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Constantly Congested? Ease Up on the Nasal Spray

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Between winter cold and flu germs and spring allergies, our noses really can’t catch a break right now. We’ll try anything to get some relief. But experts say regular use of some treatments, especially nasal sprays, could do more harm than good.

Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant sprays work by reducing inflammation in your nose’s blood vessels, clearing a path so that precious air can flow freely in and out. It’s not a bad solution for short-term stuffiness. But over time with frequent use, your body will come to rely on the drug’s influence. (The same thing is true of OTC painkillers like Advil.)

Madeleine Schaberg is an ear, nose, and throat specialist at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. The blood vessels of a regular nasal spray user “start to swell beyond their normal size, because they’re waiting for the chemical hit,” she told Women’s Health magazine. It’s a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa (that is, an irritated nose created by medicine use).

To treat the swelling, most people use more nasal spray, unwittingly making the problem worse. “I’ve had multiple patients that have been dependent on the spray to breathe normally for 10 years,” she said.

So what’s a poor, stuffed-up sucker to do?

Many people find relief with non-drug saline inhalers or nasal rinses. If your congestion is severe or especially long-lasting, you might want to talk to your doctor about prescription options like corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation. If your congestion is allergy-related, washing your hands and face regularly can help keep allergens from getting into your system.

And you don’t have to throw away your spray altogether. Limit yourself to three days in a row, then give your poor nostrils a rest.

[h/t Women's Health]

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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