Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Your Kids Breathe Easier in Summer

If any of your children suffer from seasonal patterns of sleep-disordered breathing that may even interfere with their physical development and hurt their academic performance, you’ll want to read this.

Sleep-disordered breathing – newly identified cause

Does your child have trouble getting a good night's sleep as a result of breathing problems while sleeping?  You may have noticed that the problem is at its worst in Winter and Spring. Until recently, medical experts believed the causes of sleep disorders in children were primarily asthma, allergies, or viral respiratory infections such as the flu.  But a new study shows that winter viruses are often the source of seasonal spikes in children’s sleep-disordered breathing

The 2013 study, conducted at the Pediatric Sleep Center at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center showed that:
  • Asthma and allergies do not contribute to pediatric sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Viruses alone may be responsible for the seasonal disordered breathing variation in children.
The research has far-reaching implications, potentially altering the way pediatricians treat childhood sleep-breathing disorders, adding heightened relevance to the time of year in diagnosing and treating children. Sleep-disordered breathing in children had already been identified as most common and severe during colder months.  But the study alters the previous assumption that these childhood breathing issues were nonetheless related to asthma or allergies.

A common example of a sleep-breathing disorder is obstructive sleep apnea – blockage of the upper airway by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, causing snoring or even stopped breathing. The result is elevated carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, decreased oxygen and, consequently, low-quality and fragmented sleep.

If not treated, childhood sleep-disordered breathing can result in heart disease, stunted growth, and neurocognitive problems that often lead to lower school performance, hindered language development. And, as this 2012 study showed, sleep-breathing issues can also lead to troubling behavioral issues, such as hyperactivity and aggressiveness, as well as emotional symptoms and difficulty with peer relationships.

In their study, the researchers looked closely at the cases of more than 2,000 children and adolescents between 2008 and 2010. The results confirmed results of an earlier study of children 5 to 9: that sleep-disordered breathing is worse in the the coldest months of November to March. Their statistics showed the children under five years of age showed the most stark seasonal variability in their breathing issues. The scientists also learned that neither wheezing nor asthma contributed to the seasonal trend.

The sleep clinic tests were primarily captured in warmer weather.  The researchers believe that, had all the research been conducted in the winter, seven percent more children would have been diagnosed with sleep-disordered breathing.

Researchers concluded that viral respiratory infections – the common element in younger children during colder months – are likely the main cause of the seasonal variability in children’s sleep-disordered breathing.

How might this affect your doctor’s treatment of your child’s sleep-breathing problem?  If it’s the colder time of the year when he or she sees your child, and if the symptoms are not severe, your doctor may advise that no treatment is the right response – that your child’s condition is likely to improve as the weather improves.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Cyber School Appropriate for Your Child?

Cyber schools were approved back in 2001. Since then these virtual schools have become popular alternatives to a regular classroom setting. If you think online schooling may be an option for one of your children, read on for the facts about cyber classrooms.

What is cyber school?

Cyber school, also known as virtual school, is an institution that teaches classes through online means utilizing technology. Students can attend grades Kindergarten through 12; college degrees are available through virtual schools, too.

What’s the difference between an online school and a charter school?

A charter school is a public, nonsectarian school that operates under the sponsoring local school board in a regular school setting. In some cases, a charter school is established to meet specific needs of students, such as the arts or preparation for careers in the medical field.

Are cyber schools publicly funded?

Typically, yes.

What are the benefits of virtual school?

Personal attention.
Education tailored to a student’s specific needs.
More extensive course offerings.
Flexible schedules to accommodate those with health challenges or who participate in demanding extracurricular programs.
Eliminates unresolved harassment and bullying issues.

Is online schooling successful?

That’s debatable. In some cases, students are thriving. Yet, others are falling behind students in regular classroom settings. A number of variables enter the equation, including parental involvement and a student’s motivation. According to this site, “cyber schools are held to higher performance standards,” an aspect of the performance assessment that needs to be considered.  For instance, with cyber schools, demographic groups are assessed, not just age groups, as with typical public schools.

What you should know before sending your child to school online:

Is equipment provided? Most online schools provide a computer, printer, and modem for Internet connection. You should know upfront if you’ll need to absorb the cost for equipment.
How are students performing? Are they measuring up to those in a classroom setting? You should review and be comfortable with the performance of students in the cyber school you’re considering over the past few years.
Talk to instructors and parents. It’s important to get a feel for the instructors, and evaluate if other parents are satisfied with the school.

What are the drawbacks of online schooling?

Cheating. It can be an issue, so parents should be aware.
Lack of interaction with other students. While online students can participate in extracurricular activities, many educators and parents question if they’re missing out on valuable time with other students working together as a team on a project, hearing questions others pose in class, and the day-to-day interaction with others.
Possible lack of routine. A classroom setting does provide students with valuable routine each day. Unless students possess internal motivation for routine, they might be missing out on such an elementary lesson.

When is virtual school most successful?

In rural areas.  In areas where students may not be offered appropriate classes, online schooling can be a great alternative.
When parents monitor and get involved.
For highly motivated students.
For students already homeschooled. Cyber school can be a great alternative for those already accustomed to academia outside the classroom.

As with any other decision that can greatly impact your family members, carefully research and investigate any cyber school you might be considering. For more information on virtual school, visit or

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winter Weather Fitness Solutions Part 2

As we asserted in our previous winter weather fitness article you needn't give up on your favorite outdoor exercise activities if you are an avid bicyclist, hiker, or runner. In that previous article, we focused on applying winter survival skills to your favorite outdoor sport. This time, we introduce you to exciting new technologies in winter sporting equipment and gear to keep you comfortable and safe in the worst of winter's weather.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Just as there are inherent dangers with any outdoor activity, even the best of equipment technologies cannot guarantee your safety. And running, hiking, or biking outdoors in harsh weather adds inherent risk.  While the equipment introduced in this article can increase your comfort level and reduce your injury risks during outdoor winter activities, use caution and care out there.

Without a doubt, not having the right equipment for winter outdoor exercising is a significant risk. Consider for example a Seattle coworker of mine who tried to ride his bike to work daily year-round – a goal that came to a crashing halt, literally, when he tried to keep it up without special gear in spite of snow and freezing rain, resulting in a wipe-out and a broken wrist!

Biking in snow and ice? No sweat!

Have you ever wondered if there is any equivalent to snow tires or tire chains for bikes?  Apparently some manufacturers and cycling enthusiasts thought the same thing, and took action.

Introducing snow bikes, also known as “fat” bikes, which look similar to ordinary mountain bikes, except that they have very wide forks to make room for very wide tires – four-to-five inch-wide super-fat snow tires.  The combination of the extra width of the tires, their serious tire treads, and lower inflation standards – 6 to 16 psi tire pressure – means you can giddyup and go on two wheels in up to four or five inches of snow. Don't take my word for it – see video examples of such snow bikes on snowy trails here, or even watch the thrill of downhill bicycle races on snowy glaciers here

Of course, you'll be investing a chunk of change, and a good portion of your garage space, to have a set of snow bikes for every member of your family. Fortunately, there are cheaper solutions for the do-it-yourselfer.

Here is video of one do-it-yourself solution to winter bike tire traction; installing your own studs onto a regular mountain bike tire, making it possible to navigate snow and even ice with a regular mountain bike. The video shows you exactly how to create and install bike tire studs made from screws, and see a demonstration of the screw studded bike tires in action.

Traction gear for walking, hiking, and running on ice and snow

Thanks to three new categories of gear, it's possible to get much-needed traction even when there is snow or ice under your feet:
  • Strap-on shoe traction solutions
  • Traction-providing shoes/boot modification products
  • Modern-day snowshoes
Solution #1 – Upgrade your existing footwear for snow and ice traction
Goat Head Sole Spikes and Icespike are but two companies using a screw-on approach, allowing you to transform the ordinary soles of your shoes or boots into serious ice grippers.  Both  products are made of extra hardened steel and with a screw head uniquely designed for traction. In either case, you are attaching a specialized short screw directly into the sole of your shoe. 
Solution #2 – Strap extra traction onto your shoes
The author's shoes ready
for winter with YakTrax
If you are not comfortable with the idea of modifying your shoes or boots with screw-on solutions, there are still a number of other products to help you increase traction by strapping on a traction strip to your footwear.
Popular products in this category include Kahtoola Micro Spikes, YakTrax (shown here), and Stabilicers. Each provide different levels of traction, and all of them provide the convenience of being able to put them on when you need to traction and then take them off when you are done.
Solution #3 – Float above all that white stuff
Neither of the above solutions solve for deep snow situations. For that, it's time to look at the new version of an age-old solution – snowshoes.

Mind you, these are not your great-grandfather's snowshoes. Modern snowshoes are extremely lightweight, often very easy to get on or off, and are available for different types of outdoor activities.

For example, there are nearly a dozen different snowshoe models on the market designed specifically for running. A few of the more popular models include the Kahtoola RNR 22 Snowshoe, the Crescent Moon Gold Series 12,  or the Atlas Race Speed Snowshoe. Running snowshoes have become increasingly popular as the winter sport of snowshoe racing grows in popularity.

Safety gear

With shorter days, there's a good chance that you'll be doing your outdoor exercise in the dark. If you are doing a form of exercise that puts you near traffic, consider investing in wearable lighting and reflective gear. This is especially important when the darkness is compounded with fog, rain, or snow, which limits a driver's visibility even more.
Available safety solutions worth considering include:
Runner Scott Colantonio keeping
safe with reflective/light gear
  • Wearable headlamps, designed to provide bright light in whatever direction you are looking
  • Flashing lights, designed to clip on or strap on to the back of your clothing, making you more visible to traffic, cyclists, and other pedestrians
  • Reflective gear, designed to bounce the light from auto headlamps right back at approaching cars, making it much easier for drivers to see you in inclement weather or after dark
    The are even combo-solutions, like this light-flashing reflector vest, modeled by runner Scott Colantonio of Wisconsin, who won’t let the cold of winter or the dark of night keep him from his favorite form of exercise.

    More tips for winter exercising outdoors offers a variety of useful tips on safe bike riding in through snow in winter. Also, check out this excellent guidance on how to run safely on ice using the right techniques, or get more great tips on winter biking from BicycleAnchorage .org.

    Ric Moxley
    Contributing Writer

    Monday, March 10, 2014

    Own Your Health

    Going to the doctor is usually a routine experience. You share your symptoms, your doctor offers a knowing nod, and you’re out the door with an answer and a prescription. But what happens when your issue isn’t so simple? Some of us suffer from enigmatic illnesses – like unexplained weight gain, chronic fatigue, and other mysterious maladies – that can be hard to diagnose and treat by even the most experienced medical professional.

    While our desire might be to throw up our hands in defeat, we can’t give up. We deserve our best health; at times, we must fight for it. But how do we start? How can you be your best advocate? And how do you find the answers you desperately need when nothing seems to be working?

    The first step is to list all of your symptoms and start tracking them. Do you notice that you feel exhausted at three in the afternoon? Do you have sinus issues only when you are at work? Are you wide awake at 2 AM every night? In order for a doctor to understand your needs, they require the whole picture. Plus, it’s often in the little things that you find the most astounding connections.  

    Next, do your research. Note: I didn’t say, diagnose via web browser! But it’s worth doing some online seeking to understand the terms surrounding your issues, to explore your symptoms and what they could possibly mean, and to get familiar with the current research. You are up close and personal with your issues, and they are foremost on your mind. But your doctor, especially if you are going to a general practitioner, may not be familiar with all the new techniques and treatments surrounding your health woes.

    Find the right doctor. If you already have a general practitioner with whom you share a good relationship, that is the place to start. But if your symptoms don’t match common maladies, you may need to see a specialist. Finding a doctor might not be fun, but it's easier than you might think. Your general practitioner may offer a referral, or you can search on your own. Sites like Vitals and Healthgrades offer patient reviews and ratings. You may also check with your local health food store or health newspaper for suggestions if you want a practitioner with a holistic orientation.

    Treat your first appointment like a job interview. You might have found a specialist to work with, but is this the right person? Just like any relationship, the medical relationship depends on mutual respect and trust, and it often comes down to like-minded personalities. So during your first visit, come prepared. Bring the tracker of all your symptoms, copies of any tests you may have had in the last few years, and a list of your questions. Present all of this at your appointment and see what transpires. Afterwards, review whether or not this is someone you feel you can work with. Depending on the severity or complexity of your issues, you might be with this doctor for several years. If you don’t feel confident that this is the right doctor, don’t hesitate to visit another one. You may have to travel some distance to find the right person, but when you do, it will be well worth it.

    Mystery illnesses frustrate the sufferer, but there are answers out there for you. Sadly, when we don’t feel well, doing more work may the last thing we want to do, but this is one situation where it may pay off for years to come. Tracking your symptoms, researching your issues, and establishing a solid relationship with a medical professional will get you that much closer to finding a solution and feeling better.

    What have you done in the past to find the right doctor? What tips would you offer someone in a similar situation?

    Contributing Writer

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    Highchairs = High Danger for Your Child

    We recently reported on the increase in child injuries from shopping cart accidents. Now, a new study tells us that your infant child may be in danger right in your own home – that emergency room visits resulting from injuries caused by accidents involving high chairs and booster seats now average nearly 10,000 yearly. Even more disturbing: the rate of these high chair injuries increased between the years of 2003 and 2010 by a whopping 22 percent.  Other disturbing stats from the study:
    • Concussions and other internal head injuries resulted 37 percent of high chair falls.
    • About 60 percent of children received a head or neck injury from their high chair fall.
    • Nearly 30 percent received a facial injury from the fall.
    • Bumps and bruises occurred in 33 percent of the falls.
    With a rate of one injured infant per hour, it’s time to look at what causes these potentially deadly high chair accidents, what accounts for the alarming increase, and what you can do to protect your youngsters.

    Why toddlers are at greatest risk of high chair injuries

    Top-heavy tendencies
    The study, performed by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, analyzed the data (which included high chair, booster seat, and normal chair-related injuries) and found that more than 90 percent of these ER-level injuries involved falls with younger toddlers.  The researcher theorized that children at this age have a high center of gravity compared to adults.  Their chest-centered balance (as compared to waist-centered with adults) makes them prone to toppling out.  Furthermore, their top-heavy bodies cause them to fall head-first, as the data shows; 85 percent of the injuries were to the head and face.
    Hard floors and high falls
    Two more significant factors in the seriousness of the injuries from high chair falls are:
    • High chairs are, as the name implies, traditionally higher than normal kitchen chairs or restaurant seating, which means the child has a long flight to the floor.
    • Floors of food service areas, whether in a home or restaurant, are most often a hard, uncarpeted surface.  While this makes for easier cleanup from spills, a hard kitchen floor provides no buffer on impact from a highchair fall.
    The combination of the hard floor and the long fall is a grave one for the airborne toddler.
    Chair restraints not being used
    The data showed that nearly two thirds of all high chair accidents occurred when the child was standing or climbing in the high chair before they fell.  In most cases, this is a situation that parents can control, as most highchairs have restraints that, if used, reduce the likelihood that the child can put themselves into a precarious posture.

    Accounting for the increase in injuries

    Why did high chair and booster chair injuries rise from 8,926 to 10,930 in the seven years leading up to 2011? Researchers concluded that three causes are the most likely:
    • The chair restraints are not working properly.
    • Parents are not using the chair restraints.
    • Parents are not using the chair restraints properly.
    There is no question that, in some cases, the efficacy or design of the chair restraints are at fault. During the years of the study data, nearly four million high chairs were recalled for not meeting safety standards or for specific design flaws. The study leaders pointed out that the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will likely result in a recall reduction over time.

    What you can do to protect your children

    Important steps for parents to take:
    • Use the high chair safety restraints. The researchers concluded that this step alone will have the biggest impact on safeguarding children. Do note that the highchair tray is not a reliable safeguard!
    • Monitor your children. Even if you use the chair restraints, squirming children can cause their high chair to tip over. Make sure an adult is watching your child in a high chair at all times.
    • Lock the wheels. If the high chair has wheels, use their wheel locks.  On a hard, smooth surface, such as the normal kitchen floor, a child’s movement can cause a chair to roll to an unsafe area.
    • Choose carefully the position of the high chair. When placed near walls or counters, children can push against the object, tipping the chair.
    • Watch for recalls.  Even the most caring parents may not be aware of a manufacturer recall related to a model of chair they have purchased. Before buying or borrowing a high chair, check first for high chair recalls at
    While you cannot prevent all accidents, your actions as a parent can substantially reduce the chances of a high chair fall injury by following these guidelines.

    Ric Moxley
    Contributing Writer

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014

    Crockpots for Beginners

    We’re locked into cold weather for a bit longer, which makes it the perfect time to take advantage of your crockpot! If you use one regularly, you know the fantastic advantages they have: efficient, simple, and easy to clean. But if you’ve never cooked with one before, they can be a bit intimidating. However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be an expert!

    Crockpots – often referred to as slow cookers – are a great way to eat healthy without spending a lot of time preparing food. Cheaper cuts of meat cook up tender in a crockpot, and with some vegetables thrown in, you’ve got a delicious, healthy feast. So where do you start when you are new to the experience?

    If you don’t own a crockpot, this is a great time to visit your local thrift store! They often have all shapes and sizes for very reasonable prices. If you prefer to buy new, department stores offer many choices. Key features to look for include variable heating options (“high” and “low” are typical settings, but newer models may have additional temperature settings), an “off” option when plugged in, and a nonstick interior surface. You can find digital displays with timers on more expensive units, but while convenient, they are not necessary. 

    Decide what size you (and your family) will need. For two people, a 4-quart crockpot is a great size. But if you are feeding 3 or more people, opt for a 5 to 6-quart unit. If you like to make things like traditional roasts, you will need enough room for the meat, water (or broth), and chunky vegetables.

    Where to start? The good news: the hardest part is obtaining your crockpot! From here on out, it’s easy! Recipes for the crockpot consist of a protein (beef, pork, or poultry), a liquid (water, broth, etc.), and vegetables. For example:

    For a basic roast: add 2-3 pounds of chuck roast, 2 cups of water, 1 yellow onion, chopped, and salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. After six hours, add in vegetables – like red-skin potatoes, cabbage, carrots, or other veggies of your choice. When it’s done, it’s ready to serve!

    A famous central Pennsylvania recipe is pork and sauerkraut: 2-3 pounds of pork roast, 2 cans of sauerkraut, any other seasonings you prefer, and cook on low for 8 hours. Pair with mashed potatoes for a filling dinner.

    Easy chicken stock: Take a whole chicken roaster, small enough to fit inside your crockpot, and 2-4 cups of water. Put both in the crockpot. Add 1-2 stalks of celery, 1 onion, chopped, 1 tablespoon crushed garlic (substitute 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder, if you don’t have fresh garlic), and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for 24-48 hours, until chicken bones are soft. Strain well and use or freeze.

    There are countless easy recipes for your crockpot! If you enjoy using the internet for your recipe hunt, check out this site. If you prefer cookbooks, stop by your local library and check out a few crockpot specific cook books, like Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook or Slow Cooker Revolution.

    Now you are an expert on using your crockpot! What new recipes have you tried and would recommend? Check back here and leave us a comment on your experience using your crockpot!

    Contributing Writer

    Monday, March 3, 2014

    Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder

    If you start feeling a little out of sorts at the change of seasons, there might be a good explanation. It’s estimated that approximately half a million individuals are adversely affected by the changing seasons, with many unaware of the cause. But, with greater awareness, an array of treatment options and a plan for self-care, you’ll be back to feeling like yourself in no time.

    What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

    Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., is a type of depression that occurs seasonally. Typically, symptoms affect individuals in the fall and winter months, lasting until the warmer summer months.

    What are the symptoms of S.A.D.?

    According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals affected by fall/winter S.A.D. usually experience the following types of symptoms:

    Loss of energy
    Heavy feelings in the arms and legs
    Social withdrawal
    Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
    Appetite changes, especially craving high carbohydrate foods
    Weight gain
    Difficulty concentrating

    Does S.A.D. only occur in the fall/winter?

    Many individuals are unaware that a second type of S.A.D. can occur from spring to early summer. The spring/summer form of S.A.D. is not as common as the fall/winter form. There is a different set of symptoms that accompany spring/summer S.A.D.

    Symptoms of spring/summer S.A.D. include:

    Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
    Increased sex drive
    Poor appetite
    Weight loss

    How is S.A.D. diagnosed?

    Your health provider can diagnose S.A.D. based on your symptoms, creating a treatment plan specifically for you.

    What causes S.A.D.?

    While the exact cause remains unclear, experts agree that genetics, age and your body’s chemical makeup all play a role in developing Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Changes in exposure to sunlight may affect S.A.D. by disrupting your circadian rhythm, causing a decrease in serotonin levels and affecting melatonin levels in the body.

    Does S.A.D. affect men and women differently?

    Yes, typically women are diagnosed with S.A.D. more often than men. However, men may experience more severe symptoms.

    Are certain individuals more susceptible to S.A.D.?

    Yes, especially:

    Those who live farther from the equator.
    Individuals with a family history of S.A.D.
    Those who have clinical depression or bipolar disorder.

    What is the treatment for S.A.D.?

    Light therapy (phototherapy)

    What can you do to help alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D. at home?

    Make your home sunnier and brighter by opening shades and curtains, allowing as much natural light in as possible.
    Get outside, even on cold or overcast days.
    Exercise regularly. It’s a great stress reliever and produces endorphins, which help you feel and look better.

    What other factors should you consider in the treatment of S.A.D.?

    According to a recent article, if you suffer from S.A.D., holiday time can be particularly challenging. Experts suggest:

    Limit your alcohol consumption at parties and festivities.
    Don’t let holiday overspending dampen your spirits, causing unnecessary worry and depression.
    Be aware that fatty, sugar-laden foods can sap energy.
    Recognize if you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations – family traditions and work parties, for instance –and reduce your commitment to these activities.
    If you’re feeling nostalgic, especially if spending the holidays alone or far from family, socialize, volunteer or find another way to connect with others.

    S.A.D. is by no means a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s a chemical imbalance in your body that can be managed with the proper treatment. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help if you need it.

    Kathy Rembisz
    Contributing Writer