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What’s The Difference Between The New COVID-19 Variants?

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Emerging COVID-19 variants have dominated international headlines in recent months. This highlights a reality that has been clear to physicians and researchers well versed in viruses, but not necessarily to the rest of us: SARS-CoV-2 has been mutating since the pandemic began.

While media reports sometimes use words like “mutation,” “strain” and “variants” interchangeably, there are differences.

“Mutations are changes that are basically typos that occur in the genome of the virus as it makes copies of itself and moves from person to person,” explained Pavitra Roychoudhury, a coronavirus genetics expert and instructor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“Variants we define as a particular version of the virus that has a specific combination of mutations across its genome,” Roychoudhury continued. “A variant becomes a variant of concern when we start to see it rising in frequency over the population, over a period of time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are now tracking three variants of concern (though the virus is evolving constantly and these are not the only ones): The variant first discovered in the U.K., the variant first discovered in South Africa, and the one found in Brazil.

Here’s a basic breakdown on what we know so far about how these variants compare with each other ― as well as with the original version of the coronavirus:

The original SARS-CoV-2

How long it has been circulating: In January 2020, the WHO announced a mysterious coronavirus-like pneumonia was circulating in Wuhan, China. About one month later, WHO gave an official name to both the virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19). Reports now suggest the virus was circulating well before officials confirmed the earliest cases — perhaps since October 2019.

Countries where there have been reported cases: To date, there have been 110 million reported cases of COVID-19. Only a handful of countries around the world have no reported cases, though some of those claims have been questioned.

What we know about it: Most of the information researchers have about COVID-19 to date is based on the original virus.

Vaccine effectiveness: The Pfizer shot is 95% effective against symptomatic disease. The Moderna shot is 94.5% effective.

Among the vaccines not currently available in the United States, the Novavax vaccine is 89.3% effective against symptomatic disease, Johnson & Johnson’s is 66% effective at preventing symptomatic disease and 85% at preventing severe disease, and Oxford/AstraZeneca is 70% effective against symptomatic disease.

Experts expected SARS-CoV-2 to mutate and spin off into new variants of the virus

B.1.1.7 (aka the U.K. variant)

How long it has been circulating: This variant was first identified in the U.K. during the fall.

Countries where there have been reported cases: B.1.1.7 has been identified in more than 80 countries to date. The United States had its first case on Dec. 30, and it has been detected in 42 states. Experts have predicted it will be the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.

What we know about it: This strain spreads more easily than other variants, which likely contributed to the surge in cases in the U.K. earlier this winter despite stay-at-home orders. “We know B.1.1.7 is more transmissible,” Roychoudhury said.

At first, health officials believed that B.1.1.7 was no more likely to cause severe illness or death than the original SARS-CoV-2. Now, however, they are reassessing and believe it may be more lethal than the original strain — though at this point no large-scale epidemiological studies back that hypothesis. It may appear more deadly because more infections ultimately can lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

“There is some emerging data on whether it causes more severe disease,” Roychoudhury said. “But consensus has not been broadly reached on that.”

Vaccine effectiveness: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both appear to protect well against B.1.1.7 (and both companies are working on boosters to address current and future mutations).

The Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines all appear to protect against B.1.1.7 pretty well.

B.1.351 (aka the South Africa variant)

How long it has been circulating: The B.1.351 variant was first identified in South Africa in October.

Countries where there have been reported cases: The strain has been identified in 24 countries to date, and was first detected in the United States in January. Ten states have reported cases.

What we know about it: This variant shares certain mutations with the strain found in the U.K., and it appears to be 50% more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus. However, there is no data at this point to suggest it is more likely to cause severe illness or death.

Experts are paying particularly close attention to B.1.351, because clinical trials suggest the vaccines that are currently available or in development may not be as effective at protecting against it as they are against other strains.

There is also some preliminary evidence that certain treatments may not work as well. “The monoclonal antibodies that we use as treatment may be less effective against this,” said Edgar Sanchez, an infectious disease expert at Orlando Health.

Vaccine effectiveness: Early data suggests the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines may be less effective against B.1.351, but both still offer good protection. And a small but promising clinical trial found that Pfizer’s vaccine can effectively neutralize the variant.

The Novavax shot appears to be around 60% effective against the variant. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 57% effective, based on current data. There is not enough data yet on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to say. While discouraging, these levels of protection are still better than nothing.

Experts recommend double-masking to help reduce your risk against new COVID-19 variants.

Experts recommend double-masking to help reduce your risk against new COVID-19 variants.

P.1 (aka the Brazil variant)

How long it has been circulating: The P.1 variant was first reported in Japan in four travelers from Brazil and it is believed it may have begun circulating in Brazil around October.

Countries where there have been reported cases: The U.S., Japan, Brazil and a handful of other countries. The U.S. has had reported cases in two states: Minnesota and Oklahoma.

What we know about it: Of the three variants of concern, researchers probably know the least about this one.

Emerging evidence suggests that some of its mutations may impact how transmissible it is, and that those mutations may also affect the antibodies produced from an earlier COVID-19 infection. In other words, it’s unclear whether immunity against the original virus protects people from this variant ― which raises concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 reinfection.

Vaccine effectiveness: At this point, there isn’t much information on how the vaccines stack up against P.1.

What does all of this mean for me?

Even though variants are dominating the headlines, the news doesn’t mean much in the everyday struggle to control the pandemic.

“On a day to day basis, as a physician seeing patients, I don’t really care what variant they have,” said Sanchez. “It doesn’t really change much, especially because we don’t sequence the virus for every patient.”

Experts advise people to get whatever COVID-19 vaccine they can, whenever it’s available to them, rather than holding out for one they believe might be more effective against certain variants.

In the meantime, experts emphasized that the same preventive strategies against COVID-19 work against all the variants: wearing a mask (you should probably double up!), maintaining social distance and washing your hands.

“It’s terrifying when you hear there’s a variant, that’s totally understandable. … But I think we should bring people back to the reminder that the only way to prevent variants from arising is by reducing the number of cases overall, and reducing transmission and reducing the opportunities that you’re giving this virus to accumulate these mutations,” Roychoudhury said.

And because some new variants appear to be more contagious, they are likely to fuel more new cases — which will ultimately lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

“For the public, the big lesson is: It’s not over. We’re not done yet,” said Sanchez. “But we’re getting there.”

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.



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Thanks To The Pandemic, You’re Now More Prone To These 7 Eye Issues

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Add the amount of time you spend at home to your time spent in front of a screen. Multiply that by the number of hours you wear a mask every day. Then subtract the pre-pandemic stress relief methods no longer at your disposal, and what do you get? According to eye care providers, an influx of eye conditions.

It turns out the particular combination of pandemic-fueled lifestyle changes we’ve had to make are putting increased strain on our eyes, while pandemic restrictions are leaving us short of ways to reduce the pressure we’re putting on them. Cue ocular drama.

But even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms or your scratchy eyes can easily be remedied with the occasional eye drop, one thing you should keep on the books despite restrictions is your annual eye exam.

“The reality is eye doctors’ offices are very hygienic and people shouldn’t be fearful to have their eyes checked,” said Brian Boxer Wachler, a Beverly Hills board-certified ophthalmologist. “Older people especially are at higher risk of glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts, which are ‘silent’ robbers of vision, and eye exams can detect these in early stages.”

Take note of the following eye conditions you’re more prone to thanks to the pandemic, and check in with your eye care provider right away if any of the following conditions and symptoms sound (look?) familiar.

Nearsightedness

In the last year, we’ve spent an increased, and continuous, amount of time in front of a computer screen with infrequent breaks — and even when we do take breaks, we often spend them looking at other screens (phones, tablets, televisions).

“All of this screen time can contribute to myopia [i.e., nearsightedness], since people aren’t getting enough time to relax their vision or look into the distance,” said Juanita Collier, a Connecticut-based behavioral optometrist. “And because we’re spending much more time inside, our bodies aren’t getting that important daily dose of vitamin D, which has been shown to decrease the progression of nearsightedness.”

The easiest way to slow the progression of myopia is to take frequent breaks from your screens and follow the 20/20/20 rule: “Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to focus your eyes on something 20 feet away,” Collier said. (Set an alarm if you have to.)

To boost vitamin D, Collier suggested going for walks and taking your conference calls outside whenever possible, and have your kids play outside year-round too. About 15 to 20 minutes in the sun three times a week will probably do the trick, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

And when the weather outside is frightful, you can focus on getting enough vitamin D through a combination of foods (milk, eggs, salmon, fortified breakfast cereals) and supplements — the National Institutes of Health recommends a daily vitamin D intake of 600 international units for adults. Just be sure to chat with your doctor first before taking any new vitamins.

Mask-wearing (which is essential!) can contribute to dry eyes.

Dry Eye

There are two types of dry eye to combat thanks to the pandemic: computer- and mask-induced. Intensely focusing on a digital screen reduces the normal blink rate by 30%, said Boxer Wachler, so eyes are open longer and are more prone to dryness.

Mask use is also causing an uptick in dry eye, especially in health care providers and essential workers, who are wearing masks close to 40 hours per week (if not more).

“The frequency of mask use is correlated to an increase in dry eye disease due to the constant flow of exhaled air on the exposed eyes,” said Rocio C. Pasion, a board-certified optometrist at Siepser Eyecare in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Common symptoms may include stinging, burning, watery eyes, light sensitivity and blurred vision. “To help maintain a stable tear film, remember to not only increase the frequency of blinks, but also make sure a more forceful, complete blink is done during computer work,” Pasion said. (The 20/20/20 rule can really come in handy here too.)

Make sure to replenish the oil layer of tear film by using preservative-free lipid-based tear supplements, “especially during heightened use of computer and digital devices,” Pasion added.

Increasing water consumption and decreasing caffeine intake can also be helpful, as too much caffeine can dehydrate and contribute to loss of tear volume. Additionally, “the omega-3s found in fish oil are excellent at reducing inflammation — a major cause of dry eye — and taking a fish oil supplement at night can help to reduce dry eye inflammation,” Collier said.

As for mask-induced dry eye, experts recommend wearing a mask with a pliable nose wire and molding it to prevent air from being directed toward the eyes, as well as taking a break every few hours from mask-wearing to allow the eyes to recover and apply eye drops.

“For people who are still symptomatic despite following guidelines, consulting with a dry eye specialist is recommended,” Pasion said. “More advanced diagnostic evaluations and treatments ― such as prescription medications ― can be very beneficial for patients with inflammatory dry eye conditions.”

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer vision syndrome describes a group of eye- and vision-related problems that are a result of prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and phone use — and the more time you spend in front of screens, the more you’re at risk of developing symptoms.

This is because digital screens make the eyes work harder. Things like letters that aren’t as sharply defined, words and backgrounds that don’t have enough contrast between them, and glare and reflections on the screen can all make viewing trickier.

We also have a tendency to look at screens from varying distances and odd angles, especially when wearing glasses that aren’t designed for looking at a screen or sitting in contorted positions when we’re vegging out, which put more demands on our eyesight.

“Common symptoms include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision and dry eyes,” Collier said. “The extent of an individual’s visual symptoms often depends on their level of visual abilities and the amount of time spent looking at a digital screen.” Symptoms usually decline after halting digital device use, but some people may experience a continued reduction in visual abilities even after stopping.

Frequent screen-time breaks are absolutely necessary, Collier noted. Along with the 20/20/20 rule and stepping up your blinking, using screen glare filters and switching up your tasks so that computer work is broken up (say, by phone calls or errands) can also make it easier to get your computer work done with as few symptoms as possible.

If you need to see a doctor for this issue, be sure to find one that specializes in functional vision, like a behavioral optometrist who specifically tests for computer vision syndrome, as it isn’t part of a routine eye exam. They’ll also evaluate if computer glasses designed to address this specific issue are necessary, Collier said.

Giving your eyes a break from your screen every 20 minutes can help reduce any issues.

Giving your eyes a break from your screen every 20 minutes can help reduce any issues.

Convergence Insufficiency

Convergence insufficiency is a common vision dysfunction characterized by the eyes’ inability to turn in, or converge, during prolonged near-work (like reading). Rather, the eyes have a tendency to drift outward.

“Patients with CI tend to report blurry vision, double vision, eyestrain, headaches or an inability to concentrate during prolonged near-work,” Collier said. “For example, they’ll read a page in a book, get to the end, and have no idea what they read.”

These symptoms are exacerbated even more on a computer screen or tablet, due to our penchant for blinking less when using backlit devices.

When your eyes are feeling tired, do some pencil push-ups: “Hold a pencil 12 inches away from your nose, and slowly bring it toward your nose while keeping the pencil tip single as close as you can ― ideally, all the way to your nose,” Collier said. “Do 10 reps every hour to both get your eyes working together again and give them a break from the screen.”

Blepharitis

If your hygiene’s taken a bit of a nosedive since the pandemic started (whose hasn’t?), the pile-up of shedded skin cells and debris from your environment can get caught up in your eyelashes and cause blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids.

“If you don’t clean your eyelashes well, this debris can build up and create a breeding ground for bacteria,” said Collier, who recommended washing your eyelids daily with a gentle lid scrub to clear away debris and keep oil glands from clogging. Frequently washing your scalp and face is another easy way to do your eyelids a solid.

Check in with your eye doctor if you’re experiencing reddened eyelid margins, swelling, soreness and dry eye symptoms, such as burning, stinging and light sensitivity. Because blepharitis is often secondary to other skin conditions or allergies, an accurate diagnosis can be helpful in keeping it under control.

Other lifestyle factors like stress can also take a toll on your eyes.

Other lifestyle factors like stress can also take a toll on your eyes.

Eye Injuries And Abrasions

Many people are using the lockdown to complete projects around their homes. And these may “have resulted in more ocular injuries,” Pasion said. “Both corneal abrasions (a scratch on the cornea) and corneal foreign bodies (debris trapped in the eye) may induce eye pain, tearing, discomfort, sensitivity to light and blurred vision.”

To prevent ocular injury, Pasion recommended wearing safety goggles when completing house projects. If it’s too late for that and rinsing your eye out with clean water or a saline solution doesn’t make a difference, your eye doctor can help you figure out the best course of action — from wearing an eye patch to using antibiotic eye drops to removing debris that’s embedded in the eye.

Central Serous Chorioretinopathy

Central serous chorioretinopathy is a buildup of fluid under the retina that causes vision impairments. The condition affects adults approximately 25 to 50 years old, with men affected more frequently than women. The most prominent risk factor of CSC? Extreme stress.

CSC usually only affects one eye at a time, but it is possible for both eyes to be affected simultaneously. “Patients may present with significant blurred vision centrally, dark spots and distortion of vision as compared to the unaffected eye,” Pasion said.

There’s usually no treatment for CSC, other than trying to manage your stress (meditating, exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, breaking away from stressors for R&R), Collier said. But you should still get it checked out to ensure you’re correctly diagnosed and it’s not something more serious, such as a macular hole. (The macula, found in the center of the retina, is what provides sharp, central vision for things like reading and driving.)



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When Should You Get A COVID-19 Test Once You’re Vaccinated?

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Throughout the pandemic, health officials have advised us that one of the best ways to blunt the spread of COVID-19 is to test early and test often.

We’ve been encouraged to get tested after being exposed to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. We got tested during quarantines, before and after travel, and leading up to interactions with others.

But the role of testing changes drastically for people who’ve been vaccinated, and many are left wondering: Is this type of testing still necessary after receiving the shot?

In general, vaccinated people don’t need to get tested unless they have symptoms of COVID-19. The chance of contracting the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated is very rare. Furthermore, positive tests in vaccinated people who are asymptomatic could be misleading — viral loads in people with breakthrough infections tend to be very low, which suggests they probably aren’t contagious.

Still, given all the uncertainty, some infectious disease doctors say there may be certain situations in which a vaccinated person will want to go ahead and get tested.

Here’s what to know about getting tested after you’ve been vaccinated:

Get tested if you have symptoms.

“The only time you should be tested after being fully vaccinated against COVID is if you develop symptoms consistent with COVID,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in Baltimore and an infectious disease expert. This includes a fever, cough, shortness of breath and muscle aches or chills.

This is consistent with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if you were directly exposed to someone with COVID, you don’t need to get tested as long as you don’t have symptoms, according to the guidelines.

And get a test if it’s required for travel or entry somewhere.

You can now travel domestically without worrying about testing and quarantining, but if you plan to travel internationally, you may have to take a pre-entry test and then another a few days before flying back to the U.S. There may also be certain businesses, cruises or entertainment venues that require customers to get tested, in which case, go ahead and take it.

People living or working in congregate settings may also need to abide by stricter testing rules.

You don’t need to get tested if you were exposed.

It’s pretty unlikely that a vaccinated person will become infected and extremely rare they’d be hospitalized or die. Recent data shows the risk of getting infected after vaccination is 0.008% (which includes asymptomatic and mild cases).

Even if a vaccinated person were to get infected, the chances of them transmitting it to others is slim. Multiple studies have shown that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections have very low viral loads that are “not necessarily likely to be contagious to others,” Adalja said.

Data suggests that the higher a person’s viral load is, the more infectious they are. Because of all this evidence, vaccinated people who were exposed to someone with COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms are no longer required to get tested.

According to Adalja, there’s also a chance a positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in symptomless vaccinated people could be misleading. PCR tests are sensitive and can pick up on small amounts of the coronavirus in vaccinated people who might be clearing out the virus but aren’t infectious.

Some experts recommend going for a rapid antigen test, which is less sensitive than a PCR test, if you’ve been vaccinated. “I would recommend an antigen test and if it is negative stop [getting tested]. A positive antigen test should be followed by a PCR test to make sure that the antigen test is not a false positive, which it likely could be in a fully vaccinated person,” Adalja said.

If the PCR test also comes back positive, it could be a breakthrough infection. Adalja recommends talking to your doctor and having the sample sequenced to see if it’s a variant of the virus.

Your risk of a COVID-19 infection is very low once you’re vaccinated.

There may be other special cases in which a test might make sense.

Though vaccinated people are well protected against COVID-19, there may be certain situations in which a test might be warranted — i.e., if you were knowingly exposed to someone with COVID-19 and plan to visit a high-risk relative or unvaccinated friend.

The vaccines, though incredibly effective, aren’t 100%, and there will be rare breakthrough infections, said Anne Liu, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California. In general, vaccinated people shouldn’t be discouraged from getting tested. Getting tested in these sorts of gray-area situations isn’t required, but it might be the most prudent thing to do, according to Liu.

Some elderly and immunocompromised people might not respond well to the vaccine. “They’re still at much higher risk for getting the virus than [most] people who are fully vaccinated,” Liu said, adding that there’s a lot of virus out there, and many people are unvaccinated and remain at risk for COVID-19.

Adalja, on the other hand, said even in these sorts of scenarios there’s no real need for a test as long as you’re asymptomatic, given that the risk of contracting and spreading the infection after vaccination is so rare. “I would not recommend it.”

Ultimately, it’s your call. If getting tested will bring you peace of mind, go for it. It’s tough to make any sort of hard-and-fast rule about getting tested after vaccination in various situations since the coronavirus is still so widespread. Our knowledge and the guidance is changing so fast, and the more vaccinated our population becomes, the less necessary tests will be.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.



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What The New CDC Outdoor Face Mask Guidelines Mean For You

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If you’re fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask outside for the most part …

If you’re fully vaccinated — meaning it has been at least two weeks since you received the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or it has been two weeks since you got the Johnson & Johnson shot — then you “no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, except in certain crowded settings and venues,” the CDC now advises.

The CDC categorizes outdoor activities like walking, running or biking with members of your household as low-risk. The same goes for small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family members and friends.

That change in guidance around outdoor mask-wearing is rooted in the fact that, now, more than a year into the pandemic, scientists know much more about how the coronavirus spreads and where transmission risk is highest.

“We know that indoor transmission is probably about 20 times higher than outdoor transmission,” Dr. Jarod Fox, an infectious disease specialist and chairman of Orlando Health’s Infectious Disease Group, told HuffPost, pointing to a systematic review of several studies that measured rates of outdoor transmission.

“Less than 10% of global cases over the past year have been associated with outdoor exposure, so the vast majority of cases have been from some sort of indoor, close-proximity exposure,” Fox added. Fresh air helps move and disperse the droplets that spread the coronavirus, and UV light may also play a role.

Fox noted that the research looking at outdoor transmission was conducted before widespread vaccination. That means the transmission risk outdoors now is likely even lower, particularly in areas where a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated.

… But fully vaccinated people *do* still need to wear masks in crowded settings.

Although fully vaccinated people can participate in outdoor recreation without wearing a mask, you should absolutely wear one if you’re going to be in a crowded outdoor setting, the CDC says. That might include a live performance, a parade or any kind of sports event.

That is because even though “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 are extremely rare in those who have been fully vaccinated, they are possible. And in crowded settings, it’s difficult to maintain social distance, another key risk factor.



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How The COVID-19 Vaccine May Affect Your Period (And What To Do About It)

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The coronavirus vaccines have provided a glimmer of hope during this prolonged pandemic. Yet like most shots, they can cause mild to moderate side effects like fever, chills and muscle pain.

Recently, some vaccinated people reported late menstrual cycles and heavy periods. The initial vaccine trials did not track data on menstruation symptoms.

“Unfortunately, these period symptoms weren’t recorded during the vaccine trials, so we rely on post-release reporting to get that information,” Danielle Jones, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist based in Texas, told HuffPost. She added that many coronavirus survivors who menstruate reported similar symptoms.

“The COVID-19 vaccine should not permanently change or alter your menstrual cycle. If your symptoms last for more than a few cycles, talk to your health care provider.”

– Danielle Jones, board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist

Currently, there is no research that links heavy, irregular and painful periods to the coronavirus vaccines. Experts say it is hard to pinpoint what exactly causes these symptoms.

“Menstruation is a complex process, which can be influenced by many factors, such as environmental changes, stress, sleep and some medications,” Jones said.

She added that the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, is considered to be an active part of the immune system. “When your immune system is ramped up because you’re vaccinated or sick, you may experience changes in how the endometrium reacts.”

It wouldn’t be shocking if the vaccine affects menstruation somehow, but more data is needed to make a definitive conclusion. The good news is that any changes you experience in your menstrual cycle after getting the vaccine are temporary, so it shouldn’t be a reason not to get a shot.

“The COVID-19 vaccine should not permanently change or alter your menstrual cycle. If your symptoms last for more than a few cycles, talk to your health care provider,” Jones said.

Here’s what else you can do for relief from a heavy and painful menstrual cycle:

Take an over-the-counter supplement.

Some anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications can help. After receiving the shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking medicine such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin or antihistamines to reduce pain and discomfort — if you have no other medical reasons that prevent you from taking these medications normally.

Taking one of these medications may also help “alleviate the pain often associated with a heavier flow,” said Alexandria Reyes, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist at Magnolia Gynecology.

Apply heat by taking a warm bath or using a heating pad.

Heat therapy may ease menstrual cramps. A heating pad on your abdomen and lower back can be really comforting for painful cycles, Jones said.

Make sure you’re staying hydrated.

This is important when you get the vaccine, as side effects like a fever can dehydrate you. But water may also help decrease pain associated with heavier cycles. Drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids like tea or sparkling water. Most people need at least four to six cups of water a day.

Reduce your stress levels.

Psychological stress can impact the duration and flow of your period. Some healthy ways to lower your stress levels and improve overall mental health include exercise, mindfulness, getting a good night’s sleep and staying connected with loved ones.

Report your post-vaccine period symptoms.

If you do experience intense symptoms after your vaccine, submit a report via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). If you are over 18, have or have had menstrual cycles, and have taken at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, you are also eligible to take part in a recent survey launched by researchers at the University of Illinois. Whether you have had changes with your periods or not, this data will be immensely helpful in studying this side effect, Jones said.

Remember, if your symptoms persist for more than a few menstrual cycles after receiving the coronavirus vaccine, visit your health care provider.



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6 Signs You’re Dealing With ‘Hurry Sickness’ (And What To Do About It)

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Are you constantly racing to cross items off your to-do list, juggling several tasks at a time, and feeling like you’re behind schedule? Do you get agitated by any impediment, however small, that attempts to slow down your progress? Then you might be dealing with “hurry sickness.”

Hurry sickness is a behavior pattern (not a diagnosable condition) characterized by chronic rushing and anxiousness and an overwhelming, persistent sense of urgency — even when there’s no need to be moving so fast.

The term was coined by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman and popularized in their 1974 book, “Type A Behavior And Your Heart.” (At the time, they posited that people with Type A personalities were more prone to heart issues. The strength of that association was later called into question.)

Turns out, “hurry sickness” is a component of the broader Type A personality complex, according to John Schaubroeck, chair and professor of management at the University of Missouri’s Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business.

“If one is chronically in a hurry, one is also very likely to be highly driven to achieve small outcomes in the short term, to be competitive, and to be impatient with others,” he told HuffPost.

What Hurry Sickness Looks Like

Type A personalities tend to deal with “hurry sickness.”

1. You treat everything like a race.

Some situations do require us to move with haste — like when we need to meet an important work deadline or get to the airport on time for a flight. Others, however, do not. People with hurry sickness have trouble differentiating between when the hustle is necessary and when it isn’t.

“If you find yourself treating even small, everyday tasks like shopping, eating or driving as a race, and any delay causes feelings of anxiety, you might be dealing with hurry sickness,” said Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant based in the U.K.

2. You find it impossible to do just one task at a time.

When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, multitasking is your M.O.

In fact, focusing on just one task — even for a short time — feels unbearable to you. You’ll try to figure out what else you can squeeze in while you microwave your lunch or brush your teeth, for example, said Richard Jolly, an organizational consultant and adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

3. You get highly irritable when encountering a delay.

Standing in line at the bank, sitting in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment or getting stuck in traffic really gets your blood boiling.

“You get anxious and frustrated in traffic even if you do not need to arrive at your destination at a particular time,” Schaubroeck said.

Another sign? You’re the kind of person who presses the “close door” button in the elevator repeatedly. You’ll do anything to avoid wasting time, even if it makes you look kind of ridiculous.

“Half the time, those buttons aren’t even connected to anything but a light bulb — they’re what’s called a ‘mechanical placebo,’” Jolly previously told Fortune.com. “But even if they worked, how much time would they save? Five seconds?”

4. You feel perpetually behind schedule.

When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, there never seems to be enough hours in a day to accomplish what you need to do. And no matter how much you get done, you always feel like you’re playing catch-up.

5. You interrupt or talk over people.

Your impatience isn’t just limited to long lines and traffic jams — it spills over into your personal relationships, too. You may not intend to be rude, but you’ve been told that you have a habit of cutting people off mid-conversation.

“You frequently interrupt others when they speak, particularly if they speak slowly,” Schaubroeck said.

6. You’re obsessed with checking things off your to-do list.

You love the burst of satisfaction you get when you complete a task and get to cross it off your list. But that high doesn’t last long — you quickly move on to the next thing.

Moving at this fast pace doesn’t actually make you more productive. Instead, it makes you more prone to errors.

“[Hurry sickness] shows up as a hyperawareness of what you need to do, constantly playing over and over in your head,” Chambers told HuffPost. “This can be so overconsuming that you actually end up forgetting things or making mistakes because you’re rushing and thinking about the next task while doing your present one.”

How Living This Way Can Be Damaging Over Time

While this behavior pattern may feel productive, it can actually take a toll on several parts of your life.

While this behavior pattern may feel productive, it can actually take a toll on several parts of your life.

Moving through the world in a perpetually rushed state can have negative effects on your physical and mental well-being, your work, and your relationships.

For one, chronic stress can weaken your immune system and interfere with your sleep schedule and energy levels, Chambers said. The unrelenting feelings of urgency also make it difficult to stay focused, which may affect your work performance and mood.

“It impacts our behaviors, especially toward others and situations that delay us, resulting in feelings of failure, being irritable and hypersensitive and, at times, angry and frustrated,” Chambers said.

The need to accomplish more and more in less and less time diverts attention and emotional bandwidth away from the meaningful relationships in our lives.

“We lose patience with those we love who don’t move at the same speed, we are not present with them, and we struggle to be connected and empathetic, as emotional support for others is a time drain,” Chambers said. “This ultimately leads to loss of tempers, conflict and even breakups and fallouts.”

Advice On How To Deal With ‘Hurry Sickness’

Consider what’s truly time-sensitive and what can wait.

Treating every task like an emergency that must be handled ASAP is a recipe for chronic stress. Prioritize what actually needs to get done and move the other items to the back burner. Try thinking of time as more of a friend than an enemy, psychologist Michael Ashworth wrote for PsychCentral.com.

“Excessive time urgency is a problem in thinking,” he wrote. “Everyone has some pressure to get things done. However, if you consider everything is equally urgent, you’re likely to experience stress problems. Rethink your view of time, how you relate to it, and what is really important to you. Place events and tasks in proper perspective.”

Carve out small windows of time for self-care. Then, gradually increase them as it becomes more comfortable.

When you’re dealing with hurry sickness, relaxing may not come easily at first. So start small: Instead of booking a weeklong vacation, try setting aside an hour on the weekend to go on a hike or curl up with a good book.

“Use this time to reconnect with things you enjoy, and let the feelings float by as you regenerate and do something enjoyable,” Chambers said. “Reading, talking, walking and meditation are all examples of ways we can relax in an enjoyable way.”

Create an evening routine.

If you have a hard time turning your brain off at night, establish a nighttime routine that helps you wind down and ease into sleep. That might include a cup of tea, a warm shower, journaling or whatever feels calming to you.

“Sleep helps us feel regenerated and emotionally balanced but becomes the enemy of speed and, even worse, is harder to get when constantly anxious,” Chambers said. “Finding a p.m. routine that works to gradually switch us ‘off’ promotes better sleep quality and quantity, boosting both our recovery, our well-being and how focused we are the following day.”

Give yourself time to think.

When you’re constantly bouncing from one task to the next, you get bogged down in minutiae, unable to see the bigger picture. Allowing time for deep thought may feel like a waste at first. It’s not exactly an action item you can cross off your to-do list. But it’s necessary if you want to work toward your larger goals.

“There is a phrase that originates in Florida: ‘When you are fighting off the alligators, it’s hard to remember to drain the swamp,’” Jolly said. “Today, we can spend our whole lives fighting alligators — emails, Zoom calls, social media — and never achieve things that are going to help us ‘drain the swamp.’”

Get support from loved ones.

Changing deeply ingrained behaviors isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Ask your support system to point out when you’re falling into old habits and help you replace them with healthier ones.

“With the support of your family, your colleagues and friends, you can build a support base that can help you identify your patterns and triggers, keep you accountable to slowing down, and keep you from falling back into old habits,” Chambers said. “If it becomes a continual struggle, professional help is available to work with you.”



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5 Things You Should Do First Thing In The Morning To Be Happier All Day

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Mornings can be rough for many people who tend to feel sleepy pretty regularly, which in turn makes them report feeling irritable a lot of the time. And yes, it’s hard to feel cheery when you’re overtired and stressed — much of which, alas, is outside of people’s control.

But happiness experts say there are simple habits people can practice in the morning that will that have a profound influence on how they feel throughout the day. They’re easy tweaks that can help improve overall mental well-being.

Ready to take stock of your general day-to-day happiness and incorporate some new practices that can improve your mood all day long? Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Pick a wellness habit, then link it to an a.m. ritual you already have.

This first tip is pretty broad, and that’s on purpose. Because the truth is there are many evidence-backed strategies people can use to try to boost happiness.

So you might take some time to cultivate awareness through meditation. (One simple strategy: Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.) Or you might be intrigued by the research that shows incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help boost happiness. Maybe you’d like to spend a few seconds every morning simply focusing on whatever nature you see outside your window, whether it’s the grass in your yard or the sky over the city.

There really are so many different wellness habits that can help you, according to psychiatrist Murray Zucker, chief medical officer of the health care platform Happify. The key is simply to start with one — whatever it is— then attach it to a routine that you already have. You’re linking habit to ritual, he explained.

So maybe every morning you get up, go to the bathroom, then make your bed. Link a moment in that routine (say, the bed making) to the habit you want to cultivate (maybe it’s reading 10 pages in a book). By tacking it on to something you already do, you’re much more likely to actually stick with it. And consistency really is the key to boosting happiness over time, Zucker said.

“Start slow and build gradually,” he added. He encourages people to really just start with one new habit you want to link to your existing routine, then go from there.

2. Get your phone out of your room.

“Do not have your screen in your room,” said Allison Task, a career and life coach who said that she insists on this as a non-negotiable with her clients. That’s because when you reach for your phone (or tablet, or computer, or click on the TV) first thing in the morning, you’re really inviting the outside world to dictate your mood first thing, she said.

And there really is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that screens hamper happiness. Studies have linked frequent social media use to decreased mood over time; other research has shown that a high volume of emails is connected with overall feelings of unhappiness.

Furthermore, screens can get in the way of sleep, which is deeply connected to people’s overall sense of well-being.

“Sleep is just a game changer,” Task said. You might not be able to control what time your toddler shuffles into your room in the morning or what time your alarm starts to blare, but you can at least try to protect your sleeping hours by keeping screens out of your room.

3. Talk to yourself…

Zucker noted that people tend to spend a lot of time talking to themselves in their own heads, particularly in the morning when feeling frazzled or stressed about what’s to come. He is a big fan of noticing self-talk and self-correcting using this simple technique: say your name.

“If you use your own name in your self-talk, you’re more likely to follow cognitive advice,” Zucker explained.

If, for example, you have a big presentation at work and you notice that you’re spending the morning psyching yourself out, telling yourself that you’re going to flop, you really can make yourself pretty nervous, Zucker said.

“But if I say: ‘Murray. You’ve done this before. You like doing this,’” you really can take some control over your own thoughts, which can set you up for greater happiness throughout the day.

“Just using your own name can be very helpful,” Zucker said.

Connecting with someone — even on your phone — in the morning can offer mood-boosting benefits that will linger throughout the day.

4. … and somebody else.

“Make a social contact with somebody you have positive regard for,” Zucker said. This could really be anyone — a spouse or child, a friend, an extended family member.

What that “social contact” looks like really depends on your personality and your schedule. “For someone who is busy, it may be a phone call or a text. If you have more time, meeting someone for a cup of coffee to start your day is really a boost,” Zucker said.

But research suggests that even if you don’t actually meet up with someone or send them an email or text, it can be enough to simply send good thoughts their way. “You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, previously told HuffPost. Just bring a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.

5. Incorporate gratitude.

While it’s true that there is a huge range of habits that can help boost happiness in the morning, researchers and clinicians tend to return to one again and again because it’s so powerful: gratitude.

In research trials, people who journaled about the things they’re thankful for during the week scored much higher on measures of happiness than people who instead noted things they’d been irritated by. And a daily gratitude practice may even contribute to improved physical health — which, in turn, contributes to overall feelings of happiness.

There are many different ways to work gratitude into your morning routines, but it can (and should!) be simple.

“Many religions do a morning prayer,” said Task, who added that spending a moment doing something similar — whether you’re religious or not — can be a doable morning habit to cultivate.

“Take that pause to appreciate that you’re alive, whatever that means to you,” she urged. Say to yourself: “I’m so glad I’m alive, and I get to play with my 2-year-old daughter,” Task offered by way of example. Or that you get to go to work. Or you get to walk your dog. Or even that you get to hit the snooze button again — yes, even if experts generally say it’s not a great idea.

Just find some way to express some gratitude in the morning, because it truly can be enough to put you in a better frame of mind all day.



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The Best Breathable Face Masks For Running And Exercising

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Exercise — especially when it has meant time outdoors — has been a lifeline for many of us during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the first few months of lockdowns. However, what we could safely do was pretty limited. Now, thanks to warmer weather and vaccines, workout options will expand for people in the coming weeks. Running outdoors, taking fitness classes or spending some time in the gym all feel more possible than they did last year.

But to exercise right now also still means looking out for your own health and the health of those around you. It’s important to continue taking the proper precautions to prevent COVID-19, which includes wearing a face mask in most cases.

We turned to the experts to find out which athletic and sports face masks they recommend for various workouts. Here’s what you should know, along with some options:

Do you need to wear face masks while running outside?

We know that wearing a face mask is perhaps one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and that the more people wearing them, the better. However, we also now know that the risk of COVID-19 spreading outdoors ― particularly in a setting like running ― is somewhat minimal. Some people are even calling for the removal of outdoor mask guidelines given the lower risk of transmission.

If you’ve tried running or working out with a face mask on, you probably had a hard time breathing and broke more of a sweat than you bargained for. Experts say it’s not completely necessary to wear a mask while you’re running or walking outside when you’re not around others. That said, it’s best to bring one with you (more on the proper one in a minute) so you can wear it if you end up being near people.

Should you wear a face mask when going to the gym or fitness classes?

Absolutely. Whenever you’re indoors and around others, it’s best to wear a face covering to protect yourself and the people around you. Risk of transmission in places like gyms or workout studios increases compared to exercising outside. Indoor spots have lower ventilation, and you’re in closer proximity to other people (people who are breathing heavily, mind you).

The face mask recommendation holds true even if you’re fully vaccinated. While your personal risk is low if you’ve received your shot, others in the space ― whether they’re other gymgoers or employees ― might not be vaccinated. Wearing a face mask ensures that everyone is doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What face mask material is best for running and exercising?

The material and fit of your sports face mask is important to consider because the best face mask materials can limit the spread of large and small virus particles.

A September 2020 study suggested that gaiters, which many people prefer when working out, may be one of the worst choices. The material is porous compared to other masks, and it’s harder to make them fit snugly to your face. Bandanas are also not very effective options, according to the research. That said, the study had a lot of limitations (it wasn’t set up to mimic real-world behavior, for one) and the researchers received some backlash from other scientists and journalists. Those options may be fine depending on your activity ― for example, a fitness class outside.

Lightweight and moisture-wicking face mask materials like polyester and Spandex are ideal for sports and athletic face masks, according to Roberto Mandje, the head coach of the New York Road Runners and former Olympic athlete.

“The mask should contain less cotton or linen-like materials, as these don’t breathe as well, causing the mask to become more sweat-soaked as you go deeper into your run or workout,” Mandje said.

Mandie also pointed out that “you want the mask to be reusable and washing machine-friendly.”

The Mayo Clinic supports this recommendation, noting that a mask won’t impede your performance. It also notes that you should pay attention to the number of layers in your mask:

Mask material should be no more than two layers thick or less. Unfortunately, surgical masks may break down, as they become wet from sweat and increased exhalation that occurs during exercise.

Aside from the mask breakdown, the use of surgical or N95 respirators has been found to be safe with minimal effects on major performance factors, such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation (SO) during aerobic training.

If you don’t have any of these options available to you and you know you’re likely not going to be in a crowd, then bring whatever mask you have. In the end, any face covering is better than no covering at all when you’re around people, according to Dr. Daniel Devine of Devine Concierge Medicine.

“I recommend a mask with a tight weave of fibers versus a face covering made of loosely woven fibers like many bandanas,” he told HuffPost in August 2020. “[However], any breathable face covering, simple bandana included, is better than no face covering when running in crowded areas.”

Devine advised looking for face masks that are moisture-resistant, because face masks tend to lose their structural integrity and can distort the seal around the face when they get damp. Choosing a face mask with a nose wire you can shape or built-in nasal support (like these on Etsy or this one from Amazon) can help maintain that seal.

On the hunt for the best breathable face masks for running and workouts? Take a look at some options below.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.

Under Armour Sports Mask

Under Armour

graf lantz Regular Zenbu Organic Cotton Face Mask

graf lantz

This breathable cotton face mask has adjustable ear straps and a nose bridge for a secure fit. It also has a spot for you to add extra filters. Find it at graf lantz for $22.

lululemon Ear Loop Face Mask (Pack Of Three)

lululemon

These sweat-wicking face masks come with adjustable ear loops so you can get the right size. They come in a pack of three in multiple colors. Find it at lululemon for $34.

Shock Doctor White Play Safe Face Mask

Shock Doctor

This athletic face mask has a lightweight design that wraps around the back of your head to it won’t slip during burpees, jumps or long runs. It’s also easier on the ears. Plus, it features an easy-access flap for staying hydrated. Find it for $10 on sale at Shock Doctor.

Page One Multifunctional Face Mask Gaiter

Amazon

This workout neck gaiter is good for outdoor workouts when you need it. It’s made with thin, lightweight material and can be tightened to snugly fit your face. Find it for $13 on Amazon.

Champion Moisture-Wicking Face Mask

Champion

This two-layer mask is made with moisture-wicking cotton. It also has a nosepiece embedded so you can guarantee it fits correctly. Find it for $6 at Champion.

Koral Shiny Netz Face Mask

Koral

This athletic face mask is made with antimicrobial performance fabric and stretchy Lycra, making it a comfortable option. Find it for $10 at Koral.

Keen Together Mask

Keen

This breathable face mask is made with two layers of BCI-certified (Better Cotton Initiative) canvas and has adjustable ear slides. Keep in mind that it’s not made of sweat-resistant materials, though. Find it for $4 at Keen.

NEWMARK Cloth Face Mask (Pack Of Three)

Amazon

Reviewers praise these face masks for being breathable and well-fitted. They come with adjustable ear straps and an adjustable nosepiece. Find it on Amazon for $17.

Onzie Mindful Mask

Onzie

This athletic face mask is made with upcycled activewear materials, including Spandex, for a stretchy and breathable fit. Find it for $24 at Onzie.





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