Health Blog | Hospital News, Resource and Podcast | MedStar Health

MedStar Health Blog

Featured Blog

  • 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

All Blogs

  • November 02, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Having a healthy diet has never been easier thanks to MedStar Health and WellRooted providing convenient and diverse meal options delivered to your door.
  • November 01, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Most women with early-stage breast cancer discover the disease only after screening with a mammogram. Symptoms may not present in a dramatic or noticeable way, so women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are understandably shocked and unprepared as they begin their cancer journey.

    If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, it would be rational and reasonable to jump to quick conclusions, some dire. But keep in mind that doctors are rethinking early-stage breast cancer treatment.

    You or your loved one might benefit from recent research that allows doctors to prescribe treatment options that are more targeted, more focused and more effective than ever before.

    The Three Types of Breast Cancer

    Current research shows that breast cancer usually falls into one of three categories:

    • Endocrine receptor-positive, wherein estrogen or progesterone receptors play a role;
    • HER2-positive, wherein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 plays a role; or
    • Triple negative, wherein none of the above are involved.

    This discovery allows doctors to identify the exact factors at play in your cancer diagnosis, thereby narrowing down appropriate treatments options to the most efficient and effective. Over-treating breast cancer can cause significant side effects for some women.

    As much as doctors want to avoid a passive treatment regimen that doesn’t target or kill cancer, they also strive to eschew unnecessary treatments that might lead to other health problems. The ability to identify which type of cancer you have ensures that your treatment is balanced and purposeful.

    Chemotherapy Isn't Always Useful

    In the past, it was typical for doctors to surgically remove breast cancer tumors and to employ chemotherapy as a method for treating breast cancer, including early stage forms. Contemporary research indicates that chemotherapy doesn't always play a decisive role in early stage breast cancer treatment or in the prevention of recurrence.

    Because research has proven that chemotherapy might not always be the best approach, cancer specialists might be less likely to use it as a treatment option except for when absolutely necessary. This discovery means that many women might be able to avoid the unwanted side effects of chemotherapy, including:

    • Heart problems
    • Osteoporosis
    • Anemia
    • Vomiting
    • Memory loss
    • Fatigue

    No one wants to go through chemotherapy unless the treatment is essential. Doctors understand this, and they now have the information they need to make better decisions regarding your treatment.

    If you have tiny tumors that are difficult to remove surgically, or if you have conditions that make it likely for tumors to return in the future, you may need chemotherapy. The side effects of this treatment plan will make life difficult for a while, but your cancer specialist should be able to prescribe a focused regimen that works specifically for your unique needs.

    Final Thought

    Your diagnosis of early stage breast cancer will be emotionally daunting and physically exhausting. However, you can find some reassurance in the fact that doctors know more today than ever before about identifying and treating breast cancer.

    That way your recovery can happen with as few side effects and treatments as possible.

  • October 27, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Cathy Kalimon comes from a family with a strong medical background. Her father was a physician, and Cathy herself spent more than 20 years as an ophthalmic technician. Having this background has always made Cathy aware of the importance of listening to her body and paying attention when certain medications were prescribed — such as narcotics, which always gave her bad reactions.

    That’s why, when Cathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015, the thought of having to take narcotics again was one of her primary concerns.

    “I developed uterine cancer in 2013 and asked for no narcotics, but for some reason, I received narcotics with anesthesia anyway,” she said. The second day after the surgery, Cathy continued to be ill. Knowing that Cathy historically reacted poorly to narcotics, her sisters stepped in to question her doctors.

    They discovered that Cathy was prescribed oxycodone for post-operative pain management, the source of her prolonged nausea and illness.

    Finding a Solution With Dr. Myers

    It was with profound relief that when Cathy faced breast cancer surgery in 2016, she discovered a breast cancer specialist willing to listen and respond to her unique needs at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

    “I am aware that doctors know more than I do — but I also know what happens to me when I get narcotics,” she said. “One of the first things I said to Dr. Tousimis, my breast surgeon, was: ‘Please don’t give me narcotics.’ I couldn’t imagine having my chest opened and then experiencing such terrible nausea afterward.”

    Dr. Eleni Tousimis immediately introduced Cathy to anesthesiologist Joseph Myers, MD, who told her about ComfortSafe, a new technique he developed that uses few, if any, narcotics.

    ComfortSafe utilizes a pyramid checklist characterized by a variety of medications, such as IV acetaminophen, nerve blocks and local anesthetics, all of which produce fewer side effects. Stronger medications are used only if needed; otherwise, patients receive milder therapies that are narcotic-free.

    Cathy’s worries were eased— not only because her doctors and specialists listened, but also because she discovered possible alternatives to traditional narcotic therapy. “I just couldn’t believe that narcotics were the only way to put you out,” she said.

    “Dr. Myers told me it was going to be painful, and I said, 'Not as painful as constantly throwing up' — and I was right,” she added. Cathy explained that there is a difference between pain and discomfort and didn’t feel narcotics would relieve “discomfort."

    Looking Ahead to Her Renewed Life

    Cathy considers herself fortunate because both her uterine and breast cancers were found early, thus negating prescription of radiation or chemotherapy. She advises anyone who gets a cancer diagnosis to ask plenty of questions from their doctors and to source a professional medical site where information is well-researched, accurate and balanced.

    “As patients, we’re all different — and someone else’s awful experience was not my experience,” Cathy shared.

    Cathy recovered fully from her uterine cancer. Her breast cancer is being treated with an aromatase inhibitor to lessen the chance of recurrence, and she looks forward to a continued good prognosis.

    “I’m very lucky,” she said. “I’m not predicting the cancer will never come back — but I’m not worrying about it every day either,” she added.

  • October 25, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    One of the first thoughts many patients have after learning they have cancer is, “How do I tell my children?”

    At first, you may be inclined to avoid the question altogether. This is understandable; you need time to understand the reality of your diagnosis and process your thoughts. And sometimes, your instinct to protect your children from sadness and stress can override the desire to help them prepare for the realities of the situation.

    But discussing your cancer with your family is an important conversation to initiate. And believe it or not, just talking about your cancer can reduce stress while providing your children with the necessary information to help them adjust in healthy, age-appropriate ways.

    Why You Need to Talk About Your Diagnosis

    Many patients believe it’s better not to discuss a cancer diagnosis with young children. They worry that the children’s lives will be so negatively impacted that it’s better to pretend that life is continuing as it always has.

    However, try as you might to hide your diagnosis, children can pick up on the pulse and tone of daily life in your family - and that includes the stress or anxiety you may be feeling about having cancer.

    For example, your child may notice that their grandmother is visiting more often than usual, they are spending more time in childcare, or you are too tired to play the way you used to. When young children detect nuances within the home but are not informed about why things have changed - no matter how subtle the changes may seem - they quickly come to their own conclusions (which may be worse than the reality).

    So even though you try to minimize their exposure to difficult emotions, children generally know that something is wrong.

    They Need to Hear It From You

    Children are great listeners, and often they overhear friends or family members talking in hushed tones about a parent’s illness. Or sometimes, well-meaning family members may talk to your child about your diagnosis before you’ve had a chance to clarify the situation. Talking to your children can avoid the possibility that they will learn about your diagnosis and treatment from someone else, which could impact your relationship with your child, and may lead to loss of trust.

    A conversation like this is never easy. However, when children are provided with age-appropriate information about the disease, an understanding of how your treatment will impact their lives, and the ability to ask questions, they gain awareness of the healthy ways that families come together to support one another during difficult times.

    Adult children, too, need to be considered. They may want to be involved in helping to support you through your treatment. Your kids will want to care for you. They will want to express their worry, as well as their love and care. Not telling your children about your cancer prevents them from acting on their concern for you and your health.

    When your friends and family understand your diagnosis, your treatment options, and what cancer will mean for you, they will be better prepared to comprehend what it will mean for them as well. By talking about your cancer, you may be able to avoid adverse emotional outcomes and gain the family support you need.

    How to Start the Conversation

    Deciding when to have this discussion with your children is almost as important as what you say. In general, you may want to avoid times when your child is tired, stressed or hungry, or when you may be interrupted. If your family includes children of various developmental stages, you may want to tell the older children first, then allow them to take part in the conversation you have with younger children.

    As you prepare for your conversation, keep the age of your child(ren) in mind. Because children – even children in the same family – develop at their own pace, determine in advance how to approach this discussion. Very young children (ages 3 to 6 years old) may be satisfied with generalizations, but older children may want specifics and an outline for a plan.

    Along with thinking about your child’s age and developmental stage, you’ll also want to consider your child’s temperament. While some children’s anxiety is eased by your state of calm, others may need additional information and/or frequent check-ins. Even siblings can respond differently to the same information.

    Tailor your conversation to the needs of your child. Some children will be reassured by more physical contact with you; others may need to have activities to help them process the information. Let your children know that any feeling they experience is okay, and that they can come to you with any questions they may have.

    In this way, you can provide a positive forum for your children to develop their own set of emotions around your diagnosis, while letting them know they are a part of a family that works together to manage difficult problems and situations.

    If you can only focus on the basics, the following three points are most important for children to understand:

    • First, let your children know that cancer is not their fault. It’s not anyone’s fault; it just happens. It’s common for young children (ages 4 to 12 years old) to engage in “magical thinking,” therefore believing that they somehow caused the cancer to happen. Reminding them that cancer is no one’s fault can help them come to understand this.
    • Cancer is not contagious. It’s not like a virus, the flu or a cold.
    • And finally, let your family know that it's safe to ask any questions about your diagnosis.

    Explain what your diagnosis might mean in your family’s daily life. For example, while you may be actively involved in your child’s favorite activities, you might not be able to have the same level of involvement during treatment. Clarify that you always want to be with your child to support the activities they love, but that you will need to do so now in a different, quieter way. Perhaps rather than coaching your child's soccer team, you observe and take stats.

    Explain to younger children that the cells in your body are doing things that may make you more tired than usual so you won’t be able to play outside right now. So instead of rough housing, maybe you can read a book or watch a favorite movie. Children will appreciate knowing how your cancer treatment will affect them. And you can reassure your children – and yourself – that your cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean sacrificing quality time together.

    Finally, if you have adult children, allow them to be a part of your journey by helping you. For example, your adult children can provide transportation, grocery shopping, meals or quiet, supportive conversation.

    Final Thought

    Your cancer diagnosis might be a shock that feels uniquely yours alone, but it also affects your family and friends, and that includes your children. When you are aware of your cancer diagnosis but your children aren't, you might be leaving them in the dark about a life-altering event. The one factor to remember when talking to your family about your illness is to keep the lines of communication open.

    One sure way to reduce the stress of your circumstances, your children’s fear of the unknown, and anxiety about your diagnosis is to provide an age-appropriate explanation for your cancer, and look for ways your children can actively support you. For more information about this topic, check with the American Cancer Society or the Cancer Support Community. Both of these organizations offer online publications on helping children when a parent has cancer.

    In addition, your oncology social worker is a great resource for these and other difficult situations that arise when undergoing treatment for cancer.

  • October 21, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Screening tests are a powerful weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Mammography is a breast cancer screening tool used to help doctors pinpoint when a change has occurred in a woman’s breast. In spite of these benefits, and in spite of having health insurance, too many women in Washington, D.C. are forgoing their annual breast cancer mammograms out of fear.
  • October 20, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    For many women, the fear of breast cancer is very real, due to certain risk factors - for example, a family history of breast cancers, being a member of a high-risk group or even aging. The presence of these risks, however, is no guarantee that a cancer will ever materialize; nor is the lack of these risks a guarantee that one will not.

    The key to positive outcomes for breast cancer treatment is early detection, which is why annual mammograms for women starting at age 40 - when risk substantially increases - are so important.

    In fact, according to the Society for Breast Imaging, one in six breast cancers occur in women aged 40 to 49 years, and 40 percent of all the years of life saved by mammography are among women in their 40s.

    How Mammograms Help

    A mammogram is an x-ray image taken of the breast, which is then used to screen for cancers. Often they are able to detect breast cancers in their early stages, even before a lump can be felt through self-examination.

    “Despite common fears, the majority of women experience little to no discomfort while undergoing a mammogram," says Amy Campbell, MD, Chief, Division of Breast Imaging at MedStar Georgetown University Hopsital.

    Given that 75 percent of women who receive a diagnosis of breast cancer in their lifetime do not have any apparent risk factors, it is important that all women go for an annual screening, once they turn 40 years old - otherwise most cases will be missed.

    Other studies have shown there is a 30 to 40 percent lower mortality rate among women who engage in annual mammograms against those who do not.

    And while there are other screening options available, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasounds, both of which can be utilized in women at an increased risk of breast cancer, mammography remains the cornerstone of screening.

    But Are Mammograms Safe?

    As with any procedure or screening involving radiation, there are risks involved. That being said, the benefits of mammograms in breast cancer detection far outweigh the minimal risk associated with the process. Meaning it is much less likely that a mammogram will cause cancer, rather than detect it.

    In fact, you encounter multiple times the amount of radiation exposure from your natural surroundings in a single year than you do from a mammogram.

    Take Charge of Your Breast Health

    As the Society for Breast Imaging notes, mammography is by no means perfect. It detects the majority of breast cancers, but not all of them. There are also some downsides to regular mammograms, such as the necessity for a biopsy or additional imaging.

    However, mammograms do unearth a large percentage of cancers in earlier stages, when there is a higher likelihood of being cured and before they increase in size.

    Dr. Campbell shares, “Our goal as breast imagers is to save as many lives as possible with mammography and we can achieve that goal by starting annual screening at the age of 40.”

    So if you are 40 years old, take charge of your health this National Mammography Day and schedule your annual mammogram today. And if you have concerns or other questions, reach out to your physician. Because sometimes the best course of action is to start with an open and honest conversation.