Summer is when we can enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on lazy, hazy days. But what happens when the air gets a little too hazy? You may have recently noticed less visibility in the air, along with warnings about air quality issues from local meteorologists and on your weather app.
What causes air quality issues? Common sources of air quality problems are pollution, including, as we’ve seen more recently, smoke from wildfires, such as in Canada or the western United States. Breathing in this type of air is dangerous, as it can contain harmful substances that can negatively affect our bodies. People at the greatest risk for health problems during this time are older adults, pregnant persons, infants and children, and individuals with lung or heart issues.
When there are problems with the air quality in your area, you may notice yourself coughing more, having trouble breathing or having a scratchy throat. Your eyes might sting or water due to the smoke in the air. Experiencing these physical symptoms due to poor air quality raises an important question: How can you stay informed and monitor the air quality in your area? There are many resources you can use to check the local air quality, including visiting airnow.gov. You can also sign up for air quality alerts from the Wisconsin DNR.
If an air quality alert is issued for your location, there are steps you can take to keep yourself healthy and safe. Avoid going outdoors, especially at peak negative air quality levels. Make sure all the windows and doors are closed. Have an air purifier running in your home to filter out the harmful substances in the air. Avoid exercising outdoors, as breathing in smoky air during physical activity can put additional strain on your body.
But what can you do to protect yourself if you need to be outside, such as for work or running necessary errands? You can wear a KN95 or N95 mask to protect against breathing harmful particles in the air. If you are driving, ensure your climate settings are on recirculating air, not the fresh air setting, as this will prevent more problematic air from being pulled into your vehicle.
We can’t stop the Canadian wildfires, but we can improve air quality by:
- Drive less by biking or walking, avoid vehicle idling, and carpool whenever possible
- Plant more greenery like trees and bushes
- Use less energy by adjusting thermostat settings, decreasing screen time, and unplugging devices and appliances that aren’t being used
- Improve the energy efficiency of your home with things like LED light bulbs and good weatherization
- Explore ways to electrify your home and home appliances like lawnmowers, hot water heaters and furnaces
- Consider improving indoor air quality by swapping out gas stoves for electric or induction stoves, using cooking vents, regularly replacing HVAC filters and using other indoor purifiers
While we may not have control over the air quality in our area, prioritizing our health and taking proactive measures during periods of poor air quality is essential. By staying informed about air quality updates and following guidelines, we can make informed decisions and minimize our exposure to harmful substances in the air.
June is Pride Month, which is a time to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and highlight ongoing improvements in health equity.
GHC-SCW is committed to serving every member of the Cooperative and providing a safe and welcoming environment for all. Equitable access to health care is core to our mission and vision. Gender-affirming surgeries and procedures require post-care management to enhance patient outcomes. This includes consultation and rehabilitation interventions from professionals in our Occupational (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT) departments.
Musculoskeletal providers at GHC support gender-affirming care. Wendy Parsons, PT and Heather Crandell, OTR, CHT, CLT have answered a few questions below on gender-affirming clinical practices for post-operative patients.
What is a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist?
Wendy: Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy is a specialty practice within physical therapy. A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist has taken additional education to assist and treat issues related to the musculoskeletal system of the pelvic region, especially the pelvic floor muscles. Some of the things a Pelvic Floor PT can help people with include leakage of urine/bowels (incontinence), pelvic pain, difficulty with bowel movements, postpartum recovery, and gender-affirming bottom surgeries.
What can a Pelvic Health PT do for an individual who is planning or had gender-affirming bottom surgery?
Wendy: Having a pelvic floor PT session prior to gender-affirming bottom surgery can help identify pelvic floor muscle dysfunction and/or weakness and work to improve these. Muscle dysfunction includes muscle activation when they should be relaxing, poor muscle recruitment, and poor coordination of these muscles. Improving pelvic floor weakness can help decrease bladder leakage. Research has indicated that individuals who have addressed pelvic floor dysfunction prior to gender-affirming bottom surgeries maintain these improvements after. For individuals that have, or are planning to have, a vaginoplasty, pelvic floor PT can help them with pelvic floor muscle relaxation and the ability to do vaginal dilation during recovery.
What is the role of Occupational Therapy for those who have undergone a top-surgery, such as chest flattening surgery or breast augmentation?
Heather: Occupational therapists help maximize outcomes to return to desired functional activities after surgery and in some cases involving multiple surgeries. These surgeries may come with side effects which can have long term impacts on a patient’s quality of life from sensitization, range of motion, weakness and fatigue, scar tissue adhesions, and pain. A variety of complications could be mitigated with early rehabilitation post-operatively. An Occupational Therapist will work on a varied of areas of practice based on clients’ needs including but not limited to: musculoskeletal, sexual health, psychosocial, body image, fatigue, and pain.
Why is scar management so important after gender-affirming surgeries?
Heather: A scar is an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin following an injury or trauma, such as a cut or burn. Scarring is a natural part of the healing process after surgery but can sometimes require management to ensure that it does not cause additional problems. Scar management helps to normalize tissue pliability, mobility, and sensation.
The location and amount of scar tissue will dictate the impact it has on functional activities. Below are some of the common difficulties scar tissue can cause:
- Reduced strength, which can impact the ability to lift overhead, return to a sport, and carry items.
- Increased edema or swelling due to surgical changes and rerouting of soft tissues can cause limited ROM and increased discomfort.
- Pain, which can affect a person both when awake and when trying to sleep.
- Reduced range of movement, which can cause problems with carrying out activities of daily living such as washing, dressing, walking, using the stairs, or driving.
What are other ways PT/OT can support gender affirming care?
Wendy: It has been noted in research that the transgender population has a higher rate of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Research also has shown that individuals with more adverse childhood experiences have a higher rate of reported pain issues. This can include neck pain, shoulder pain, or pelvic pain and muscle dysfunctions. Having gender-affirming surgery does not improve these issues specifically.
An example of this could be an individual that had pelvic floor issues before having bottom gender affirming surgery will continue to have these issues after surgery. Another example is individuals that have increased pelvic muscle tension or difficulty relaxing pelvic floor muscles before having a vaginoplasty may have more difficulty using dilators after surgery. These things can be treated and improved with pelvic floor PT.
In both PT and OT care, the focus is on improving patients’ outcomes and quality of life. This means it is important to treat the whole individual and develop a plan WITH the patient that is specific to THEIR needs. We believe that caring for the whole person requires a trauma-informed lens to ensure that each patient feels safe and supported during their care, especially given the sensitivity of the nature of this work.
If you feel you would benefit from PT or OT care, please talk with your primary care provider or specialist about a referral for therapy services.