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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:
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    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

    A groundbreaking new procedure now being offered at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital is providing women suffering with uterine fibroids a welcome option for treating the condition.

    Known as radial uterine fibroid embolization (UFE), the minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a catheter into the radial artery located in the wrist, which is then guided by an interventional radiologist into the uterus. It requires a tiny incision and uses small particles to damage and shrink the fibroids.

    Fibroids, noncancerous tumors that grow within the uterus, affect 40 percent of women over the age of 40. Typically found in women ages 30 to 50, they can cause heavy, excessive menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain and pressure, and urinary incontinence.

    UFE is an alternative to hysterectomy—the surgical removal of the uterus—which was the most common treatment for fibroids for many years. With UFE, the uterus is preserved. “Until now, UFE was typically performed by accessing the uterus through an artery in the groin,” says Brian Swehla, MD, the interventional radiologist who introduced the radial approach at MedStar Good Samaritan. “However, that approach requires the patient to lay in bed and keep their leg straight for up to six hours right after the procedure, which can be very uncomfortable and painful. Radial access has been preferred by cardiologists for coronary interventions for a long time and is now gaining in popularity as a way to access the uterus.”

    While the radial procedure can be technically challenging, it makes a world of difference to patients. “Accessing the fibroid through the wrist dramatically shortens the recovery time and results in less pain. My patients are able to get up, move around and go home sooner,” says Dr. Swehla. Plus, there is little to no blood loss.

    Shadawn Scott-Simmons

    Shadawn Scott-Simmons was among the first women in the region to have the procedure. “The bleeding during my menstrual cycle started getting heavier than normal about two years ago. I was diagnosed with fibroids, but didn’t want to have surgery. So I put up with it but it kept getting worse. I was bleeding all the time. It was so bad. I felt like a prisoner,” she explains. Scott-Simmons was losing so much blood that she developed symptomatic anemia.

    “Once the anemia kicked in I could barely function. I was short of breath and very tired,” she says. Her condition also made it difficult for her to perform her duties as a registered nurse. “I was missing so much time from work I finally had to take a medical leave of absence.” Then her blood levels dropped so low she needed a blood transfusion. “The doctors who took care of me at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital discussed some of the treatment options that are now available for fibroids and referred me to Dr. Swehla,” says Scott-Simmons.

    During her first appointment with Dr. Swehla, he carefully explained the radial procedure to her. “He spent a lot of time with me and answered all of my questions,” she notes. “I liked that the procedure was minimally invasive, which would mean a quicker recovery and less time off work. And I didn’t want to take any drastic measures that would result in my going into menopause at the age of 42. It sounded like a good option.”

    Prior to the procedure, Scott-Simmons was given local pain medicine at the wrist to numb it, as well as a mild sedative. Once it was over, she went to recovery for two hours after which she was allowed to move around. She remained in the hospital that night and went home the next day. She had pelvic cramps for a few days, which is common after the procedure, but is now feeling fine. “I feel amazing now. I’m so glad it’s over and I am so grateful,” she says. “When I had my follow-up visit with Dr. Swehla, I told him ‘I have to give you a hug. You gave me my life back.’”

    “We are finding that women really prefer the wrist approach,” adds Dr. Swehla. “It’s more comfortable for patients and there is less risk of complications. Any woman who is considering treatment for her fibroids should look into it.”

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

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  • 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

    Geriatrics Specialist

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  • 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