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Runny nose? Common cold, allergies, or something else?

During fall and winter, I see many patients with a stuffy and runny nose, a cough, chest congestion and frequent throat clearing. These are symptoms of several different conditions. Patients could have simple colds or allergies or other illnesses such as a sinus infection, acute bronchitis, acid reflux, or asthma. Your doctor is trained to sort out your symptoms and examine you to form the right diagnosis and the right treatment plan. If you have any of these symptoms, see your primary care physician.

Here are some of the things I look for when patients have these common cold-weather symptoms:

Colds are viral upper respiratory tract infections that are well known to all of us. It’s common to have two to three colds per year. We tend to get more colds during the winter months because we are more likely to be exposed to large groups or gatherings such as holiday events or children at school. Colds are characterized by these symptoms:
• cough
• nasal congestion
• a watery clear discharge
• low-grade headaches
• ear aches


Colds usually last no more than five to seven days and require little treatment other than some over-the-counter cough and cold medications and a large box of tissues.


Seasonal allergies can occur year-round or seasonally. These illnesses are related to an allergic response to a variety of airborne (or food-related) proteins. The body responds with these reactions:
• cough
• chest congestion
• wheezing
• hives
• itchy or watery eyes
• fatigue
• headaches
• no fever

Severe exposure to allergens can cause a fever, such as in response to a dirty humidifier, wet basement, or many workplace allergy triggers (foods, dusts, chemicals). Fungal exposure in those settings can cause severe reactions that also affect the lungs and cause long-term lung damage. Allergies tend to be worse in the fall, due to exposure to dust from heating systems (especially forced hot air systems), and in the spring, due to molds from decaying leaves and damp basements. Exposures can be reduced by using a HEPA (high-energy particulate) filter or other type of fan.


Usually allergies can be easily treated with antihistamines. If symptoms are severe or persistent, you may consider receiving allergy shots from an allergist.

Other conditions

There are a number of other conditions that have similar symptoms to colds and allergies.
•Acute sinusitis, or a sinus infection, is characterized by cough, nasal congestion, low-grade fever, and headaches over the cheeks or forehead. The infection often follows a common cold after three to five days of nasal congestion, a runny nose and sore throat. Usually the cold appears to get better after a few days, but then symptoms worsen including the fever and headaches. Nasal discharge can become discolored (green, yellow, or brown) and need to be frequently cleared with tissues or even a salt water solution with a neti pot. Sinus infections are typically treated with antibiotics for 10 days.
•Acute bronchitis is an illness of the bronchi – the tubes below the windpipe leading to the lungs. Symptoms include a cough, low-grade fever and discolored phlegm (similar to sinusitis). This illness requires similar antibiotic treatment if it persists beyond five to seven days.
•Acid reflux (GERD or gastro-esophageal reflux) can also cause chronic cough and throat clearing, but there are usually no symptoms of nasal congestion, fever, headaches or phlegm. The illness is treated with medications and lifestyle changes.
•Asthma is an illness of the bronchi characterized by cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, phlegm, and in about half of cases, underlying allergies as well. This is a common illness, affecting approximately 5 percent of the population. There are a number of effective medications and treatment options for asthma.

So if you’re experiencing any of these common symptoms, see your doctor. With a few tests, a stethoscope, a chest or sinus X-ray, or allergy tests, he or she can give you an effective treatment plan to help you feel better. Specialists such as allergists, otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors), and pulmonologists are also available to guide you through symptoms and treatments.

Michael Bader, MD, is on the medical staff of Hallmark Health System. He is board certified in internal medicine and pulmonary medicine.

Alfredo Aquino of Hallmark Health VNA & Hospice Receives Malden Rotary Club Service Above Self Award


Alfredo Aquino, a home health aide at Hallmark Health Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice, Inc., is the recipient of the Healthcare Provider Service Above Self Award presented by the Malden Rotary Club. This is the first year with a dedicated healthcare provider category. Service Above Self awards are presented annually to individuals in police, fire, emergency management, sheriff’s office, paramedics, education, community service, and now, healthcare, who “go above and beyond” what is required of their profession.

Mr. Aquino, who immigrated to the US from the Philippines in 1995, has been a home health aide for 29 years, the last 15 of which have been with Hallmark Health VNA & Hospice.

In speaking of Mr. Aquino, Cindy Lyons, director of clinical services at Hallmark Health VNA & Hospice said, “his understated, steady internal energy permeates the relationship with every patient he has cared for. His unassuming manner and quiet confidence instantly puts the sickest of patients at ease.”

November is Home Care & Hospice Month. During November the home care and hospice community honor the millions of nurses, home care aides, therapists, and social workers who make a remarkable difference for the patients and families they serve. These heroic caregivers play a central role in our health care system and in homes across the nation.

Hallmark Health Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice has been a leader in the delivery of home health and hospice services to the residents of Malden and surrounding 23 cities and towns in north suburban Boston since 1899. The agency is fully certified, licensed and accredited.

The diversity and size of Hallmark Health Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice enhances the ability to provide comprehensive and expert services based on individual needs. The knowledge of and involvement in the community has also allowed for successful advocacy for the needs of patients and families.

Whether it is providing skilled nursing care to a premature infant, medical surgical care to a patient recently discharged from the hospital, nursing teaching to a new diabetic, palliative care, or hospice care, the staff of Hallmark Health Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice never lose sight of the mission of enhancing the patient's quality of life. All of the programs are leaders in guiding and shaping the future of home care, preventative, and long term care. Each excels in providing comprehensive services that promote a healthy community, as well as individual dignity and independence. All strive to achieve the highest standards of individual and organizational excellence.

The Hospice program at Hallmark Health Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice strives to maximize the physical, emotional and spiritual comfort of patients at home or if needed, in an extended care facility. The program utilizes an integrated team approach to care, which includes the patient’s primary care physician, patient and patient’s family as part of the team. The Hospice team is comprised of experienced and caring hospice nurses, social workers, specially trained home health aides, therapists, a board certified medical director, pharmacists, clergy and volunteers.

To learn more about Hallmark Health Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice, visit or call 781-338-7800.

Lawrence Memorial/Regis College Nursing Program redesignated Center of Excellence in Nursing Education

The National League for Nursing (NLN) recognized Lawrence Memorial/Regis College Nursing Program within the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Regis College as one of 35 schools of nursing throughout the country, representing programs across the academic spectrum of higher education, chosen as NLN Centers of Excellence™. The honor distinguishes organizations that demonstrate sustained, evidence-based and substantive innovation in nursing education.

This is Lawrence Memorial/Regis College Nursing Program’s third consecutive designation as a Center of Excellence in Nursing by the NLN. Lawrence Memorial/Regis College is one of only 12 schools to receive the designation three or more times. The program was also the first school of nursing in New England to earn the designation in 2008 and has continued to pursue and sustain excellence. The program received the designation in the category of Creating Environments that Enhance Student Learning and Professional Development.

“I am extremely proud of the work of the faculty and staff to make ours a true program of excellence,” said Nancy Bittner, PhD, CNS, RN, vice president for education and professor of nursing at Lawrence Memorial/Regis College Nursing Program. “These recognitions do not happen by accident. They happen because we are truly focused on the student and on providing an excellent education that will provide our graduates with the skills to become the finest and best prepared nursing professionals.”

“The 2015 COE designees’ visionary leadership and dedication to creating environments of inclusive excellence nurture the creation of a strong and diverse nursing workforce to advance the health of the nation and the global community,” said NLN CEO Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN.

Lawrence Memorial/Regis College Nursing Program, along with the other centers of excellence, was formally recognized at the NLN’s 2015 Education Summit in Las Vegas. The four-day event draws a capacity crowd of nurse faculty, deans, administrators and professionals from allied health organizations.

The NLN looks to its centers of excellence to serve as exemplars of the NLN’s core values: excellence, integrity, diversity and caring. COE faculty bear a responsibility to share their experiences, knowledge and wisdom for the benefit of everyone in nursing education. They are expected to provide guidance and be available as sounding boards to other nursing programs that aim to achieve COE status.

Every year since 2004, the NLN has invited nursing schools to apply for COE status, based on their abilities to demonstrate in concrete, measurable terms sustained excellence in faculty development, nursing education research, or student learning and professional development. Since 2012, health care organizations have been included within the category Creating Workplace Environments that Promote Academic Progression of Nurses. Schools and health care organizations must also have a proven commitment to continuous quality improvement.

Melrose Girl Skates in Rink of Dreams

Rachel Aveni of Melrose was one of more than 60 youth hockey players chosen to participate in an on-ice hockey clinic with Boston Bruins alumni players recently at TD Garden.

The Boston Bruins Rink of Dreams clinic, presented by Hallmark Health System, featured an hour-long drill session lead by Bruins alumni Bob Beers, Andy Brickley, Tommy Songin, and Bob Sweeney, followed by an autograph signing. Each player also received a custom Boston Bruins and Hallmark Health jersey.

Rachel, a 12-year old 7th grader at the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, plays defense for her team in Melrose Youth Hockey. Her favorite Bruins player is Zdeno Chara.

“It was a great experience to be able to learn from and skate with Bruins legends,” said Rachel.

Hallmark Health is the official healthcare partner of the Boston Bruins.

Hallmark Health Cancer Program Earns National Accreditation from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons


The Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACoS) has granted Three-Year Accreditation to the cancer program at Hallmark Health System. To earn voluntary CoC accreditation, a cancer program must meet 34 CoC quality care standards, be evaluated every three years through a survey process, and maintain levels of excellence in the delivery of comprehensive patient-centered care.

Because it is a CoC-accredited cancer center, Hallmark Health takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer as a complex group of diseases that requires consultation among surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists, pathologists, and other cancer specialists. This multidisciplinary partnership results in improved patient care.

“We are pleased and honored to have been acknowledged by the Commission on Cancer for our comprehensive cancer services,” said Steven Sbardella, MD, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Hallmark Health. “CoC accreditation is the result of our commitment to providing high-quality, technologically-advanced compassionate care to our patients.”

The CoC Accreditation Program provides the framework for Hallmark Health to improve its quality of patient care through various cancer-related programs that focus on the full spectrum of cancer care including prevention, early diagnosis, cancer staging, optimal treatment, rehabilitation, life-long followup for recurrent disease, and end-of-life care. When patients receive care at a CoC facility, they also have access to information on clinical trials and new treatments, genetic counseling, and patient centered services including psycho-social support, a patient navigation process, and a survivorship care plan that documents the care each patient receives and seeks to improve cancer survivors’ quality of life.

Like all CoC-accredited facilities, Hallmark Health maintains a cancer registry and contributes data to the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB), a joint program of the CoC and American Cancer Society (ACS). This nationwide oncology outcomes database is the largest clinical disease registry in the world. Data on all types of cancer are tracked and analyzed through the NCDB and used to explore trends in cancer care. CoC-accredited cancer centers, in turn, have access to information derived from this type of data analysis, which is used to create national, regional, and state benchmark reports. These reports help CoC facilities with their quality improvement efforts.

ACS estimates that more than 1.6 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2013. There are currently more than 1,500 CoC-accredited cancer programs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, representing 30 percent of all hospitals. CoC-accredited facilities diagnose and/or treat more than 70 percent of all newly diagnosed cancer patients. When cancer patients choose to seek care locally at a CoC-accredited cancer center, they are gaining access to comprehensive, state-of-the-art cancer care close to home. The CoC provides the public with information on the resources, services, and cancer treatment experience for each CoC-accredited cancer program through the CoC Hospital Locator at

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During fall and winter, I see many patients with a stuffy and runny nose, a cough, chest...


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