You’ve read the news and watched the press conferences – the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on our health and economy, particularly for those of us living in New York and New Jersey.
But as we have begun to see daylight, physicians have realized that the pandemic has had a dramatic effect on non-COVID-19 health problems. A recent study from the CDC shows that vaccination rates among young children in Michigan have fallen by more than 50% since the pandemic began. In the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors reported a greater than 50% decline in hospitalizations for heart attacks since the pandemic began. And this is not because fewer patients are having heart attacks, but because often they are delaying treatment until it is too late. In Newark last month, EMS teams made 239 on-scene death pronouncements, four times as many as April 2019. However, fewer than half of those were attributed to COVID-19, meaning that the rest were related to the usual suspects: heart attack, stroke, respiratory failure, and trauma.
Okay, okay, you might say. But this is an ENT and Allergy Associates website, so what does all of this have to do with my ENT and allergy problems?
Well, the fact is that a large number of common health issues that otolaryngologists and allergists treat have complex relationships with your health as a whole. If left unchecked, allergic rhinitis and sinusitis can lead to flare-ups of asthma or COPD. Snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which if untreated can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. And a persistently swollen lymph node or abnormal-appearing area in the mouth can be the first sign of head and neck cancer, treatment for which is highly effective if started early.
So what signs should you look for that your physician’s office has taken the proper precautions to treat patients safely during the pandemic? First of all, temperature should be checked at the door, and masks should be provided for everyone. Second, social distancing doesn’t end in the waiting area. Care should be taken to maintain a distance of six feet or more between waiting patients. At ENTA, we’ve also given patients the option of waiting in their cars in order to avoid any crowding inside. Third, virtual visits can be an effective alternative to an initial in-person visit. Getting to a diagnosis may require a physical examination or procedure, but treatment for many ENT and allergy problems can often be started virtually, giving you a head start on getting ahead of your symptoms.
As we combat the pandemic, remember that while it seems like our lives have been put on hold these past few months, your health has not. It’s important to see your physician for management of new and chronic health problems, as long as basic steps are taken to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.