For more years than I can remember certain seasons have been a struggle with congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies. Only recently did I brave a visit to an allergist and discover many reactions to a variety of common allergens: grass and tree pollen, molds, dust, and much more. Now I had an explanation for why I can be sniffly all year, but much worse in the spring and fall when certain allergens temporarily explode into activity.

I had been self-medicating with over the counter drugs, but the allergist has been very helpful in trying some stronger prescriptions and experimenting with a regiment to provide more relief. I’ve learned about medications, nasal sprays, and even eye drops (I don’t do eye drops – no, I really don’t, just ask my husband). Part of the process is just trying out medications to see what works for me.

Knowing what allergens spike reactions can be helpful, but they are nearly impossible for me to avoid. The doctor also shared information about cleaning and methods to minimize allergens indoors. Hopefully, managing my exposure at home will help me to feel better and get through the worst weeks of the year.

Another treatment I’m considering is supposed to have longer-term effects: allergy shots. They work to calm down the immune response to allergens that causes the uncomfortable symptoms like sneezing and congestion. The series starts more frequently and in time can be spaced out until the allergic reactions stop or are minimized.

One of the questions I’ve been pondering is if my allergies have a relationship to my rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Both are autoimmune-related diseases with RA attacking the joints and allergies attacking my sinuses (or so it seems). While my research hasn’t revealed a connection confirmed with research, I can’t help but wonder. It makes sense to me that my aggressive RA would be linked to strong allergies.

In the meantime, I visit my doctors and pursue treatment for each condition. Seeing the allergist has been very revealing for me to understand the discomfort of allergies and what I can do to feel better. I may never know why I have these allergies, or RA for that matter, but it’s good to be on a path to treat and hopefully better manage my health.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.


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Nutrition Label with circle CUYou love your child more than anything in the world. You want him or her to be happy and healthy. You have a pretty open relationship and can talk about almost anything. But when it comes to talking about weight with kids who are obese or on their way to being overweight, most parents are at a loss. They clam up and let the problem continue to get worse rather than confront the “Fat” issue, because it is such a loaded and complicated subject.

Most children are already self-conscious and sensitive about their weight and may be teased about it at school. Parents are often afraid they might compound the problem if they acknowledge a weight issue. Will my child develop anorexia if I mention her overeating? What if he thinks I don’t love him as much because he’s overweight? Is she overeating because of depression or some other problem?

Some ways to approach a touchy subject

So . . . how can parents bring up this difficult subject without hurting, alienating or making their child feel defensive? Here are some ideas:

Ask for help from your pediatrician. He or she has experience with this and can be neutral and bring up the topic of weight as a health factor, mentioning that the child has gone over the “healthy weight” line and that there are health risks involved. Talking about health, rather than social or cosmetic factors, can open the door to conversations about a healthy lifestyle and how important it is to overall well-being. You can continue the conversation by substituting healthy choices for fattening snacks and letting your child help with food shopping and preparation at home.

Put the focus on yourself. “Wow! Spring is just around the corner and I’ve really packed on some pounds this winter. Do you want to start an exercise program with me? Let’s try to lose some weight before summer.” Find an exercise you both enjoy and then be a partner rather than a superior. You can show, by your example, that regular exercise makes you feel better. You could even make it a family project.

Talk! Once the cat is out of the bag, it might be easier to address your child’s feelings about food. What is he feeling when he overeats? What is bothering her? Try to help them develop other ways to cope with their feelings and get them involved with activities they like rather than turning to food for comfort. Most of all, tell your child that you love them, no matter what.

Avoid isolation

Some kids with weight problems are treated differently by their peers. Encourage friendships; spend time together and let them know you have confidence in their ability to get healthy.

Depression and anxiety – when should you worry?

How do you know if depression is causing your child’s weight gain, or if weight gain is causing her depression? It can be a vicious cycle that’s hard to interpret. Emotional ups and downs are a normal part of growing up and all children will experience some degree of anxiety from time to time. But today’s social pressures are tough, and anxiety disorders and depression can lead to many devastating problems including suicidal thoughts and substance abuse. If you suspect serious depression or an eating disorder, consider consulting with a professional. Howard County Mental Health Authority ( and National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Howard County ( are good resources for finding local mental health professionals.

To learn more, watch the HCGH Wellness seminar, “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight,” at, presented by:

Edisa Padder, M.D., Pediatrician
Robin Toler, M.D., Psychiatrist
Ashli Greenwald, Dietitian
Suzie Jeffreys, Exercise Specialist

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A friend I’ve had since college and I always talked about how we were finally going to be “cool” when we were in our 40s. We have always been a bit geeky and weird and certainly a little on the fringes. In our 20s and 30s this didn’t win us any popularity contests (and, if truth be told, by the time we hit our mid-20s, we didn’t really care anymore). But we continued to joke that when we hit our 40s, we’d really have our acts together. We’d be fit, poised, and prized for our “unique sensibilities.”

Well, we’re there now, and we aren’t any of those things (well, we are prized by the people who love us). We’re not completely surprised by this lack of celebrity. We kind of knew forty-somethings weren’t where people usually looked to find trendsetters and rock stars. We are a little disappointed that we’re not in better shape, but really only have ourselves to blame for that. But the last thing we expected was to be almost invisible. Society doesn’t exactly seem to embrace women of our age, especially if we don’t look half as young as we actually are.

I know, I know, I’m sounding whiny and self-pitying (a far cry from poised and cool). But I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, mainly because I feel like I’m having to find greater balance between some of the most important and stressful things I’ve ever done in my life. Well, there’s not a lot I can do about some of the societal perils of my age, but I can probably do some things so I at least feel a bit better about myself physically and mentally. Some new help on that front may be available for me (and anyone else, 40 or not) from Dr. Pamela Peeke.

Dr. Peeke is an expert on nutrition, stress, fitness, and public health, but she mainly caught my attention with the book entitled Fight Fat After Forty: The Revolutionary Three-Pronged Approach that Will Break Your Stress-Fat Cycle and Make You Healthy, Fit, and Trim for Life. How could I not be drawn to that title? Now, Dr. Peek doesn’t just limit herself to the 40+ crowd of the world. She recently published The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery for Overeating and Food Addiction. She also has written Body-for-LIFE for Women: A Woman’s Plan for Physical and Mental Transformation; and Fit to Live: The 5-Point Plan to be Lean, Strong & Fearless for Life.







.And, if you’re still curious about what Dr. Peeke can teach us, she’s coming to HCLS. She’s visiting June 9, 7 p.m. at the Miller Branch. Registration for the event opens on May 2. I think with some of Dr. Peeke’s help, I may able to turn into that cool forty-something yet!

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.


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calendar_2014smApril 5, 10-11:30 a.m. Together We Thrive. Held the first Saturday of each month this patient support group is for men and women diagnosed with cancer. Participants can share, explore and be encouraged in a safe environment. Registration required. Facilitated by Mary Dowling, LCSW-C. (410) 740-5858 for more information. Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia MD. Call 410-740-5858 for more information.

April 7, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital. Well & Wise event. No registration required.

April 7, 6:30 p.m. Move with Games at Elkridge Branch. Exercise while competing with your friends on the Wii or XBox Kinect. Healthy snack provided. Ages 11-17. No registration required.

April 7, 7:00 p.m. Guided Meditation at Miller Branch. Enjoy a guided mindfulness meditation designed to impart a feeling of peacefulness and connection. Please bring a cushion or meditation pillow. Presented by Star Ferguson, M.Ac., L.Ac. Well & Wise event. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

April 8, 7-9:00 p.m.  Maybe Baby: Health Issues to Consider before Pregnancy. Are you considering starting a family?  If so, there are important choices to consider! Topics discussed during this free class will include information about the changes that will occur to your lifestyle, the importance of parent wellness, health care matters, and emotional, physical, environmental and social considerations. Presented by Dana Baras, M.D. Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center, 10710 Charter Drive Columbia, MD.

April 8, 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Elkridge Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital. Well & Wise event. No registration required.

April 9, 2:00 p.m. Compiling Your Medical Family History at Miller Branch. Learn the first steps to preserve this potentially life-saving history. Presented by Dottie Aleshire, member of the Howard County Genealogical Society and instructor at Howard Community College and the Family History Center in Ellicott City. Cosponsored by Howard County Genealogical Society. A “History Lives” event. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

April 10, 5:30-9:00 p.m.  Adult/Child/Infant CPR and AED. Learn the skills needed to clear an airway obstruction, perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Earn a two-year American Heart Association completion card. This is not a health care provider course. $55. Howard County General Hospital Wellness Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia, MD.

April 12, 10:00 a.m.- noon. Care Giver’s Support Group. Meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 3:30 p.m. or the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m.- noon. Registration is required.  Claudia Mayer/Tina Broccolino Cancer Resource Center, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia MD. Call 410-740-5858 for more information


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A lot of up to date medical information can be found using the Internet. Since one search in Google can yield thousands of results, how do you sort out which information to make use of?

“You should approach finding medical information on the Internet the same way you would approach buying a nonfiction book…do the authors come from reputable institutions? Do they have the proper credentials? Was it published recently?” says McMaster’s Flemming, who conducts seminars and workshops on Internet health issues. [1]

In general, health and medical information websites sponsored by the U.S. government, not-for-profit health or medical organizations, and university medical centers are the most reliable resources. [2]

If you do make use of a commercial site, look to see if it has a HONcode seal (pictured above).

Okay, what exactly is a HONcode? HON stands for “Health on the Net.”

The Health On the Net Foundation (HON) is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of the foundation is to advance the development and application of new information technologies, notably in the fields of health and medicine. [3]

Where does the “code” part come in? The HONcode is a checklist of eight principles Internet users should apply to any site posting medical information. Prime among them: information must be provided by qualified professionals, and it has to be designed to support, not replace, the relationship between doctor and patient. [1] Compliant sites are identified by the blue-and-red HONcode hyperlink seal displayed in a prominent location.

So, before you spend too much time on any site offering medical information, make sure to follow these guidelines:

Identify the sources: Read the “About Us” section on the website you visit and notice the dates of the information to make sure content is current.

Look at the HONcode: The Health On the Net Foundation requires that medical sites meet a certain level of authoritative and credibility standards. Approved sites display a HONcode seal acknowledging their certification.

Always call your doctor: Medical sites can be helpful and educational, but you’ll always want to refer to your child’s doctor for any medical diagnosis or treatment.

[1] McClelland S. Users beware. Maclean’s [serial online]. June 21, 1999;112(25):58. Available from: MasterFILE Premier, Ipswich, MA.
[2] Miller, J. (2013, Aug 18). Savvy senior: How to find the best medical information online. Capital. Retrieved from
[3] (2000, Feb 03). PR Newswire. Retrieved from

Teresa Rhoades worked at the Central Branch from 2004-2005. During the next two years, she moved out of state and completed a degree in Library & Information Studies. She is currently the Assistant Branch Manager for the East Columbia Branch. She spends much of her spare time being walked by her dog, an extremely energetic German Short-haired pointer.


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While driving down Cedar Lane on the first warm day during our long winter, I saw kids outside playing and biking. It warmed my heart! It was great to see



folks getting some fresh air and exercise.

As an exercise physiologist with the HCGH Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, I see the long-term effects of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that are made worse by excess weight. It’s especially worrisome to see so many kids struggling with their weight, because childhood obesity is a precursor to many health problems that will follow them into adulthood.

Here’s some advice to help get kids started with regular exercise:

Start with what they know.

A good way to start is to have the child perform exercises that they’ve done in gym class and see how many pushups or crunches they can do in a minute, how long they can hold a plank or how many times they can run around the track. Record the results and use this as a baseline to track progress. If your child is not an athlete, pushing sports – especially team sports – may be a turn off.

Set achievable goals.

For teens, find out what they want to get out of an exercise program. Do they want to lose weight? Build muscle? Have more energy? Or, just want to become more fit? Help them to set goals they can meet. Set a timeframe to re-evaluate progress; e.g., every two weeks or once a month, and then set new goals.

For children through “tweens,” build in rewards. Suggest that you’ll walk or bike around the lake or neighborhood and then stop at the playground for free time. Invite their friends to come along.

Once a regular routine has been established for two to three months, mix it up. Inspire them to try new activities – dance class, rock-wall climbing, kayaking. Find out what motivates them and use it – friends, competition or keeping logs to see progress. Keep them motivated.

Start out simple and slow.

Kids are still growing, so you need to be careful to prevent injury and build strength and endurance over time.

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    the impact on joints. Cycling, swimming, biking, martial arts and tennis are good exercises.

  • Use low weights, building with higher repetition and resistance bands to help increase strength.
  • Stability balls are great and inexpensive tools.
  • Set your kids up for success. If they are completely new to exercise, just starting to move is a great beginning. Running is a tough way to start if the child isn’t fit.
  • Start with exercise that is challenging, but not too difficult. A little discomfort is okay; a lot of pain is not.
  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise. For most kids, the ultimate goal should be 60 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Do a combination of cardio, strength and flexibility exercises.
  • Don’t encourage crash diets or extreme exercise. These can be discouraging and impossible to stick with.

As fitness increases, consider new activities.

  • Get Active/Stay Active Howard County has a variety of programs that allow kids to try out new activities without committing to long-term, expensive programs. Visit County Striders is a great opportunity to run and walk with other kids at a variety of fitness levels. Visit
  • Girls on the Run is an after-school running program. Visit
  • Visit the Howard County Recreation and Parks site for a full list of affordable and accessible facilities at
  • Team sports through community leagues or school.

Get educated about exercise.

Teach good form for all exercises to avoid injury and maximize benefit. If you are not familiar with an exercise, get help from a professional. Online tools and apps track activity, calories and goals. Exercise should be a life-long goal, not a temporary hobby.

Support them.

You can’t exercise for them, but you can be a great source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. Let your child or teenager know you are in this together and that exercise is as important for you as it is for them. By exercising with them, you can set a great example and get your child on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Make sure your child knows exercise is not about the way they look. They need to feel loved and accepted, not criticized. Exercise should be a way of life, not something that has to be forced. Build the healthy habit!

For more information about encouraging a healthy lifestyle for your children, see this presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight.”

Suzie Jeffreys is an exercise physiologist with the Howard County General Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Click here for a presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight,” featuring Suzie Jeffreys.

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Linger, even for one chapter in this massive book, and you will soon find yourself caught up in psychiatrist and National Book Award winner, Andrew Solomon’s comprehensive (albeit eloquent) and tender tribute to the myriad parents of “horizontal” offspring — that is, dwarfs, transgenders, schizophrenics, prodigies, those who commit criminal acts, and more.

Solomon’s all-embracing assertion (as a homosexual, and therefore, a horizontal child himself) is that the parents of such children, along with the children themselves, deserve voice and a raison d’etre. Even the ones certain to be defined as bad parents are given voice: Is it hard or easy to love a child that society has deemed imperfect? Does bearing a child with supreme challenges take us to the edge of an awful precipice? Or does it make us, as one mother says, “Deeper for it?”

Sue Klebold, mother of one of the two teens who committed the Columbine massacre, divested her soul to Solomon when the question was asked if it would have been better had her son never been born.

“I believe,” she said, “it would not have been better for me.”

Far From The Tree is the Camino Trail of epic reads. Take the journey anyway — if not for the privilege to walk in the shoes of some of the most diverse parents and children you will ever meet.

Aimee Zuccarini is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the East Columbia Branch. She facilitates several book discussions and writes the book reviews for The Maryland Women’s Journal.


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