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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 


    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.


    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 


    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.


    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.


    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.


    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.


    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.


    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.


    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 


    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.


    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 


    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog: https://bit.ly/3KbVUA1.
    Click to Tweet

     

    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.


    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.

     

    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!


    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • February 17, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    There are approximately 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today—a number that is expected to grow to almost 19 million by 2024, according to a recent report from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The report attributes this good news, in part, to improvements in cancer screening.

    Cancer screenings enable medical providers to catch cancer in the early stages when the disease is most treatable. That’s why they are so important. Following are screening guidelines from MedStar Health Cancer Network for a few of the most common cancers. Some individuals may need earlier or more frequent screenings depending on their risk factors. This is something you should discuss with your doctor.

    BREAST

    • Screenings are recommended for all women. Breast exam by a medical provider (every three years for women ages 20 to 39 and every year after age 40)
    • Annual mammograms and breast exams by a medical provider for women ages 40 and older, or younger if at high risk

    CERVICAL

    Screenings are recommended for all women age 21 and older, or upon becoming sexually active.

    • Periodic Pap tests with frequency based on age (after three normal tests, a woman may need less frequently)

    Free breast and cervical screenings are available to women who are age 40 and older, with limited income and are uninsured or underinsured. Call 410-350-2066 to see if you qualify.

    COLORECTAL

    Screenings are recommended for all adults age 50 and older, or younger if at high risk.

    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • Fecal occult blood test every year
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or
    • Double-contrast barium enema every
      five years

    Free colorectal screenings are available to individuals age 50 and older, with limited income, and uninsured or underinsured. Call 410-350-8216 to see if you qualify.

    LUNG

    Screenings are recommended for individuals who are at high risk based on the following criteria:

    • 55 to 77 years of age
    • A smoker of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or more
    • Currently smoking or have quit fewer than 15 years ago

    PROSTATE

    Screenings can be beneficial for men age 50 and older, or younger if at high risk. Men should talk to their medical provider about the value of two tests:

    • Digital rectal exams
    • Prostate-specific antigen blood tests

    This article appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.

    Learn More

    Learn more about cancer screening and diagnosis.

  • February 16, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Stress is a fact of modern life. But as Dr. Allen Taylor notes, constant high levels of stress can double the risk of heart disease, if left untreated.
  • February 15, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Winter is here, along with colder weather, darker evenings, and coughs and colds. Once the days get shorter, many people get the urge to curl up in front of the TV with a big bag of cookies and glass of milk.

    Right now, that’s the worst thing you can do. “The healthier you are the more resistant you are to colds and infections,” says Erkan Ozturk, MD, a geriatrician in the Center for Successful Aging at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. “The advantages of regular exercise are too great to be put on hold when workouts become inconvenient. People who exercise reduce their risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis,” he adds. “In addition, regular workouts improve your mood, increase your energy level and help you sleep better.”

    Unfortunately, winter can limit you to indoor activities, because of slippery surfaces or even just the temperature. “Safety is a serious concern in the winter,” notes Dr. Ozturk. Although it might be a little harder to push yourself during the winter, working out is likely to pay off in the spring. “So rather than using winter weather as an excuse, view it as an opportunity to be more creative about how you approach getting your daily exercise,” says Dr. Ozturk. Before you start a regular exercise routine, consult with your doctor to see if there’s any reason why you should not be physically active.

    This article appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.

    Location Information

    MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
    The Center for Successful Aging

    Russell Morgan Building, Suite 502
    5601 Loch Raven Blvd.
    Baltimore, MD 21239
    443-444-4720

    Geriatrics Specialist


    Related Services

  • February 14, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Doctors agree you should know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, but there's one more number you should be tracking.
  • February 10, 2017

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    You’ve probably heard a lot about how getting exercise and sleep can help you avoid heart troubles in the future. But getting too much of either can actually increase your risk of heart disease.

    It seems counterintuitive. After all, we’re constantly told that exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are vital to staving off obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and, of course, heart disease. And it’s true. Exercise and sleep are important components of a healthy lifestyle. So, wouldn’t exercising even more and getting lots of sleep make us healthier and less prone to heart disease?

    Surprisingly, the answer is no. Excessive sleep and over-exercising can increase your risk for heart disease, just like not getting enough sleep or exercise can. In many disciplines, from economics to communication, this phenomenon is known as the “Goldilocks effect,” referring to the children’s story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

    Here’s how can you balance your sleep and exercise to find the amount that isn’t too much or too little, but instead “just right” for your heart health.

    How sleep affects the heart

    There is still some debate about the exact amount of sleep that’s ideal for adults. However, researchers have reached a consensus on the optimum range. Almost everyone needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every day. And no, you can’t “catch up” on the weekends. It’s much better for your body’s circadian rhythm–the natural sleeping and waking cycle–to go to bed and wake up at a relatively consistent time each day.

    Some people are naturally long sleepers, about two percent of the population. These people need 10 to 12 hours of sleep, or they feel tired and groggy throughout the day. However, most people should not be sleeping more than nine hours per day.

    Oversleeping has been linked to increased inflammation–in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue. Chronic inflammation, or inflammation that occurs over months or even years, can put you at greater risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other health problems.

    Getting too little sleep or too much sleep can increase inflammation levels. But considering that fewer people are aware of the dangers of oversleeping compared to undersleeping, it’s important to emphasize that both can lead to heart problems in the future. A study of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that, compared to people who get six to eight hours of sleep, those who slept:

    • Less than six hours: Had a doubled risk of stroke or heart attack
    • More than eight hours: Had a doubled risk of angina – chest pain due to reduced blood flow – and 10 percent higher risk of coronary artery disease

    If you’re having trouble getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, bring it up to your doctor at your next physical. While short-term sleep problems aren’t likely to cause lasting damage, developing poor sleep habits can put you at higher risk for heart trouble as well as other problems later in life.

    How exercise affects the heart

    On the whole, Americans don’t exercise nearly enough. About half of U.S. adults don’t get enough aerobic physical activity – the heart-strengthening exercises known as “cardio.” Aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to safeguard against future heart disease and improve your overall health. However, too much vigorous aerobic exercise can also be detrimental to your heart health.

    Like a few days of getting too little sleep, brief bouts of high-intensity cardio followed by periods of rest won’t do lasting damage. In fact, it can make your heart stronger. Problems arise when extreme athletes – such as long-distance runners, rowers, swimmers and cyclists – perform vigorous exercise regularly.

    Intense aerobic physical activity puts a strain on your heart. Over time, repeated strain changes the very structure of the heart, enlarging the arteries and right ventricle and causing thick scar tissue to form in the heart’s two atria. These adaptations have been linked to heart problems in some people, though more research is needed for us to draw definitive conclusions.

    There are many misconceptions about how intense exercise needs to be to achieve the best results. I find that many people believe they have to be totally out of breath and drenched in sweat to get a “good workout,” but the reality is that, as far as your heart is concerned, you’ll maximize your exercise benefits with regular moderate exercise, like a brisk walk. What defines “moderate” exercise? You should sweat a little and be able to carry on a conversation with someone without too much difficulty.

    The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or some combination of both. I suggest doing 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. That’s a healthy habit that you can continue through your whole life.

    This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give that marathon or triathlon you’ve always wanted to do a try. I’ve finished 11 marathons and a 50-mile race, so I know the allure of such events. The positives of endurance training are many: fitness, strength, even psychological. But we need to remember that more isn’t always better. Talk to your doctor before beginning to train for such endurance events. As for me, I still enjoy running and believe strongly in the benefits of exercise, although I’ve moderated my distance over the years, opting for a morning jog on the C&O canal as my favorite run!

    Most people don’t have to worry about exercising too much or oversleeping. In fact, they should be concerned about too little exercise and sleep! But for extreme athletes and chronic sleepers, these issues can lead to heart problems in the future. The trick to the Goldilocks effect of sleep and exercise is finding a balance that makes you feel “just right.”

    Request an appointment online or call 202-877-3627 to talk to a doctor about how your sleep and exercise routine affects your heart.

    Request an Appointment

     
  • February 07, 2017

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    Your blood pressure can lie. It changes throughout the day, but too often, we rely on one blood pressure measurement taken in a doctor’s office.

    There often isn’t time to take an accurate blood pressure measurement during a doctor’s visit. To properly take a blood pressure measurement, you need to be relaxed and seated for five minutes. If the measurement is high, you need to wait five minutes and take it again.

    It’s often the “relaxed” part that is most difficult. Doctor’s visits can be stressful. This can cause your blood pressure to rise. The phenomenon of blood pressure readings that are higher in a doctor’s office compared to at home is known as “white-coat hypertension,” and it can occur in 15 to 30 percent of patients.

    So how do we get a more accurate blood pressure reading? By supplementing office measurements with those taken during your daily routine. There are two ways to do this: manual home blood pressure monitoring and a more formal test known as ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.

    Who benefits from home blood pressure monitoring?

    I’ve had many patients come to me thinking they had high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) due to measurements taken in a doctor’s office. But after home blood pressure monitoring, I can give them the good news that their blood pressure is, in fact, normal. This monitoring can save them from unnecessary treatment.

    Home blood pressure monitoring also can validate high office measurements and allow us to use office time more productively, such as searching for the cause of the hypertension. This could be as simple as your favorite snack food. I once had a patient who loved a certain salty cracker. Once she eliminated the culprit, her blood pressure went back to normal.

    Not everyone needs to monitor their blood pressure from home. I recommend it for people who:

    • Have high blood pressure above (130/80 mm Hg)
    • Take medication for high blood pressure

    Along with more accurately diagnosing hypertension, home blood pressure monitoring can track treatment and empower you to take an active role in your health care. With regular monitoring at home, you can see in real time how medication and lifestyle changes affect your blood pressure. And it can help us optimize your care, such as determining whether we need to alter your medication or dosage.

    How to monitor your blood pressure at home

    Home blood pressure monitoring is easy, but it only works if you do it correctly.

    How to choose a home blood pressure monitor

    Patients often ask which home blood pressure monitor is best. It doesn’t matter whether you use an arm cuff, wrist cuff or finger measurement. They all work. I tend to find that the wrist and finger monitors are easiest for people to handle because they can do it with one hand and don’t need a helper. Use what’s comfortable for you.

    Once you’ve chosen a home blood pressure monitor, bring it to your doctor’s office to make sure you’re using it correctly and to check its accuracy against the doctor’s equipment.

    How to check your blood pressure

    Timing is everything when checking your blood pressure. If you’re rushing around, that’s not the time to take it. Wait 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure if you:

    • Are about to eat
    • Have just eaten
    • Have exercised recently
    • Have had a caffeinated drink

    When you’re ready, sit quietly with your feet flat on the floor. Don’t cross your legs. After five minutes, take your blood pressure. Wait five minutes and do it again to check the accuracy. You can do this three times to get an average of the readings.

    How often to measure your blood pressure

    You don’t need to do go through this process three or four times a day. When you start, do it on a regular basis so you understand what your blood pressure normally is at different times of the day. Try taking it once in the morning and once in the evening. After that, you can do it periodically. Talk to your doctor about how often to measure your blood pressure.

    Home blood pressure monitoring is not a substitute for a doctor’s visit. Keep a journal of your home measurements to show your doctor. Some home blood pressure monitors digitally record your measurements, so you can print them out or send them to your doctor.

    How ambulatory blood pressure monitoring works

    If there’s uncertainty about the accuracy of your blood pressure readings, we can do a more formal test called ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. We consider this the gold standard to diagnose high blood pressure.

    We’ll send you home with an arm cuff to wear. The device measures your blood pressure at regular intervals over 24 hours. This gives us a nice visual chart of your blood pressure throughout the day.

    The information we get from ambulatory blood pressure monitoring and manual monitoring allows you and your doctor to make more effective use of your time together. For example, if your blood pressure is high in my office, but your home readings are normal, we can move on to the next thing. We don’t need to waste time focusing on something that isn’t wrong.

    Don’t let one blood pressure measurement lie to you.

    Request an appointment online or call 202-877-3627 to talk to a doctor about whether you might benefit from home blood pressure monitoring.

    Request an Appointment