to use the spray more frequently to combat the rebound congestion.
In some of the worst cases I’ve seen of decongestant “addicts” (rhinitis medica mentosa is the technical term), users keep a bottle with them at all times and use it repeatedly throughout the day. They give themselves damage to the lining of the nose and constant congestion, and have an exceedingly difficult time trying to quit.
What can you do to avoid this? Use Afrin spray or similar products for no more than 72 hours and only when you have an acute cold.
Oral decongestants, like pseudoephedrine (like Sudafed) or phenylephrine (like Vicks Sinex), may be a better option. However, oral decongestants may raise your blood pressure so be cautious, and talk to your doctor before use. Antihistamines can also help, but these can be sedating. Avoid driving or operating machinery after taking sedating antihistamines. Sedating antihistamines include Benadryl (diphenhydramine), mild to moderately sedating antihistamines include Zyrtec, and non-sedating antihistamines include Allegra and Claritin.
When you use combination cold medicines that contain multiple products, be sure to carefully review these to make sure that it suits your needs. Most cold remedies contain acetaminophen (for pain relief and fever control) in addition to a topical decongestant and an antihistamine. Some may contain a cough suppressant as well.
If your symptoms worsen despite taking these medications or you develop high fever and other severe symptoms that last more than a few days, it may be an indication of a bacterial infection, seek the consultation of your physician for help in those situations.

Sepehr Oliaei, MD, wrote this article. He is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at MultiCare ENT Specialists-Tacoma.

Certain over-the-counter decongestants can cause problems if used for more than a few days, says Dr. Sepehr Oliaei, an ear, nose and throat specialist.
Certain over-the-counter decongestants can cause problems if used for more than a few days, says Dr. Sepehr Oliaei, an ear, nose and throat specialist.

The start of the flu season has health authorities urging virtually everyone to get an influenza vaccination.
In addition to medical providers, shots are available from pharmacies at Walgreens, Costco, Safeway, Rite-Aid and Target stores, among others.
Health officials note that each flu season, different flu viruses can spread affect people differently based on the virus and on their body’s ability to fight infection. Some flu seasons are worse than others, officials note, and no one can predict how severe the current season will be
Information on potential health risks of flu shots is available from the public health departments for Pierce, King and Kitsap counties, as well as from private physicians and other medical providers.
Bartell Drugs is on example of commercial outlets for flu shots. Bartell is offering in-store vaccinations at 61 of its stores, with no appointment necessary. Pharmacists can immunize anyone 5 years old and up (ages 5 through 17 must be accompanied by a parent/guardian). The company also is offering an off-site flu clinic program serving businesses and retirement communities with 15 or more employees or residents. For retirement communities, the program not only helps residents protect themselves, but getting a flu shot also protects those around them, some of whom may be at higher risk from complications associated with the flu.

With all the noise swirling around the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, it is only natural to have questions.

Whatever your views are about the law, it is important to understand some basic facts, so you can make the right health care decisions for you and your family.

Here are some things everyone should know about the Affordable Care Act:

·        If you already have insurance, you and your loved ones have gained important protections. Starting next year, you no longer will be denied coverage if you have a pre-existing condition, nor will you be dropped from your plan if you get sick.

·        If you have Medicare Part D, you will save on prescription drugs if you fall into the doughnut hole. You also will qualify for important preventive services at no cost to you.

 ·        If you do not have health insurance or buy it on your own, there’s a new way to shop for it through a health insurance marketplace. The health law creates the new Washington HealthplanFinder (wahealthplanfinder.org) to help you get the coverage you need, with benefits starting next year. Depending on your income, you may also be able to get financial help covering the costs.

Open enrollment in the Washington HealthplanFinder begins this October, and coverage will start as early as January. The health law mandates that all health plans offered to those who buy insurance on their own or in small groups must include a set of “essential health benefits,” such as preventive and wellness benefits, prescription drug coverage, and emergency care.

In addition to the marketplace, there are even more benefits and protections to help you and your family. Young adults now have easier access to coverage, because they can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. That’s a significant benefit at a time when so many young people are unemployed.

Seniors gain, as well. In our own state more than 829,000 people who rely on Medicare for their health coverage can be assured that their benefits are protected. In fact, certain benefits have improved.

If you have Medicare Part D, and you reach the coverage gap or “doughnut hole,” you will get more than a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs, and more than a 20 percent discount on generic drugs. These discounts will continue until 2020, when the doughnut hole disappears altogether.

Medicare now covers yearly wellness visits and preventive care. This benefit – at no cost to you – includes screenings for cancer, cholesterol and diabetes, immunizations, diet counseling and more.

Other parts of the law could have a big impact on people too young for Medicare, including the 40,000 Washingtonians who are 50-64.

Insurers can no longer place dollar limits on the care they cover in a year – or over your lifetime. Further, health insurers must now cover vital preventive services, including screenings for diabetes and cholesterol, mammograms, flu shots and other immunizations, as well as counseling to quit smoking and eat right.

Also, the law helps all taxpayers by increasing efforts to fight fraud, scams and waste in Medicare. And it supports small business by reducing red tape and offering a tax credit.

Given all these provisions, it’s no surprise that people have questions about the Affordable Care Act.  Fortunately, the answers are just a few clicks away.

For practical, customized information on how the law affects you and your loved ones, just go to HealthLawAnswers.org.

In the three years since it passed Congress, a great deal has been said about the health law – much of it inaccurate. Now it’s time to understand what it really means.

Mike Tucker, who wrote this article,

It's time to understand what the new national health law really means, says AARP's Mike Tucker.
It’s time to understand what the new national health law really means, says AARP’s Mike Tucker.

is an AARP Executive Council member.