Ask the Doctor: Winter 2020

Advice from Area Health & Wellness Professionals




Q. I’ve noticed that my son will sometimes come in wheezing after playing hard in our backyard. How can I tell if it’s just the effects of heavy exertion, or if he might have asthma?

A. First, it’s important to define what constitutes a “wheeze.” Typically, wheezing is characterized by a high-pitched whistling sound that one makes when one breathes out. It’s possible to hear wheezing at home without a stethoscope, but it’s easier for a doctor to identify it. If you are hearing this type of sound when your son plays outside, asthma is certainly a possibility! There are different types of asthma – some asthmatics only have symptoms with exertion (exercise-induced asthma), while some asthmatics experience symptoms more regularly (persistent asthma).

Of course, asthma is often characterized by other symptoms as well, especially cough, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. I would recommend that your son have lung function testing to help determine if he has asthma. Treatments for asthma include “rescue” inhalers, also known as inhaled albuterol, which can significantly improve his ability to exert himself. There are also other types of inhalers that can be used for more persistent asthma.

Lee Perry Headshot

Q. My son has a stutter, and his physician has referred him for speech therapy. Can you tell us a little about what to expect?

A. Your child will be observed speaking in various scenarios during both structured and unstructured tasks. The therapist may even record your child in order to further evaluate and classify each type of stutter. Some disfluencies – breaks and disruptions in the flow of speech – are normal and may not be considered stuttering. The therapist will also discuss your child’s awareness of the stutter and calculate the frequency of it to determine the severity of the stutter and determine if speech therapy is necessary. While there is no cure for stuttering, there are various treatment options that may help children who stutter. For preschool children, therapy may include direct strategies (helping your child change how they speak) or indirect strategies (ways to make it easier for your child to talk). For older children, treatment focuses on managing stuttering. This may include identifying, adjusting, or decreasing the number of disfluencies.

Mallory Sliger headshot
Illustration of someone holding a bag of healthy groceries

Q. As my father ages, I’ve noticed a decrease in his appetite. How do nutritional needs for the elderly differ from that of a younger adult?

A. It’s common for elderly people to experience reduced appetite. If this issue isn’t addressed, it can lead to weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and poor health. Older adults generally need fewer calories, but their nutrient needs are higher than when they were younger – this is why eating nutrient-rich, whole foods becomes extremely important. Eating a protein-rich diet helps age-related loss of muscle and strength, especially if combined with exercise. Bowel-related issues, including constipation and diverticular disease (a condition where pockets or sacs develop in the wall of the colon), can occur with aging and can be helped by increasing your fiber intake. Calcium and vitamin D are also important nutrients for maintaining optimal bone health. Potassium, vitamin B12, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron are other nutrients that can benefit as one gets older. Finally, drinking an adequate amount of water is important, as the body may become less able to recognize the signs of dehydration in older people.

Amjad Munir Headshot

Q. This year has been so chaotic that I’ve been having trouble focusing on myself and taking time to slow down throughout the week. What are some steps I can take to fix that?

A. I hear this all the time, especially with the longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stress, fear, and uncertainty that has come with it. Many people have a difficult time with self-care. I had a healthcare provider tell me once to listen to my body’s whispers and not to wait until your body has to scream. Taking time for yourself and becoming more aware of your body, emotions, and desires empower you to take charge of your life and your health. There are a couple of ways that I do this: mindfulness and spending time in nature. The Center for Mindful Living is a great resource for our Chattanooga community offering weekly, virtual classes on mindfulness. 

Stephanie Wilkins headshot
tear drops illustration

Q. My eyes keep tearing up all of the time. Why is this happening, and what can I do about it?

A. When our eyes tear up, it’s a reflex – they’re trying to flush and cleanse their surface. Our eyes get dry for a lot of reasons: aging, too much screen time, or dry environments caused by turning on the heat in the winter. When our eyes are dry, they get irritated, which causes those tears you mentioned to be produced as a reflex to wash out the eye. When we blink, we put a natural tear across our eye that should stay there until the next blink. When that breaks down, the surface is exposed to the air, which causes the watering reflex. To treat this issue, you can use over-the-counter artificial tears. Try not to use them more than twice a day – if you do, you might need prescription-strength eye drops. 

Troy White Headshot

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