From the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are faced with choices that we have to make in order to sustain our well-being.
Routine choices such as brushing our teeth, the foods we eat and the products we use can either boost our health or pose a risk to our state of being. The same can be said for critical health decisions such as treating an illness.
According to General Practitioner, Dr Eugene Erulu, the choice of food and drink we ingest, as well as daily activities have an effect on our life. These choices may seem like obvious routine decisions, but there are certain situations where they are a risk to your life.
1. Not speaking up when someone is smoking near you
Not only does cigarette smoking cause lung cancer, it is also linked to the prevalence of chronic cardiovascular diseases. According to recent statistics released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), over eight billion cigarettes are smoked in Kenya every year.
The 2014 Global Adult Tobacco Survey revealed 14.3 per cent (3.1 million adults) reported being exposed to second-hand smoke at home, 21.2 percent in restaurants, 17.6 per cent in the workplace, 30.2 percent in universities and 86.1 percent in nightclubs and bars.
Being around tobacco smoke is also risky for non smokers as most of the smoke is released into the air where it can be inhaled. The American Lung Association indicates that second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard causing more than 41,000 deaths per year in the US alone. It can cause or make worse a wide range of damaging health effects in children and adults, including lung cancer, respiratory infections and asthma.
In the name of preserving health, smokers should consider the well-being of others by smoking outside; while non-smokers should speak up when someone smokes in their vicinity, or perhaps persuade them to drop the habit.
2. Having unprotected sex
The risks of unprotected sex far outweigh the rewards. From the mildly embarrassing hazards like contracting a curable sexually transmitted infection (STI); to life changing risks such as pregnancy and more so HIV and other incurable STDs, the decision not to practice safe sex could cost you your life.
We have been well sensitised to the risks of unprotected sex, yet scores of people still make the unwise decision to do so. Medical advances have made it possible for people to manage STIs such as HIV and herpes; the concern lies with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the number one cause of cervical cancer among women.
“Infection with HPV is as common as catching a cold. 80 per cent of women – and 50 per cent of men and women combined – will get a type of genital HPV at some point in their lives,” reads a report from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The male carries the virus and spreads it from partner to partner. “HPV is spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. In later stages warts develop and these are visible,” says Dr Erulu. “Protection is byway of using condoms however, it is not safe if the virus is found on area not covered by the condom.”
Make the life saving decision to have safe sex, even with a trusted partner. To mitigate the risks of HPV, professionals recommend women to have regular pap smears and get vaccinated against the virus.
3. Not seeing a doctor over a cough
Ignoring symptoms of illness such as a cough or fever could be life threatening. A recent campaign by the National Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Program (NTLD) urged Kenyans to pay attention to symptoms of TB through the slogan ‘Is that cough TB?’
Through the campaign, the NTLD aimed at sensitising Kenyans to the prevalence of TB and how easy it is to spread the disease; as well as advocating for TB testing, even with the smallest of symptoms.
Diseases such as TB, Malaria and HIV cause 32% of the burden of ill health in Africa, and seriously impact on health outcomes in every region of the world, according to WHO.
“A simple cough ignored could easily lead to pneumonia or even TB. Same for a fever, many people with a fever always think that they have malaria yet there are many types of infections which cause fever hence the importance of visiting a doctor and doing lab tests,” advises Dr Erulu.
One should be conscious about their health and get tested for these diseases, even when symptoms seem insignificant.
4. Taking antibiotics not prescribed by a doctor
We have all self-medicated at one point or another – whether it was treating a headache with paracetamol, or searching for medical advice on the internet – it is a common practice the world over, however it can pose a threat if used irresponsibly. WHO does not consider self-medication as a bad practice as long as it is “responsible”. WHO defines responsible self-medication as the practice where a person can treat their illnesses with medicines that don’t require a medical prescription to be sold.
The main advantage of self-medicating is reduced medical costs as one does not have to visit the doctor every time one falls ill. However, one must be very careful with taking prescription drugs and antibiotics.
“If you self medicate you may not know what you are actually treating, and make the matter worse,” says Erulu.
Medical professionals say self-medication can also lead to allergies, poisoning and interaction with other medicines, drugs and food. Also, by self-medicating, the patient could mask symptoms and prevent the doctor from doing a correct diagnosis on time if the health problem gets worst.
According to Erulu, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance. Unfinished doses and the later use of these leftovers to treat what people think could be a bacterial infection, is very dangerous.
According to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, a US based organisation, as antibiotics become more widely used, resistant strains of both harmful and harmless bacteria are replacing antibiotic susceptible bacteria.
Research from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says, antibiotic resistance is a major threat to global public health; and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the widespread misuse of antibiotics.
5. Not looking out for food allergies
Sometimes the choices we make can also affect others. When preparing food for children, family and friends, we may not know how it could affect them. According to nutrition experts, there are over 160 known allergen producing foods.
Food allergies can be life threatening. Just one bite can cause adverse symptoms such as rashes, irritable bowels and even anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that affects the entire body and can cause death. The more serious allergens can cause swelling and obstruction of the airways that require emergency medical attention.
The Food Allergy Research and Education Network ascertains that there are eight common food allergens, including milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
As with most allergies, avoidance is the key; if you have food allergies, make sure to read all labels for foods and products that may contain any type or amount of any of the eight common allergen producing foods. Even when preparing food for others, don’t be afraid to ask questions about whatever allergies they may have.
It is important to be knowledgeable about these allergens even if you don’t have a food allergy, especially when preparing food for others.
Anything in excess is not good for our well being. As a rule of thumb, one should eat and do everything in moderation, while making holistic choices for better health.