Cold winter air can exacerbate asthma symptoms but there are some simple methods to help prevent asthma attacks, one expert says.
"The breathing of colder air itself can actually cause constriction of the airway, leading to shortness of breath and wheezing typical of an asthma attack," Dr. Monica Kraft, director of the Duke University Asthma, Allergy and Airway Center, said in a prepared statement.
Winter sports enthusiasts affected by asthma can protect themselves by wearing a ski mask or scarf around the mouth and nose, she said, but keep these coverings loose enough so they don't impair breathing. Taking a preventative dose of a bronchodilating inhaler before going out in the cold can also help reduce the risk of asthma symptoms.
The negative effects of breathing cold air can be more pronounced during exertion, Kraft said. In fact, many children exhibit their first signs of asthma while playing sports in cold weather.
"We have found that kids playing such sports as soccer, hockey or football in the cold can suffer from the symptoms of asthma that are noticed for the first time. For this reason it is important for not only parents, but coaches and teachers, to be sensitive to the symptoms," Kraft said.
Staying indoors during cold weather may not be much help, depending on the underlying causes of a person's asthma.
"If dust mites or dander are triggers, remaining inside in a hermetically sealed house can increase the likelihood of an attack. Also, people tend to have more colds and upper respiratory infections in the winter, so being around such people in close quarters can increase the chances of infection," Kraft said.
Anti-AIDS Gel Shows Promise in Early Trials
Researchers are reporting some encouraging news on the HIV prevention front: Preliminary tests have found no safety problems with a vaginal gel designed to keep the AIDS virus at bay during intercourse.
The gel includes a dose of tenofovir, an AIDS drug normally given orally to people already infected with the virus. In recent years, scientists have been studying whether the antiviral drug can stop the virus from infecting people in the first place.
Study findings suggest that there's reason for hope, said Dr. Willard Cates, president of the non-profit Family Health Institute, whose parent organization helped support the new research. "It's past the first several hurdles, but there are major hurdles to go."
The search for an effective way to prevent HIV transmission other than abstinence or condoms is taking on greater urgency as an AIDS vaccine remains elusive. Researchers are also looking at giving tenofovir (also known by the brand name Viread) to uninfected men and women in pill form before sexual intercourse.
The researchers behind the new study recruited 84 women from Providence, R.I.; Philadelphia; and New York City. They ranged in age from 18 to 45, and 24 were infected with HIV.
The women tried the tenofovir gel for 14 days in a row to see if it caused any physical problems. According to the researchers, the women didn't experience any serious side effects, although some had itching and vaginal discharge.
The study results appear in the Feb. 28 issue of the journal AIDS.
The study wasn't designed to gauge whether the gel actually works; those tests will come later. But studies in monkeys suggest that the gel can prevent infection with simian immunodeficiency virus, which is similar to AIDS but only infects monkeys.
The drug works by stopping the AIDS virus from hijacking cells and using them to reproduce itself, said study lead author Dr. Kenneth Mayer, an infectious-disease physician at Brown University.
The idea behind the gel is that it would get tenofovir into cells in the vagina and protect them just like the oral version of the drug, he said.
The next study will look at women at higher risk of getting HIV and at the longer use of the product, Mayer said. "If the drug gets into the tissue and stays around for a while, maybe you don't have to take it right before you have sex. Maybe you could take it once a day," he said.
Cates said it might even be possible that women could wear some sort of vaginal ring containing the gel and let it stay in place for weeks.
But Mayer cautioned that any new treatment involving a tenofovir gel is far in the future because it will take at least three to five years to determine if it works. "This," he said, "is the first of many steps."
Food Fact: Go nuts!
Eat the right number of nuts per week, and you may cut your risk of a fatal heart attack in half! That's what studies have shown for people who eat nuts five times or more per week. Many nuts, especially walnuts, are a good source of fatty acids that work in the body to lower heart disease risk. Eating nuts can help lower blood cholesterol, and reduce the risk of sudden severe heart attacks. But when eating nuts, it's important not to go overboard, because they're loaded with calories -- a 1/2 cup contains about 350 calories and 36 grams of fat. Instead of snacking on nuts by the handful, use them as an accent in a salad, in baked goods or pilafs.
Fitness Tip of the day: Get in-line.
Step into a pair of skates for a head-turning pair of legs and a killer derriere. In-line skating is a strength-training and cardio workout all in one. Studies find in-line skating to be more aerobic than cycling, easier on your joints than running, and a great way to shape and tone muscles. Get rolling and you can burn 570 - 900 calories an hour!
FAQ of the day: Is vitamin E good for my eyes?
Extra vitamin E may help, but eating foods rich in yellow plant pigments is probably far more important. Lutein, the pigment in spinach, kale, corn, peas and other foods, concentrates in the macula of the eye, where it filters out harmful ultraviolet light. It sounds like you're getting more than enough vitamin E, so concentrate on eating carotenoid-rich vegetables, such as carrots, to help preserve your vision.