Ask the Doctor: How can I stay healthy over the holidays?


In December, nasty illnesses tend to spread around thanks to things like germy doorknobs and everyone staying indoors. These can ruin anyone’s vacation — especially those involving travel. Dr. Dan Phillips, owner of MedAccess Urgent Care, answered Diana Pressey’s questions about how people can protect and take care of themselves over the holidays.

Dr. Dan Phillips, owner of MedAccess Urgent Care, sat down with Diana Pressey to discuss what people can do to take care of themselves over the holidays.

Diana Pressey: What are MedAccess’ hours over winter break — Dec. 15 through Jan. 10?

Dr. Dan Phillips: We are only closed two days a year — Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, as a benefit to our employees. We’re open all other days of the year on our typical hours. We close at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve, 4 p.m. Christmas Eve, and 4 p.m. New Year’s Eve. But the rest of the time, we’re open our usual hours. And we’ve found, interestingly, that Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, typically is a busy day for us. But the busiest day of the year for us, all the 10 years we’ve been in business, has been the day after Christmas.

Pressey: Would you say that’s a result of family fights gone bad?

Phillips: Family — well, you know, they pass colds and flu around, and then, everybody’s facing that they’ve got to get back on the road in a couple days and travel, and they don’t want to travel with a sick child or a sick adult, and so they come in and get taken care of. But the holidays can be pretty busy, and most of what you’d expect to see is people passing around sneezing and upper respiratory infections and flu and so forth.

Pressey: What are the most common illnesses people experience during the winter?

Phillips: You expect, any time the weather gets cold, people congregate indoors, and that’s an ideal environment for respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu spread. The other thing that spreads are the G.I. (gastrointestinal) viruses. I think campus had an episode of Norovirus when you guys were back early this fall, and when you see those intestinal viruses start to spread, they’ll spread like wildfire through a family or a household. So those are the common things that we see.

We’re just starting to see now a lot of bronchitis, which is viral, a lot of common colds; we’ve seen a few cases of flu which have made their way into the area. And those are things that we can expect to see more of through the holidays. Strep also is running through schools right now, and kids tend to share cups and tend to touch each other quite a bit, so it is easy to spread throughout a school.

Pressey: Do you know of any home remedies for people who might be unable to leave their house and make it into MedAccess, for example?

Phillips: Well, if you get G.I. upset, if you get nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, the best thing to try is simply not taking anything by mouth for three or four hours. Let your gut rest. Now, at some point, you have to continue hydration. So, plain water is okay, but for kids, electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte — I like to keep Gatorade around the house, not only for when I’m out exercising, but if you get a G.I. bug, it’s a great rehydration fluid because it’s got salt and sugar and so forth in it. So that would be the advice for the G.I. distress, but after a few hours of resting your bowels, and you can’t keep fluids down, and you’re starting to get thirsty, and you’re not making urine, then it’s probably time to seek help, and somewhere like our clinic can give you fluids by the IV route.

For the people who simply have the aches and pains and fever, the big thing is fever control. Tylenol is an excellent control for fever, as is ibuprofen. And taking both of those to get a temperature down makes the person feel a lot better. When you’ve got a fever, you just feel miserable, and when you’ve got a fever, you tend to dehydrate a little faster, so temperature control is key. The other thing is just for aches and pains, again, Tylenol, ibuprofen, Aleve are really the go-to home remedies. And then, again, staying hydrated, making sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids.

Don’t worry about eating when you get sick. Many times you lose your appetite or kids aren’t eating. That’s fine, as long as you take in fluids, and as long as you can control the fever, then you can kind of see how things run over the course of a day or so.

Pressey: What are your medical recommendations for people going out of town over the holidays? It can be pretty difficult to deal with medical issues while traveling.

Phillips: Yeah, it is, because people travel, their health insurance may be from out-of-state, and there’s always the emergency department, but most people really don’t want to go to a hospital emergency department unless they absolutely have to, so for people traveling who get ill or have minor emergencies, my recommendation is go online and find the nearest urgent care center. And particularly, see if the urgent care center is a certified or accredited urgent care center, because most urgent care centers, particularly if they’re certified or accredited, can take care of a wide range of problems and have fluids and X-ray and the things that you typically need. Obviously if you’re traveling to our area, we’re here. Most insurance plans cover people when they’re traveling and they’re out of network and don’t make that an issue.

Pressey: OK. What about prevention of illness and injuries while traveling?

Phillips: Just common sense when you’re traveling, you know, avoiding risky situations and the obvious stuff. If you’re traveling and you’re in a vehicle, wear your seatbelt. Stay out of traffic accidents, first and foremost. If you’re in cold weather — for instance, we’re here in North Carolina, maybe you’re traveling up north — remember that it ices up there a lot faster. Take warm clothes, take your winter boots, watch for icy spots, just, you know, really common sense stuff.

As far as illnesses, you have to understand that viruses can live on doorknobs and on surfaces, so frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizers, carrying Kleenex, avoiding being around people that are coughing and sneezing, those are the common prevention things. But for people who, there might be something in the household — respiratory protection, using sneeze protection, using Kleenexes, washing your hands off and using the hand sanitizers are a must to prevent the spread of common illnesses.

Avoid the long wait for your primary care physician by visiting a MedAccess Urgent Care location in Chapel Hill, Roxboro or Youngsville. Walk-in or skip the wait entirely by checking in online.

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