Vaping is Everywhere and the Risks are Real

October 01, 2019

October 20 kicks off Respiratory Care Week, and to recognize the importance of strong, healthy lungs, we’d like to shed some light on what’s becoming a huge threat to the health of teens and adults alike. In recent years, e-cigarettes, also known as vapes or vape pens, have grown more popular. Vapes were originally designed and marketed as a nicotine-delivery tool to help adult cigarette smokers break the habit, but with sleek, high-tech looking packaging and flavors like cotton candy, bubblegum, and strawberry cheesecake, kids as young as 12 have been seeking them out – and getting hooked.

Ask almost any middle-school or high-school kid: vapes are all too common on campus, filling up bathrooms with flavored smoke. Kids believe vapes are only flavor and water, and many adults are unconcerned, thinking, “At least it’s safer than smoking.” Indeed, many of the products are advertised as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but they’re anything but harmless.

 

Vapes Can Cause Serious or Fatal Lung Disease

Lungs x-ray

“The lungs are designed to use air: not smoke or chemicals,” says Dr. Ilan Shapiro, an AltaMed pediatrician. This is the reason why we’ve recently been seeing news stories about serious lung conditions that were linked to vaping. Just in the past few months, mysterious vape-induced lung diseases killed six and more than 300 individuals got sick, with many of those people ending up in the hospital.

Even with the nation’s top doctors, scientists, and research centers working together to find an answer, the unfortunate truth is that no one is 100% sure of what is causing the illness.

Another reason why vaping is dangerous is that the product has not been around that long. There hasn’t been enough time to do meaningful, long-term research on its effects, and the products themselves still are not strongly regulated. In fact, consumers can’t even be certain that vape products are labeled correctly. For example, one study found that even vape juice pods that were supposed to be nicotine-free contained some amount of nicotine.

 

Vaping Has Been Called a Youth Epidemic

Vaping is bad for everyone, but vaping’s effects hit kids and teens harder, for several reasons.

Because children’s brains are still developing, early exposure to potent doses of nicotine can rewire their brains, leaving them even more likely to become addicted and engage in other risky substances. Research indicates that kids who vape are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes (compared to kids who don’t vape) – and many of those kids start smoking within six months of their first hit off a vape pen.

In addition to harming the lungs and the brain, vaping is just as bad for the heart and cardiovascular systems as regular cigarettes are.

 

If You’re a Parent, Here’s How to Keep Your Kids Safe

Mom talking to her teenager

Even if all of your child’s friends are vaping, don’t underestimate the power you have to make a difference. Here’s what you can do to help make sure your teens don’t start vaping:

  • Set a good example. Don’t use tobacco products yourself. If you do, get help to quit.
  • Have an open and honest conversation. Don’t be judgmental: listen and encourage your child to tell you what they’re going through.
  • Make these conversations a habit. Your child may be repeatedly be faced with the temptation to vape, so try to have these conversations often.
  • Arm yourself with the facts. As a rule, scare tactics won’t dissuade your child. Educate yourself with scientific evidence and stories from trusted news sources.

 

Get Help to Break the Smoking or Vaping Habit

Woman holding a vaper and a cellphone

“Today we are extremely worried that young healthy adults are dying, related to their use of vaping products, and we need to avoid these chemicals and products to safeguard our community,” said Dr. Shapiro.

If you or a loved one needs help to quit tobacco use or vaping, call the California Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-NO BUTTS or visit nobutts.org. Available in multiple languages, the program offers free counseling and support services.

For any other health concerns or questions, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303. We’re here to support you and your family’s healthy lifestyle, with primary care, specialty care, and preventive screenings and checkups.

 

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The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself Against Lung Cancer

November 06, 2018

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: lung cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadliest of all cancers. It’s the leading cancer killer in the United States, affecting about 1 in 13 men and 1 in 16 women.

But here’s the silver lining – lung cancer is highly preventable. 
 

What is Lung Cancer?
xray of lung

Lung cancer is a disease that causes the growth of abnormal cells in the tissues on your lungs, and it usually affects the air passages of both lungs. 


What are the Symptoms?
man at doctor

When the cancer cells get big and start to spread, a person may experience bloody coughs, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, fatigue and recurring infections. Left untreated, it is almost always fatal.



Who’s at Risk?
cigarettes

Those who are at the highest risk for lung cancer include:

  • Smokers (cigarettes, cigars, pipes)
  • Quienes tienen antecedentes familiares de cáncer de pulmón.
  • Personas con exposición prolongada al humo de segunda mano (humo de cigarrillos que otra gente fuma).
  • Anyone who’s ever been exposed to chemicals such as radon, asbestos, diesel
    exhaust, and other workplace chemicals

When we say that people are at a higher risk for a disease, we mean that those people, due to some combination of lifestyle or family history, may be vulnerable. However, having several risk factors does not mean that you’ll get the disease – but also, sometimes people with no risk factors can get a disease, as well. That’s why it’s so important to work with your doctor and get regular screenings.


The Five Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Lung cancer has been called one of the most preventable cancers – because 80% to 90% of all cases are related to cigarette smoking. Here are a few of the ways you can cut your risk for this deadly disease.



1.    Don’t Smoke – or if You Smoke, Quit. 
breaking a cigarette

Smoking is the #1 factor for getting lung cancer, and there is no such thing as a “safe cigarette.” Even those that are advertised as low-tar, “light,” or menthol still have all the same cancer-causing chemicals.

Quitting smoking can drastically reduce your risks – in some cases, it can cut your risks in half. Ask your doctor for information on how break the habit for good.
 

2.    Avoid Secondhand Smoke.


no smoking sign
Whenever and wherever you can, stay away from other people’s cigarettes, cigars, or pipes and make your home smoke free



3.    Test Your Home for Radon. 
radon sign

 

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from rocks and dirt that can get trapped in houses and other buildings. You don’t need a specialist to test your home or building: many home improvement stores carry radon testing kits. Every year, the California Department of Public Health makes free radon testing kits available. Sign up to get one for 2019 or if you live in a rental property, ask your landlord.
 

4.    Get Tested if You’re at Risk.
woman at doctor

If you’re a smoker, have a history of lung cancer in your family, or work with industrial chemicals, you should definitely talk to your doctor about testing options. 

Early detection of lung cancer can be life-saving. The sooner your doctor identifies it the better they’re able to offer the right treatment.
 

5.    Eat a Healthy Diet. 
veggies

This is great advice, even if you’re not at risk. A healthy diet that’s low in sugars and fats but high in whole grain, lean protein, and fresh produce can also reduce your risks for heart disease, diabetes, a variety of other cancers, and so much more.

So, take a deep breath…there are so many ways to protect yourself from lung cancer, and AltaMed is right behind you!

 

The Health Benefits (and Risks) of Drinking Caffeine

January 04, 2019

There’s something so comforting about that first sip of coffee: you feel warm from the inside out and energized to take on the day. Caffeine can’t be bad for you, right?

The short answer is: maybe? And it depends on who you are. 

Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound that gives coffee and colas that energy-boosting zing – and it seems like doctors have mixed emotions about it. There have been reports showing that caffeine can deliver health benefits such as fighting inflammation, boosting metabolism, and possibly cutting risk for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and heart failure. And it’s a good thing, since as many as 80 – 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a regular basis. 

On the downside, too much caffeine can give you the jitters, make you lose sleep, raise your blood pressure, and can even cause a headache. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, the mineral that is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Some people have medical conditions that can be made worse by caffeine. In rare cases, people can overdose on caffeine (but it’s usually when taken in pill form).

And caffeine addiction is a real thing. Over time, your body can develop a dependence on it, and when you don’t get it, you develop flu-like symptoms that include fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, lack of mental focus, and dehydration. 
 

Who Should Limit Caffeine

  • Those prone to migraines
  • Anyone with high blood pressure
  • Children and teens
  • Ulcer suffers
  • Those with irregular heart rhythms


Who Should Avoid Caffeine

  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Require certain medications


Choose a Healthy Caffeine Source

Even if you tolerate caffeine well, some caffeinated drinks are better for you than others. If you need a little pick-me-up to get going, try some of the healthier alternatives and then avoid the rest.
 

Coffee

coffee
This rich beverage has been savored around the world for hundreds of years. Still, many drinkers find it somewhat bitter, and add sugar or creamer to ease the taste. Instead, try more healthful alternatives such as cinnamon, almond milk, coconut cream, stevia, or honey.

 

Espresso


espresso
These hot shots are actually just super-concentrated doses of coffee. Because of their tiny size, espresso shots don’t have as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee, but because it’s so potent, espresso has more caffeine per ounce. Usually consumed straight, espresso is a no-go for those with heart conditions.


Coffee-house Style Blended Coffee Drinks


coffee drinks
Enjoy these sweet treats in moderation. Even if they provide the right dose of caffeine, they’re filled with sugar – many of them pack as many calories as a milkshake. All that sugar + a dose of caffeine = plummeting energy levels after the buzz wears off. 


Energy Drinks


energy drinks
Drink these only occasionally – or better yet, not at all. Some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. In addition, most are loaded with sugar and herbal stimulants for extra kick. It’s too much for many people – in 2011, energy drinks sent more than 20,000 people to the emergency room.


Tea


teaSome teas will get your motor running, and also provide additional health benefits. Even though it doesn’t have quite as much caffeine, both green tea and oolong tea are good sources of antioxidants, which are thought to protect your cells from aging and disease. These teas taste very different from the herbal teas you might have tried; spoon in some honey or stevia to healthfully sweeten your cup. 


Soda


sodaA 12-oz can of soda has about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, so you’re not going to get a lot of bang for your buck. Like blended coffee drinks, these should only be consumed as an occasional treat, since sodas are very high in sugar. Diet sodas aren’t much better: there have been (inconclusive) studies linking them to serious health conditions and weight gain. 


If You’re After Long-Lasting Energy…
Coffee will give you a boost, but for energy that lasts throughout the day, there’s no substitute for good nutrition, exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep!