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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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  • November 21, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Edward Cornfeld, MD, a former Ob/Gyn from Rockville, Md., is one lucky man. At 87, the avid swimmer sits in the warm sun of his bright kitchen and thinks back to last June 18. “I remember waking up briefly in the ambulance, but that’s about it,” he says.

    What he doesn’t remember is a heart attack that began just before a performance of District Merchants at Washington, D.C.,’s Folger Theatre early this summer. The event was meant to be a fun, relaxing evening with three friends. As the players warmed up the crowd and bantered with audience members, Dr. Cornfeld’s breathing became restricted, and he collapsed on the gray stone of the intimate theater.

    In the balcony, Michelle Michaels heard the cries for help. A nurse practitioner and former employee of MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Michaels says she assumed a doctor would certainly rush to help. “I waited for a minute,” she recalls. “There are doctors everywhere, so I assumed someone would help.” When she realized that no one was moving, she dialed 911 and, to her surprise, was the first to report the incident. After providing basic information, she rushed down the balcony steps, through the lobby, and on to the orchestra floor where she began administering CPR to Dr. Cornfeld.

    Sitting nearby, Dylan Mehri, a student at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, debated leaving his seat and offering his help. He recalls thinking, “I’ll probably just be in the way. Someone else must be coming to help, right?” When no one appeared, Dylan got up. “I didn’t realize what I was doing at first,” he said. “I just took my CPR card out of my wallet and told the woman, Michelle, that I knew CPR and could help.” He knelt by Dr. Cornfeld’s side and began compressions.

    According to the American Heart Association, 100 compressions a minute are recommended to best mimic a heart rate and keep blood flowing throughout the body to keep oxygen circulating to the brain.

    Michelle shouted to the crowd of onlookers, “Is there an AED or a stethoscope or anything here we can use?” A staff member brought an AED (automated external defibrillator), and Michaels applied the panels to Dr. Cornfeld’s chest. Operating under the instructions of the machine, she administered a shock, then Mehri maintained hands-only CPR until the ambulance’s emergency medical technicians (EMT) arrived a few minutes later.

    And that was the key. Those six to seven minutes that Dr. Cornfeld was unconscious were critical. “Time is life,” says Paul Corso, MD. “Had Michelle and Dylan not acted with the speed and knowledge they did, it is quite possible Dr. Cornfeld would not be with us today.”

    Dr. Corso, chairman of Cardiac Surgery for MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at the Hospital Center, performed quadruple bypass surgery on Dr. Cornfeld a few days after he was stabilized. Dr. Corso says that because Dr. Cornfeld swam every day and did some light work with weights, he was an excellent surgical candidate with a strong chance for recovery.

    And while Dr. Corso performed the lifesaving surgery, he still gives most of the credit to the good Samaritans who acted that day. “EMTs aren’t everywhere,” he says. “The more people who take the time to get certified in CPR and implementing an AED, the more people will be saved.”

    After several weeks of recovery at the Hospital Center under the watchful eye of Dr. Corso and a staff that Dr. Cornfeld praises as “being set up just for my recovery and anticipating my every need,” followed by another couple of weeks in a rehab facility closer to his home and family, Dr. Cornfeld is thriving.

    With a strong grip on his coffee cup and a shimmer of vitality flashing across his face, he asks, “How do you repay someone for your life?”

    Learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Use

    Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time. With training, you can learn when and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) and to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

    MedStar Health’s Simulation Training & Education Lab, or MedStar SiTEL, is an authorized American Heart Association Training Center, which offers classes in Heartsaver® CPR/AED training and first aid for community members.

    Classes are $50 to $85 per person and last three to six hours. If you’d like to host a course at your location, call Cheryl Camacho at 202-888-9181 or 443-239-1187 or email her at Cheryl.Camacho@email.sitel.org.

     

  • November 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, your diet may be the last thing on your mind right now. But it’s very important to focus on this aspect of your health, since a good diet can help your body heal as quickly as possible during treatment.

    If you’re looking for a way to improve your energy, strength and overall wellness during breast cancer treatment, incorporate these tips into your diet.

    What You Should Eat on a Daily Basis

    One of the best ways to stay healthy during breast cancer treatment is to make fruits and vegetables part of your diet every day. In particular, you should eat five to nine servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables. While it's common to see recommendations for leafy greens, you should also incorporate other colorful fruits and vegetables.

    The many colors in fruits and vegetables indicate the presence of phytochemicals, all of which work to protect our bodies in different ways. Colorful fresh food foods including those that are blue, yellow, orange, green or red play a significant role in helping to protect your body.

    You should have at least one serving of whole grains each day since nutrition from these foods can help to reduce inflammation. Whole grains like bulgur, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, brown rice, barley, rye and corn contain complex carbohydrates, a little bit of protein and fat, a good amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, that all help to protect the body.

    Protein is also essential, to help maintain body functions and weight. Losing weight during chemotherapy can make you feel sicker from the treatment and may result in treatment breaks.

    Some great ways to incorporate protein into your diet include eggs, peanut butter, yogurt, turkey, chicken and seafood, as well as legumes, such as beans and peas.

    One type of food you can eat during breast cancer treatment might surprise you: soy. Many people assume that soy and breast cancer don't go together, since they have heard soy can increase the risk of cancer or allow it to come back after treatment.

    However, this is based on old research that turned out to be misleading. According to recent studies, unprocessed soy, such as in soybeans, soymilk and tofu are safe to eat. Highly processed soy products, such as vegan hot dogs and hamburgers, are not a healthy option, since much of the beneficial plant properties are lost in manufacturing.

    Foods to Limit During Breast Cancer Treatment

    Processed foods including high-sodium, high-fat lunchmeat, bacon and sausage should be limited as much as possible. You should also limit red meat - including beef, pork and lamb - to once a month if you want the healthiest diet during breast cancer treatment.

    How to Manage Your Diet When Treatment Gives You Nausea

    These diet guidelines are best for patients who have minimal side effects from breast cancer treatment. It’s common to experience nausea or loss of appetite during treatment. But you need to focus on getting enough healthy calories every day to keep up your energy, fight off infection and avoid losing a lot of weight during treatment.

    Poor nutrition during breast cancer treatment can lead to more serious side effects and complications. You need proper nutrition and enough calories every day. If you struggle to eat as much as you should, scheduling several small meals throughout the day should help.

    It’s important to lean on your oncology nutritionist during treatment to make sure you are doing your part to make your treatment and future health successful.

    Overall, it’s important to keep a healthy diet during breast cancer treatment. Doing so can help your body recover, keep your weight steady and avoid fatigue. So if you have questions about your own diet, your oncology nutritionist can provide you with additional guidelines tailored to your unique needs as you undergo breast cancer treatment.

  • November 17, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Dr. Rachael Overcash has a unique way of explaining these tests to her patients.
  • November 16, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    From relieving pain to reducing symptoms to restoring peace of mind, palliative care helps seriously ill patients live a better life.
  • November 15, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    At every stage in your journey with cancer, you are likely to have uncertainties or worries. Your doctor can help to allay some of these fears and let you know the impact that cancer treatment may have on your life.

    But it’s important to communicate your questions and concerns, so your treatment team can be focused on the things that are most important to you. Before your next appointment, think about the following topics and use them to decide what questions you want to ask.

    What Is Important to You?

    Your doctor wants to help you have the best quality of life you can while undergoing treatment for cancer. Your treatment plan is one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal. These plans generally include regular appointments with your medical team. However, sometimes these appointments may become narrowly focused on your treatment and prognosis. You may find that you’re worried about other aspects of your life that are impacted by your treatment. It’s important to discuss these issues with your treatment team, and let them know what is important to you.

    For example, you might find that the thing that upsets you most is not being able to coach your child’s soccer team, in which case you should ask your doctor whether there is any way you can alter your treatment to give you the time or energy to return to coaching. Or perhaps you have planned a vacation, and don’t know whether it will be impacted by your treatment schedule.

    Although some treatments are time-sensitive, others can be safely delayed or adjusted to accommodate your needs. Rather than assuming you have to give up the things that bring value and meaning to your life due to your cancer – ask your doctor whether they can remain part of your life.

    Your doctor will be able to discuss the risks and benefits of various activities and treatments with you, so you can make the decisions that are right for you. Doctors are keen to help you live a full life, even when you have cancer, but they won’t know what is important to you unless you let them know.

    Are There Questions You Are Embarrassed to Ask?

    Are there questions you have been putting off asking your doctor out of embarrassment? Your doctor has likely heard these questions before and won’t be shocked or surprised by them.

    If, for example, you want to know whether you can still have sex during treatment, or whether it is normal for your treatment to cause sexual side effects such as dryness, lack of libido or problems with erections, go ahead and ask. Your doctor can deal with these and other personal questions sensitively and professionally.

    Recording Your Doctor’s Answers to Questions

    Time with your doctor is precious. It’s common for patients to forget what questions they want to ask, as well as forgetting the answers the doctor gave. Write your questions down and bring the list with you so you don’t have to worry about remembering them.

    You might also find it helpful to bring another person to the appointment with you, so you can listen to the doctor while your friend or family member makes notes. Another option is to use your cell phone to record the doctor’s answers. You should always ask permission before you start recording, but generally doctors are comfortable having patients record discussions.

    Maintaining open lines of communication with your medical team helps to ensure that your goals align with those of your medical team to provide you with the treatment plan that best suits your particular lifestyle and needs.

    Below, find a printable pdf of additional suggested questions to ask your doctor:

    medstar-georgetown-cancer-network-cancer-questions-to-ask-doctors

  • November 10, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    When you’ve been through breast cancer and have weathered the storm of diagnosis and treatment, it’s normal to want nothing more than to climb back ashore and reclaim your former life.

    Many cancer survivors, however, harbor a profound fear about what the future may hold: they worry about their cancer coming back or about finding a different type of cancer that would place them once again in the middle of treatment.

    One way to regain a feeling of control over your body after the chaos of breast cancer is to take steps to reduce your risk of future cancers. Though there are some risk factors that you can’t control, such as your genes or the number of children you’ve already given birth to, there are three major risk factors that you can actively address to keep your cancer at bay.

    1. Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

    Though fighting obesity is a major component of good health for all people, staying lean also reduces your risk for breast cancer. Experts recommend that your body mass index (BMI) stay between 19 and 25, and that you should avoid excess weight gain at any age.

    Though losing weight can be challenging, even a five-to-10-percent reduction in your overall body weight can reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as diabetes, another serious risk factor for the development of breast cancer.

    2. Increase Your Physical Activity

    A sedentary lifestyle in which you spend most of your time sitting at your desk, in your car, or in front of the television or other screen-based entertainment devices (phones, tablets or computers) is a significant risk factor that you can control.

    Increasing your physical activity will protect you from cancer and help you maintain a healthy weight. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.

    However, for maximum health benefits, scientists recommend that we aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate activity every day, or 30 minutes or more of vigorous activity.

    But what types of activities are considered moderate or vigorous?

    • Moderate activity is something you can do while carrying on a conversation, such as walking or a bicycling.
    • Vigorous activity can be taking an aerobics class, running or other high-cardio activities.

    In addition, strength training using resistance bands or weights will help you build and maintain muscle mass. You should also limit the time you spend sedentary by taking the stairs, parking farther from the building or getting off the bus at a different stop to increase your activity on a regular basis.

    3. Improve Your Diet

    Adding healthy foods to your diet will help you keep your weight in check and add these cancer-fighting nutrients to your body:

    • Fruits and vegetables:
      Try to eat about 2 1/2 cups (five to nine servings) of fruits and vegetables every day. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and veggies to get a good balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals to protect against cancer.
    • Whole grains:
      Add a serving of whole grains to your diet each day to boost your cancer protection at a cellular level.

    There are also certain foods that increase your risk for cancer. Avoid these foods in your diet:

    • Processed foods:
      Highly processed foods are loaded with sugar, fat and salt. Salty foods, in particular, have been linked with stomach cancers.
    • Sugary foods and drinks:
      Energy-dense foods lead to weight gain and blood sugar spikes that are bad for your overall health. Though sugar doesn’t “feed” cancer, obesity and diabetes are definite risk factors.
    • Red meats or processed meats:
      Limit your intake of beef, pork and lamb to once per month and avoid processed meats like bacon, cold cuts and ham at all costs. The link to colorectal cancer is simply too strong to ignore.

    Final Thought

    By watching your weight, staying active and sticking to a plant-based diet, you can take control of your health and feel good about doing all you can to lower your risk for future cancers.