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When You're Getting Over Flu, but Not That Nagging Cough

December 20, 1988|KATHLEEN DOHENY

You're just getting over the flu when it strikes: A nagging, continuous cough that can last weeks in children and up to two months in adults. Doctors call it post-flu cough and agree that this year it's more common than usual.

"The more it hurts, the more you cough, the more it hurts," said Dr. John G. Mohler,a pulmonologist and associate professor of medicine at the USC School of Medicine.

About 80% of flu sufferers develop the residual cough, he estimated. It occurs after the flu virus destroys some of the airway's tiny cilia, hairlike outgrowths that help get rid of mucus and other foreign materials, he explained. "When that happens the mucus lays around and doesn't get cleared and is apt to become infected," he said, adding that coughing is the body's attempt to clear that mucus.

In children, the post-flu cough generally doesn't last as long as in adults, said Dr. Robert Hamilton, a Santa Monica pediatrician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. He advises parents to "start worrying if the cough lasts longer than about two weeks," to seek help earlier if fever is present or if a child coughs up yellowish-green material or blood or is short of breath.

In adults, "If you're not bringing up sputum, not unduly short of breath and not running a fever, I wouldn't worry about it," Mohler said.

Besides taking cough syrups, both doctors suggested using a warm humidifier, especially during sleep. If you smoke, quit and avoid secondhand smoke, they add. And also consider postponing your regular exercise program if it makes you uncomfortable.

Fluoridated Toothpaste Helps

Adults take note: Using toothpastes with fluoride isn't only important for children, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Dental Assn.

In a one-year study of 810 adults, ages 54-93, half used toothpaste with 1,100 parts per million fluoride while the other half used toothpaste with only 1 part per million.

The group using highly fluoridated toothpaste had 67% less decay on root surfaces and 41% less decay on tooth crowns (the part that lies above the gum line). Root caries become increasingly common as the gums recede with age, noted researchers Dr. Mark Jensen and Frank Kohout of the University of Iowa.

"Many dental practitioners do not emphasize the use of fluoridated dentifrices to their older adult patients," they wrote, concluding that all adults with natural teeth should brush regularly with fluoridated toothpaste. Most on the market now are fluoridated, noted Rick Asa, a spokesman for the American Dental Assn.

Dealing With a Bore

Dull party chatter doesn't have to be an inevitable part of your holiday agenda. When you're eye to eye with a party bore, there are a number of strategies, psychologists say.

--Option 1: "Concentrate on trying to make the conversation more interesting," suggested Gary Emery, a psychologist and director of the Los Angeles Center for Cognitive Therapy.

--Option 2: Change the topic. "First acknowledge the other person's interest and expertise in the topic under discussion," said Jerry Jellison, a professor of psychology at USC. "Then say, 'At this time, I'm ready for a change of topic.' " Asking a question about an unrelated subject is a good way to reroute the conversation, he noted.

--Option 3: Bow out graciously. One effective exit line, said Jellison: "There are other people I want to talk to, and I'd better do it now before the party is over."

Don't use that traditional parting line: "I think I'll get another drink," both Emery and Jellison warned. Bores get thirsty, too.

Myths, Older Drivers

Older drivers aren't the roadway hazards many people believe, found a General Motors researcher who studied the effects of age on driver involvement in crashes and drivers' threat to pedestrians. "On a per-mile basis, older drivers are a bit more risky," said Leonard Evans, a research scientist at the GM Research Laboratory in Warren, Mich., who published his findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences . "But that's compensated by the fact that they drive a lot less."

Passengers looking for the safest seat should sit center rear, Evans found in other research published recently in the American Journal of Public Health. That position was associated with the lowest risk of death in his analysis of fatality records from 1975 to 1985.

On-the-Job Walkers

Feel like you've run a marathon at the end of a long workday? Well, if you have a "foot-intensive" job, there's a good chance you've walked at least walked a quarter-marathon.

Police officers average 6.8 miles a day, more than any other workers polled in Dr. Scholl's Working Day Study of 100 Los Angeles residents. In second place were mail carriers, who walk 4.4 miles a day.

Hospital nurses walk 3.9 miles on the job; doctors 3.5. Retail sales people average 3.4 and office workers 2.3 to 3.3. Lawyers walk the least--only .83 miles a day.

On-the-job walking usually isn't continuous enough to achieve a cardiovascular conditioning effect, said Kevin Dolan, an exercise physiologist at Centinela National Athletic Health Institute in Culver City. But there are calorie-burning benefits. "A 140-pound man, for instance, would burn about 100 calories walking one mile," he said.

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