12 Health Lessons We Learned In 2022
It’s safe to say, 2022 was a big year for health.
We started the year in a pandemic and will definitely enter 2023 in the same position; mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, sparked an unprecedented global outbreak; polio gave us a short-lived yet serious scare, prompting many of us to frantically ask our parents about childhood vaccinations; and reproductive rights for many people were taken away.
Amid the ups and downs, there were some important lessons that we think are worth revisiting before the new year.
Don’t cook your frozen chicken in an air fryer or microwave
A CDC report released this year suggested that people are getting sick in repeated outbreaks of food poisoning because they’re cooking frozen stuffed chicken products in appliances other than a conventional oven, like an air fryer, microwave, or toaster oven.
Studies have found that smaller, portable (and often cheaper) appliances may not be able to heat or cook frozen chicken enough to kill lurking bacteria, most often salmonella.
The CDC was primarily referring to breaded products, such as chicken cordon bleu or chicken Kyiv, that are “heat-treated,” meaning they’re cooked until the breading sets but not before the raw chicken inside is safe to eat.
When in doubt, always try to use a conventional oven if possible, and read the instructions on the product’s packaging. If you can’t use a conventional oven, make sure you follow the specific instructions for microwaves, toaster ovens, or air fryers.
If specific instructions for other appliances are not available, insert a meat thermometer in the center of the thickest part of the product to make sure it rises to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Feel sick after eating the frozen chicken you made? Document everything you ate in the last week before symptoms began and visit a doctor.
Melatonin can be dangerous for babies and children
Bottles of sleep-inducing melatonin pills have become bedside staples, but its increased availability, particularly in easy-to-consume forms like gummies, has had serious, and in some cases deadly, consequences for the children who either accidentally get their hands on it or are given it by a caregiver.
A study published by the CDC this year found that melatonin overdoses in children increased 530% from 2012 to 2021, with the largest spike — a 38% increase — occurring from 2019 to 2020, when the COVID pandemic started.
Five children required mechanical ventilation and two children — a 3-month-old and a 1-year-old — died at home following melatonin poisoning.
Experts suggest that parents wait until their kids are at least 3 years old before giving them melatonin, and to first address poor sleep behaviors to ensure kids are getting quality sleep. If you suspect your child has consumed melatonin, you should immediately call poison control, especially if you don’t know how much they ingested.
And most importantly, store your melatonin where it’s out of reach for a child, like in a locked storage box.
Energy drinks can be associated with heart problems. Moderation is key.
Earlier this year, TikTokers were going viral after saying energy drinks were causing their heart problems. So we dug into the science to learn if that’s a thing.
Turns out it can be. Energy drinks have known health risks, particularly when consumed in large quantities or combined with alcohol. They’ve been linked to heart and blood vessel problems, like heart rhythm disturbances and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Experts believe the caffeine in these products may be to blame, but other ingredients like sugar could also play a role.
However, it’s less clear whether the drinks are linked to problems like coronary artery disease, which is generally due to a combination of genes and long-term lifestyle habits. And because a lot of things can contribute to heart disease, it’s difficult to pinpoint energy drinks as the reason for someone’s diagnosis or medical event.
Experts say that the occasional energy drink is fine, but consuming anything in excess is never a good thing. Not to mention little is known about the long-term effects of drinking these products on a regular basis.
You’re better off having a glass of water if you’re dehydrated, or a cup of coffee or tea if you want a boost in energy, experts say.
Kissing can elicit serious allergic reactions in some people with food allergies
After makeup artist and photographer Janelle Gonzalez posted a TikTok this year about her “kiss of death,” many people were shocked to learn that locking lips with someone who ate a certain food can trigger allergic reactions in some people with allergies.
That’s because food proteins can remain in a person’s mouth for a period of time after they eat; how long they hang out in there varies depending on several factors.
While intimately kissing someone who consumed a certain allergen isn’t a major source of dangerous reactions for most people, serious and potentially deadly reactions are definitely possible. More direct exposures like eating or touching the food is more likely to elicit an allergic response.
Allergists recommend anyone with allergies, especially severe ones, to carry an epinephrine injector pen (like an EpiPen) and to wear an item like a MedicAlert bracelet that lists their medical information in the event a reaction occurs in public.
You should also discuss your allergies with your partner or anyone else who may be cooking for you or sharing your food, as well as anyone you plan to share saliva or other bodily fluids with. You might as well clean your mouth as thoroughly as possible before kissing others too because it could help.
IV vitamin therapy isn’t well researched and could pose risks for some people
An episode of The Kardashians that aired this year revealed an excited Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber rolling up their sleeves to receive IV vitamin therapy. But experts were quick to question its validity, citing a lack of federal regulation and sound clinical research, as well as potential health risks for some people, particularly those with certain medical conditions.
IV therapy is touted as an efficient way to deliver fluid and nutrients into the body, pumping them directly into the bloodstream. However, there’s little proof that IV vitamin treatments work. A handful of studies show moderate benefits for asthma, inflammation, and fatigue, while a larger batch found the treatments have little to no impact, particularly for more serious health conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome, cancer, sepsis, and stroke. (In those cases, people were given the treatments in medical settings.)
The biggest concern is that they are not FDA regulated or approved, so the kind of treatments you receive can vary widely depending on who is administering it.
While some people may feel more refreshed after a treatment, experts are doubtful the vitamins are responsible. Lying in a calm environment for a couple of hours while receiving IV therapy will help anyone relax. And if you’re dehydrated, the treatment may help you feel better by filling your blood vessels with the fluids they need.
Generally, nutritional deficiencies in the US are rare, so most people don’t need vitamins that they’re not already getting from their food, experts say. For those who do have nutritional deficiencies, a multivitamin pill will usually suffice. And if you are so dehydrated that you need an IV drip, a nonmedical clinic may not be the best place to get treatment.
Life-threatening brain injuries can happen to anyone and they’re not always easy to spot
Full House star and stand-up comedian Bob Saget died unexpectedly this year at the age of 65 after accidental blunt trauma to the head. His death was a reminder that potentially life-threatening brain injuries can happen to anyone and they’re not always easy to spot.
Neurology experts said that all it takes is a minor blow to a very specific part of the brain to cause serious damage, and that symptoms may look the same following mild or severe traumas. So it’s better to see a healthcare provider rather than let a potentially dangerous injury be overlooked.
Some serious symptoms to look out for include:
- Enlarged pupils, especially if it’s just one
- A headache that progressively gets worse or doesn’t go away
- Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or lack of coordination
- Vomiting, convulsions, or seizures
- Brief loss of consciousness
- Unusual behavior, such as confusion, agitation, or restlessness
Otherwise, be wary of sensitivity to light, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, and change in sleep patterns after a head injury. It’s also always a good idea to observe anyone who injured their head for at least a couple of hours.
While some accidents are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of a traumatic brain injury (like wearing a helmet when necessary). Prevention is key, experts say.
Gas stoves emit pollutants that could harm your health
Experts knew for some time that gas stoves emit pollutants that aren’t great for your health, but a study published this year found that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaks from appliances even while off.
The recent Stanford study also measured nitrogen dioxide levels. In just a few minutes of cooking, people who didn’t use range hoods or had poor ventilation, especially in smaller kitchens, were exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels that surpassed the EPA’s guidelines for one-hour outdoor exposure. (There are no regulations on indoor air pollution in the US.)
Whether these toxic pollutants can hurt your lungs depends on the level and length of exposure, but they are more harmful for some people than others, like children and people with respiratory illnesses or conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The amount of pollutants in the air may also depend on your gas stove’s cleanliness, general maintenance, and surrounding conditions, such as ventilation and kitchen size.
Generally, healthy people, or those with larger or well-ventilated kitchens where gasses can dissipate, don’t necessarily need to worry as much. But it’s always a good idea to turn exhaust fans or range hoods on while cooking, and leave them running for at least five minutes after cooking to collect any lingering pollutants.
You can also switch to an electric stove or conduction cooktop if you can. If not, regularly maintain and clean your gas stove, and consider having a professional inspect all pipe connections to make sure there aren’t any leaks.
Recent crowd crushes have been deadly. It’s important to know how to stay safe.
This year marked the one-year anniversary of the Astroworld Festival where 10 people died in a crowd surge during rapper Travis Scott’s performance in Houston. During Halloween festivities in downtown Seoul, at least 151 people were killed and dozens of others were injured after a large crowd began pushing forward in a narrow alley. Weeks before that, more than 125 people died in a stampede at an Indonesian soccer match.
Instances of large groups of people being trampled are relatively rare, but experts say more recent tragedies have been devastating in scale, and there are some precautions that people can take to help avoid these dangerous situations.
Here are some of the steps you can take if you want to avoid being trapped in a crowded environment:
- Check out the facility ahead of time online or in person to examine where it’s located, the venue’s shape and size, where the exits are, as well as if it’s indoors or outdoors.
- Go in a group and try to wear comfortable but distinctive clothing that helps everyone stand out.
- Try to park close to an exit.
- Bring plenty of fluids to drink.
- Do not stand by the railings in front of a stage.
- If you drop something, don’t try to pick it up.
- Try to stay calm to preserve as much energy as possible.
Stuffing your socks with onions won’t cure your cold, flu, or RSV
This year’s surge in respiratory viruses like the flu and RSV, in addition to COVID, had (and still have) people on social media willing to try anything to cure their or their child’s symptoms.
People claimed that raw onions in your socks or a sick person’s bedroom can absorb viruses, bacteria, fungi, and possibly other “toxins” from the skin or air. Their premise is that onions might help congestion, cough, headaches, and other symptoms; some even claim the remedy helps with asthma and “negative energy.”
There is some evidence that your skin can absorb the sulfur-based compounds found in onions, and that onions have some antimicrobial properties — but not enough to provide any therapeutic benefits. There’s also no evidence that onions can absorb germs from the air.
Perhaps the reason some people say they feel better after sleeping with an onion in their sock or bedside table is because onions can reduce congestion in the same way that they make people cry thanks to a substance called thiosulfinates.
Generally, you’ll want to stick with the basic but effective measures of hand-washing and avoiding close contact with sick people to avoid getting sick yourself; flu shots are great too.
Luckily, stuffing your socks with onions carries little to no risk, but it’s important to understand that home remedies like this one cannot cure underlying infection, experts say. Onions are good for your health, though, so try including them in your diet.
Donating blood now is one of the best things you can do for future victims of gun violence
The harrowing truth is that school shootings drive blood donations, which was clear following the Uvalde massacre, where a shooter killed 19 students and two teachers this year.
Gunshot victims are approximately five times more likely to require blood transfusions. They require 10 times more blood units and are 14 times more likely to die than people seriously injured by motor vehicles, non-gun assaults, falls, or stabbings.
But while there’s a rush to donate after shootings, it’s the blood on the shelves before the violence happens that actually saves lives in the immediate aftermath. That’s because donated blood must go through a screening process that takes about 24 to 48 hours. Not to mention gun violence threatens an already low blood supply.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there’s been a 10% decline in blood donations. Typically, blood centers like to have at least three days’ supply on hand to be able to meet the estimated needs of patients. This year and last, blood banks have been closer to the one- to two-day range of on-hand stock available to donate.
Emergencies happen everyday, so consider donating blood when you can.
Breast implants can cause complications and, in rare cases, possibly cancer
This year, the FDA announced that it had received reports of about 50 cases of cancer in people who’ve had breast implants. The cancers, including squamous cell carcinomas (a common skin cancer) and lymphomas, were found in the scar tissue that forms around implants. In some people, the cancer had spread throughout the body.
Although the warning is concerning, experts said the low number of cases so far is reassuring — and that implants will continue to be inserted per usual. And that at this time, people with breast implants are not being encouraged to remove them.
But the news reminded people that breast implants are not lifetime devices, and that it’s important to monitor your breast implants with routine screenings and contact your plastic surgeon if you notice any abnormalities.
Generally, it’s recommended that people replace their breast implants every 10 years, but that can change depending on any problems that may occur with your implants. Otherwise, MRI screenings are recommended five to six years after your surgery and then every two to three years thereafter.
Katie Couric’s breast cancer diagnosis this year also served as a critical reminder to prioritize your routine mammograms, especially if you have dense breasts, which carry an additional risk factor for cancer and can make cancer more difficult to see on a mammogram.
Anyone can find themselves in abusive and manipulative relationships
In Netflix’s Bad Vegan and The Tinder Swindler, which aired this year, manipulative and otherwise abusive people exploit their successful, capable friends and romantic partners out of thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars.
Not all relationships or dating experiences are this wild, but therapists and other experts said these stories can teach us a lot about abuse, intimidation, and gaslighting. What’s more, anyone, no matter where they come from or how they look or act, can find themselves in these kinds of relationships.
Because not all abusive relationships start out with obvious red flags, it may be helpful to know what they could look or feel like before they appear. Here are some signs you may be in an unhealthy relationship:
- You’re second-guessing yourself many times a day or week.
- You refrain from talking about your relationship with others to avoid judgment.
- You feel like you’re not good enough.
- You often question whether you’re being too sensitive or illogical.
- You feel isolated from friends and family.
- You take the blame for someone else’s behavior.
Here are some ways you can help someone else experiencing an abusive relationship:
- Encourage them to speak to a therapist.
- Guide them to resources where they can read about gaslighting.
- Help them name what’s going on and write down their dialogue to see where the interaction veers into manipulation.
- Remind them they can take a break from the relationship.
- Listen to them share their story and offer your perspective.