Cold or flu? It’s a question that comes up every winter. Knowing the subtle and not-so-subtle difference between the two illnesses, though, is important.

Chronic throat clearing should be evaluated by a professional

Written by JoAnna Sloggy and Liz Campbell, speech language pathologists at the UK Voice and Swallow Clinic.

JoAnna Sloggy, MA, CCC-SLP

Elizabeth Campbell, MA, CCC-SLP


This could be the sound of getting someone’s attention, but when it occurs repeatedly, it may also be the sound of chronic throat clearing. Chronic throat clearing is a common problem that may or may not be associated with other symptoms such as a throat tickle, dry cough and/or the “lump in the throat” sensation.

It may happen a few times per day, a few times per minute or sometimes only after meals. The causes and frequency of throat clearing may be different for each person, and when persistent, may require medical examination.

Potentially making things worse

In general, chronic throat clearing is usually the result of hypersensitivity in the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (throat). Clearing your throat is usually your body’s response to this irritation and an effort to remove the irritation by rubbing your vocal folds (vocal cords) together. Chronic throat clearing often creates more irritation to the vocal folds because of the harsh contact, resulting in a cycle of frequent persistent throat clearing.

Many possible causes

The possible causes of chronic throat clearing are numerous and should be determined by a medical evaluation. These causes may include acid reflux irritation, post-nasal drip from allergies or sinusitis, the presence of vocal fold lesions, neurologic conditions such as tics, and side effects of certain medications. Because these causes differ greatly, a comprehensive medical evaluation is necessary to plan appropriate treatment.

Diagnosis of chronic throat clearing may begin with your family physician or allergist. If typical treatments for allergies or reflux are not successful in resolving the throat clearing, an evaluation with an ear nose and throat physician and a comprehensive voice evaluation by a speech-language pathologist who specializes in evaluation of voice and swallowing disorders may be recommended. UK Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) and Voice & Swallow Clinic collaborate to provide multidisciplinary care for the evaluation and treatment of chronic throat clearing. Patients may be treated for acid reflux irritation as the cause. This irritation can reach the level of the larynx. For some patients this feeling is obvious and noticeable, but for others it is not.

When to seek medical evaluation

Either way, the result can be chronic throat clearing, as well as a lump in the throat feeling, dry cough and/or hoarseness. It is important to note that this is a different problem from heartburn (GERD). Treatment can include medication prescribed by a medical doctor, dietary changes such as limiting or avoiding certain foods or beverages, and lifestyle modifications such as elevating the head of the bed at night. In cases where this irritation has caused hoarseness or voice changes, voice therapy may be indicated. Again, an evaluation is needed in order to determine if these treatments will be effective.

So, what’s the bottom line? Chronic throat clearing can cause a cycle of irritation and ultimately may cause hoarseness and discomfort with swallowing, among other changes. If you think you suffer from chronic throat clearing, we recommend a referral to an ENT physician as well as a speech-language pathologist trained in voice and swallowing disorders. This will help determine the cause and appropriate treatments.

Next steps:

Research shows genetics may cause people to crave salty foods. Salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease, and research like this can help treat it.

Craving salty foods? Blame your parents

Gia Mudd

Gia Mudd, UK College of Nursing

Written by Jennifer Smith, a doctoral student in the UK College of Nursing, and Gia Mudd-Martin, an associate professor in the UK College of Nursing.

A sprinkle over a baked potato or a teaspoon to flavor a pot of chili might seem innocent to the average dieter, but salt is a major culprit of cardiovascular disease in America. Some people have a proclivity for sweet foods, such as candy, confectionery treats or ice cream. Others, however, need salty foods to satiate their palates, often snacking on potato chips, making meals of foods high in preservatives or supplementing recipes with extra doses of salt.

Leading research from UK Nursing

Science is showing a person’s desire for salty foods might be ingrained in his or her genetic makeup. A recent study conducted by our research team at the UK College of Nursing indicated that genetic variations in taste perception might influence dietary patterns associated with cardiovascular disease. Our team examined the TAS2R38 gene variant, which influences bitter taste. In a sample of more than 400 people at high risk for cardiovascular disease, we found that individuals with the enhanced bitter taste perception genotype were more likely to consume higher than the recommended amount of daily sodium than people without the genotype.

Further research to better understand this and other genetic influences on taste might one day allow healthcare providers to develop more targeted approaches to support reduced sodium intake in people who are genetically predisposed to consume salty foods. Our understanding of the genetic connection to dietary behavior will pave the way to more advanced practices and opportunities for prevention.

How you can manage salt intake

In the meantime, it is important to note that everyone should monitor salt and sodium intake to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and ideally limiting sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most people. Research shows we can train our palates to adapt to a low-sodium diet. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep a journal of your salt intake so you know when you’re exceeding your limits.
  • Salt is hidden in many of the basic foods we purchase, including bread, cereal and canned soups. Start reading labels so you can pinpoint foods high in sodium.
  • Learn to cook with minimal amounts of salt and to instead flavor foods using herbs and spices.
  • Instead of buying packaged foods, which are typically packed with sodium and preservatives, opt for home-cooked meals that only need small portions of salt.

Salt lovers — don’t think you must deprive yourselves to prevent cardiovascular disease. By consciously managing the amount of salt in your diet, you will find you can still enjoy salty foods and sodium in smaller portions. Consider salty foods a treat, much like dessert.

Next steps:

  • Limiting salt is just one step you can take toward a more heart-healthy diet. Learn more about making better food choices.
  • You can make a difference by participating in a UK HealthCare research study. Learn more.
Traditional dishes in some families can be powerful reminders of being with loved ones. But what if those important foods no longer tasted the same?

What is neurogastronomy? 3 experts explain

The end-of-year holidays are upon us, and for many, it’s a time made all the more meaningful by food. Dishes that are traditions in some families can be powerful reminders of coming together with loved ones to celebrate and reflect.

But what if the foods that elicit such strong memory and emotion in us no longer tasted the same? Certain foods hold so much sentiment in our lives, so how would we react if we could no longer have that experience? Our three guests on this week’s Behind the Blue podcast have been exploring that very idea of taste, smell and how our nerve receptors interpret that information.

Dr. Dan Han is a UK neuropsychologist and the director of Neurobehavioral Studies at the UK Sports Medicine Research Institute. Tim McClintock is a UK physiology professor working in neural regeneration. And Ouita Michel is a nationally acclaimed chef and owner of the Holly Hill Inn.

Together, they are forging new paths in a field called neurogastronomy, which examines how the brain creates taste perceptions. Their work is taking them into areas of learning how to change and enhance the mechanics of the flavors of foods, how we experience them and how this may impact the world in areas of clinical and nutritional science, both on a personal and a global level.

You can listen to the whole podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

Next steps:

Healthy Thanksgiving tips

4 tips for a healthy Thanksgiving

Make Thanksgiving happy and healthy this year with our top tips for a guilt-free holiday.

1. Take a deep breath.

Between cleaning your house, preparing the holiday meal and dealing with family, Thanksgiving can quickly go from celebratory to stressful. Here a few ways to keep stress at a minimum:

  • Enlist a family member or guest to help with food prep, or divide your list among your guests and ask everyone to bring a dish.
  • Practice deep breathing. Taking deep breaths when you get stressed out will help lower your heart rate and will trigger your body’s natural relaxation response.
  • Take regular breaks from preparing dinner to chat with friends and family or simply rest your feet.

2. Make time for a turkey trot.

Get some exercise earlier in the day, before you sit down at the dinner table. A brisk 30-minute walk can burn between 100-200 calories and help get you on the right side of the day’s calorie count.

3. Avoid overconsumption.

Before you begin, scan the table and decide what looks best, then fill your plate with reasonable-sized portions of those foods. Try to avoid second helpings.

Eating a small, healthy breakfast – like whole-grain cereal or whole-wheat toast – can also help curb your appetite before dinner and help you feel fuller faster.

4. Enjoy yourself

Think about your health this holiday, but remember, it’s just one day.  If you do go for that second slice of pumpkin pie or extra helping of stuffing, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy yourself and the company of friends and family on Thanksgiving, while resolving to make healthy choices part of your year-round lifestyle.

Next steps:

Gluten intolerance requires a significant change in your diet, but doing research and asking questions can help you stay gluten-free while dining out.

Here’s how you can stay gluten-free while dining out

Brooke Benninger, RD

Brooke Benninger, RD

Written by Brooke Benninger, a Registered Dietitian at University Health Service at UK.

A new diagnosis of gluten intolerance will lead to big changes in your life. Not only does it change the way you cook for yourself or a loved one, it changes the way you dine out.

What happens when you are gluten intolerant

Consuming gluten when you’re gluten intolerant can have a host of negative immediate and long term affects. Eating gluten when you are gluten intolerant causes the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed, which can cause damage that makes it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition.

When you prepare your own food it’s easier to manage the ingredients that are used. However, when you eat out, restaurants can use a combination of items that are homemade or prepackaged, which can lead to confusion about what menu items are truly gluten-free. Not all restaurant servers are completely aware of each ingredient in every product on the menu. It’s up to the dining management team to educate employees on safe gluten practices.

Become familiar with the restaurant

Cross-contamination in kitchens is one of the biggest issues restaurants face when trying to ensure their establishment is “gluten-free friendly.” The best way to reduce the risk of cross-contamination is to politely ask your server a few questions like:

  • Does my dish come in contact with any bread?
  • Is there a separate work space for preparing gluten-free foods?
  • Does the kitchen use separate utensils for preparing gluten-free food?
  • Do you change the oil in the fryer, or use a separate fryer, to prepare gluten-free food?

Teach yourself about being gluten-free

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with a gluten-free diet; write down grains to avoid and where gluten can hide in food, like in sauces. Also, be sure to tell your server that you’re gluten intolerant. Restaurants do their best to accommodate various diet restrictions but not everyone knows what gluten is or every food that contains gluten. When you know you’ll be eating out, research the menu ahead of time and see if they offer gluten-free options. Aim to choose restaurants that have been through training and or received certification for their gluten-free practices. You can determine this by calling ahead and speaking to a manager. Online reviews from websites like Find Me Gluten Free can help you gain insight into other customer’s experiences with gluten-free menus.

Gluten intolerance requires a significant change in your diet, but doing research and asking questions can help you feel more comfortable dining out.

Next steps:

  • Learn the basics of healthy diets.
  • Gluten sensitivity can sometimes be caused by celiac disease, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Look at our list of common celiac symptoms to see if you’re at risk.
Handwashing and the flu

The 20-second flu fighter

Flu season is in full swing, but there a few simple ways to keep the virus at bay.

The best way is to get your flu shot and make sure those around you have gotten theirs, too. Check out our recent blog about what’s new with this year’s flu vaccine.

In addition to getting vaccinated, an easy and effective way to prevent the spread of the flu is to wash your hands.

When you wash your hands regularly and correctly, you reduce your risk of getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to other people around you.

Washing your hands the right way means more than running them under the faucet for a few seconds. Here’s how to do it:

  • Wet your hands with clean water (warm or cold), turn off the faucet and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from beginning to end or recite the ABCs in your head.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them, and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and then throw it away.

Make sure to wash your hands:

  • Before you eat. Also wash them before, during and after preparing food.
  • After using the bathroom.
  • After coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or caring for someone who is ill.
  • After taking out the trash.
  • After petting animals.
  • When visiting someone who is sick.
  • Whenever your hands look or feel dirty.

Next steps:

Genetic counseling and family history

How your family history can help determine your risk for cancer

Written by Justine Cooper, a board-certified genetic counselor at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Knowing your family history is a key part in understanding your risk factors for certain diseases. While you’re gathering with family this Thanksgiving, get to know more about your family’s health history and how it could impact your personal health.

Genetic counseling involves interpreting your family history and providing education about inheritance, testing options, management, prevention, resources and research. A genetic counselor can help you determine whether genetic testing may be appropriate for you or your family.

Genetic testing is available for many types of diseases, including cancer. Only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary. However, people with hereditary cancers have a much higher chance to develop cancer during their lifetime.

Typically, patients may be referred for genetic counseling if they have cancer diagnosed at a young age or if they have multiple family members who have had cancer, especially if the family members were diagnosed before 50 years of age. If you have a strong family history of disease, talk to your doctor about whether a referral to a genetic counselor might be appropriate.

The most well-known hereditary cancer test is testing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC). Angelina Jolie made headlines in 2013 when she announced that she had a BRCA mutation, prompting her to have a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and raising awareness of genetic testing for these genes.

We can also test for many other hereditary cancer syndromes. For example, Lynch syndrome increases a person’s chance to develop several types of cancers, including colon, endometrial (uterine), ovarian and pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that the prevalence of HBOC and the prevalence of Lynch syndrome are equal and affect approximately 1 in 400 people.

There are many testing options, and a genetic counselor can help determine which test may be the best for you based on your personal and family history.

The cost of genetic testing can vary, based on whether we are testing just a few genes or a few dozen genes. The cost of a test can range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. In the majority of cases, insurance does cover testing if you meet certain criteria set by your insurance company.

If a genetic counselor determines that genetic testing would be indicated, insurance is likely to cover the testing. Some insurance companies are now requiring genetic counseling prior to genetic testing.

If results show you have a higher chance to develop cancer, your health care team may recommend additional screenings or surgeries to find cancer as early as possible or prevent it from developing at all.

While knowing that you have a higher chance to develop cancer can cause worry and anxiety, it can also allow you to take charge of your health and take the steps needed to reduce the potential impact of this disease.

Next steps:

Dr. Larry Cunningham

Rare complication requires expert care from UK Dentistry

When a patient has their wisdom teeth extracted, surgeons provide information about what to expect after the operation, as well as potential complications that may occur from the surgery.

For most patients, following the guidelines for proper care keeps these issues from arising. Unfortunately, that’s not true for all patients. It certainly wasn’t for Davina Leedy.

Concerns after surgery

Leedy had a wisdom tooth that wouldn’t grow through the gums and caused several infections. Ultimately, she decided to have the tooth removed.

A local oral surgeon performed her initial surgery, but shortly after, Leedy realized something was amiss with her recovery. When Leedy went back to the doctor a week later, her lower jaw was still numb. The numbness in her face eventually went away, but it was replaced by excruciating pain in her lower chin and lip.

“It hurt when the wind would blow or even when my hair would touch it [my face],” Leedy said.

There was only one physician in the state of Kentucky who had the training to provide the treatment Leedy needed: Dr. Larry Cunningham, chief of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the UK College of Dentistry.

Expert care, close to home

As Leedy eventually learned, the root of her wisdom tooth had been positioned so close to the nerve in her jaw that removing the tooth had disrupted the nerve, causing the numbness and then  pain. Initially the issue was treated with medications to try and relieve her pain, but these medications were only marginally helpful.

In January 2016, Leedy opted for a more permanent and extensive fix: neuroplasty and a graft of her inferior alveolar nerve. Although Leedy worried about the complex procedure, she was thankful she was able to receive the care she needed with Dr. Cunningham at UK HealthCare, just a short drive from her home.

“As a mom of three boys, it was much better to just drive an hour and a half than to have to travel out of state,” she said.

Leedy’s four-hour surgery was extensive and complicated. Her injured nerve traveled within the lower jaw bone. That meant her lower jaw bone needed to be cut in order for Cunningham to see the nerve and repair it. Once the injured portion of the nerve was removed, the nerve graft was placed in the defect. After the procedure, it can take several months before feeling comes back to the affected area.

Looking back on her operation, Leedy said she’s grateful there was a doctor at UK who could help her.

“I’m amazed there’s someone that has the knowledge to do something like this,” Leedy said.

‘The pain is gone’

As Leedy’s original physician pointed out to her, the issue she experienced is not very common. The doctor told her that in his 30 years practicing, her case was only the third time he’d seen this complication.

Cunningham agreed and said nerve injuries after dental work occur in less than 1 percent of wisdom tooth extractions. That explains why Leedy had “no idea this complication could happen.”

Since her procedure, Leedy has been pain free and has regained much of the feeling in her jaw. She’ll continue to have follow-up visits to monitor her improvement, but so far, so good.

“The pain is gone, I can feel pressure in the area but it’s way better than what it was,” Leedy said.

Next steps:

  • UK Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery provides comprehensive surgical treatment for oral and maxillofacial issues, including teeth removal and treatment of infections and injuries. Learn more about our services.
  • Read about the dean of the UK College of Dentistry’s mission to use research to improve patient care.
Tips to beat election season stress.

Feeling election season stress? You’re not alone. [Infographic]

Are you stressed out about this year’s election? It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, Democrat or Republican – chances are the answer is yes.

According to new research from the American Psychological Association, more than 50 percent of American adults say this year’s election is a significant source of stress in their lives. Uncertainty about the future combined with a constant barrage of political conversation online, on TV, and with family and friends has many people anticipating Election Day with tension and anxiety.

Although it might seem minor, election season stress can lead to health-related side effects, including fatigue, headaches, upset stomach and tightness in your chest.

Check out our infographic below for tips on how keep your stress in check this election season, and be sure to share it with friends and family members.

Election season stress infographic

Next steps:

  • Looking for more ways to feel less stressed? Check out our tips to help you relax.
  • If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, depression or another mental health concern that is affecting daily life, UK Psychiatry may be able to help. Learn more about our services today.
Your eyes are sensitive and important organs. If you wear contact lenses, protect your eyes by taking care of your contacts.

Could your contact lens habits put your eyes at risk?

Written by Dr. Shaista Vally, OD, as part of an ongoing series about eye care.

Dr. Shaista Vally

Dr. Shaista Vally

We all love the freedom of contact lenses: They don’t fog up if we step outside, they don’t slide off our noses when we bend over and they don’t need constant adjusting. But like all freedoms, lenses come with responsibility. They can pose a serious health risk if they’re not worn properly.

What are the health risks of contact lenses?

The biggest risk to your eye from using contact lenses is infection, which can lead to a scar-forming ulcer and in turn to an irreversible loss of vision. Other possible risks include new blood vessel growth and inflammation and swelling of exposed surfaces (under eyelids, cornea, conjunctiva). With correct care and management, these risks can be greatly lowered and prevented.

General rules to follow

Infections and other health risks can usually be avoided by properly caring for your contacts:

  • Wash your hands prior to handling your lenses.
  • Never wear torn or ripped lenses.
  • Don’t sleep in your lenses.
  • Don’t wear lenses longer than 10-12 hours.
  • Never expose the lens to water.
  • Replace lens cases every 2-3 months.
  • Use fresh disinfectant solution every night.
  • Clean and air dry cases during the day.
  • Contact your eye doctor if you have signs of eye redness, irritation, a change in vision, light sensitivity or pain.

Your eyes are sensitive and important organs. For contact lens wearers, protect your eyes by taking care of your contacts.

Next Steps