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Entertaining tips: Worry-free ways to clean before your guests arrive

(BPT) – For many of us, this is the best time of the year to spend with friends, family and lots of food. The weather has turned colder, the clocks have shifted back and we’re ready to invite guests over to eat, laugh and make new memories for the new year.

Let’s face it, because you spend more time indoors this time of year, you’re also probably a bit more anxious when it comes to keeping the house tidy and making sure you’re keeping yourself and your guests healthy. So, what’s the best approach to cleaning up before your get-together starts? You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s true: Clean only what your guests see. There’s no need to push all your furniture into the middle of the room to clean your baseboards or grab those dust bunnies from underneath the china cabinet. Of course, you want the guest bathroom to be shipshape, as well as a few of the following areas, before guests arrive.

Home is where the oven is: Most people like to mingle in the kitchen (hello bacon-wrapped dates!), so you want it to smell like all your wonderful food, not harsh chemicals. While you might be tempted to clean every inch of the kitchen, keep it simple and remember to clean as you go, especially during food prep. From raw cookie dough to chicken wings, you want to be careful not to cross-contaminate surfaces, so disinfect and clean those food-prep areas often, including cutting boards. (Use a product like PURELL(R) Multi Surface Disinfectant, which contains no harsh chemicals, to keep those counters and prep stations worry-free.) Don’t let those dirty mixing bowls pile up, either. Rinse as soon as you can and load them into the dishwasher.

The hangouts: After the kitchen, you probably know where your guests will gravitate. Maybe the kids hit the basement or rec room and sports fans huddle in the family room around the TV. Vacuuming and dusting are a must, and put away all the non-essential items. Place anything you don’t need into your laundry basket and stash it in the laundry room.

So many things to touch: Now think about all those hands touching surfaces like doorknobs, remotes, toys or playpens, especially if you have little ones crawling about or you’re expecting lots of toddlers. No one wants to be sick, especially when there is fun to be had. To prevent the spread of germs, disinfect those often-touched items and surfaces with PURELL(R) Multi Surface Disinfectant, which not only kills 99.99 percent of germs on hard surfaces, but also sanitizes soft surfaces and other areas in the house where you normally wouldn’t use traditional products.

Runny noses: For every hostess gift or side dish people bring, you should also expect some sniffles and sneezes. Keep your guests comfortable by putting out some boxes of tissues and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in key areas, like near the buffet line and next to the tissue box.

A little elbow grease and some targeted cleaning should leave you plenty of time for the really important stuff: cooking, eating and enjoying time with your loved ones.

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4 great gifts for your green-living friend

(BPT) – Here’s a stat for you: More than 145 million Americans report being alarmed or concerned about climate change, according to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Yes, over 145 million. That’s more than a third of the nation’s total population. Are you one of them? Whether you are or not, it’s a safe bet someone on your holiday shopping list is and you’d love to find the perfect gift that matches their passion.

Living an environmentally healthy, sustainable lifestyle is a personal thing and one every environmentally conscious person does a little bit differently. To complement that, Cool Effect is offering you the chance to personalize a great gift for those eco-conscious Earth lovers this holiday season. With a wide variety of carbon-cutting projects and flexible options, you can personalize the perfect gift package for anyone on your list. Cool Effect, a non-profit, has already done the work for you and created the holiday gift bundles below.

Breathe deep, breathe clean

Share the gift of clean air, literally, with The Cuckoo Combo. This pack, named for the threatened bird, supports efforts to capture methane and reduce nitrous oxide emissions while generating income for local communities.

Through your gift of this package, your loved one will be able to support the Native American Methane Capture program in Colorado that is converting this otherwise harmful gas to clean energy. They will also support technology initiatives to keep nitrous oxide emissions in check through the Mississippi-based Nitrous Oxide Abatement initiative.

Blown away with options

Most people have heard about the potential power opportunities that exist in wind harvesting, but it’s those living a more sustainable lifestyle that are especially excited about it. Support that enthusiasm with The Big Fan gift pack.

Your gift will support the creation of renewable energy wind turbines in Costa Rica, leading to long-term clean energy independence and jobs for local workers.

The wind turbines created through this initiative will provide power to 50,000 people and save 11,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. Your gift can help make it happen.

The power of poo

Initially this might seem like a white elephant present, but the aptly named Poo Package is actually a very real, important environmental project that anyone on your list would be grateful to support.

Using biogas digesters, animal waste — a source of harmful methane emissions — can now be turned into clean, usable energy. Your gift helps farmers in India build their very own biogas digesters that reduce these emissions while providing enough energy to power a neighborhood of Indian homes.

A brew-tiful gift

What’s the perfect gift for the environmentally conscious coffee drinker in your life? How about a package that supports the long-term sustainability of their favorite beverage? The Brew-tiful Gift package supports efforts to reduce logging in coffee growing regions, which reduces Earth-warming emissions and the hotter, drier climate they create that hinders coffee growth.

Through support of this gift pack, your loved one will be working to protect nearly 450,000 Peruvian acres from deforestation while also reducing firewood use in Honduras by nearly 50 percent — and those are initiatives everyone can drink to.

Pick the perfect project for your loved one today

These four projects are just a sample of the myriad environmentally conscious efforts your family and friends can support through your gift. To learn more about any of these projects or to shop other options and find the perfect gift, visit CoolEffect.org. Each project you find there can be customized to your price point and the passions of your loved one and they all support the same ideals of making this planet a greater, greener place to live during these holidays and all that will come after them.

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The first rule of the road: Focus on driving

(BPT) – Have you noticed that traffic seems to be worse lately? There’s a good reason for that — there are more vehicles on the road than at any time in recent history. Unemployment is low and gas is affordable, which means more people are driving more miles. And more drivers means an increased risk of getting into a collision, which impacts the number of auto insurance claims and, potentially, the cost of insurance premiums.

There is some good news, however, because vehicle technology has advanced significantly in the past decade, with features like backup cameras, active braking and pedestrian detection, which employ radar, camera, lidar and other sensors to detect and track vehicles, pedestrians or objects around the vehicle. Many of these enhancements are designed to help prevent collisions and make driving safer, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. When you’re driving, the road should get your full and complete attention, because as great as all of this new technology is, it’s not perfect and collisions can still occur.

“Rear-end collisions are the most common claims we see nationwide. We had nearly 60,000 customers report they were involved in rear-end collisions last year,” said Vice President of Claims at Mercury Insurance Kevin Quinn. “People are surprised to find out they’re at fault if they hit the vehicle ahead of them, even if the other driver brakes suddenly. This is why active braking technology, which can slow down your vehicle while using cruise control or even stop it completely if someone walks in front of your car or you aren’t able to react quickly enough to hit your brakes, is a great development. But, even if you have this technology, you still need to focus on the road to avoid getting into collisions.”

The most common auto collisions to be aware of, according to Mercury Insurance, include:

1. Your vehicle is rear-ended by another vehicle;

2. Your vehicle rear-ends another vehicle;

3. Another vehicle hits your parked car;

4. Another vehicle fails to yield in an intersection and hits your vehicle;

5. Collision with a fixed object;

6. Glass damage;

7. Another vehicle hits yours while changing lanes;

8. Your vehicle hits a parked car;

9. You fail to yield in an intersection and hit another car; and

10. You back into another vehicle.

“Most of these collisions are avoidable if people pay attention to their surroundings. Cars are safer, but drivers are more distracted than ever, especially by phone apps, texting and taking calls. And it’s not just drivers who are distracted, we’re also seeing more pedestrian accidents, because they have their heads buried in their phones and aren’t paying attention while they’re walking,” said Quinn. “No message, photo or phone call is more important than your safety and the safety of others, so please drive — and walk — responsibly.”

Drivers should annually review their auto insurance policy with a local independent insurance agent. Knowing what is and isn’t covered will help in the event you’re involved in one of the common auto insurance collisions.

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Homeowners liable for snow and ice control

(BPT) – Whenever it snows, it is common to see shopping center employees and business owners out and about clearing pathways, parking spaces and entrances of snow and ice. But this isn’t just good business to help customers get in the door, it is also a liability issue should someone slip, fall and injure themselves. Homeowners, too, face similar, albeit more limited, liability if they fail to take adequate steps to remove such slippery hazards from their property.

Generally speaking, homeowners are responsible for limiting dangers on their property, but in some cases this can also extend to public sidewalks abutting the home. In some localities, Homeowners Associations (HOAs), and governments also require that homeowners clear snow and ice or face fines. A regional survey of county and municipal ordinances conducted by the Salt Institute found that 83 percent have written policies directing property owners to remove accumulated snow and ice “within 24 hours of the end of the snowstorm.” Penalties for property owners not complying can range from nominal tickets to misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $500.

Shoveling snow is simple enough, but ice is another matter, and nothing works better to remove ice or prevent ice from forming than salt. Salt lowers water’s freezing point, the temperature at which it changes from a liquid to a solid and vice versa. Melting water that is already frozen is called deicing and is applied once ice appears. Preventing water from freezing in the first place is called anti-icing and is applied when a freeze is expected.

Commercially available anti-icing materials include salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but salt brine remains the best choice for anti-icing in temperatures above 15 degrees F (minus 9.4 degrees C) and continues to work in temperatures as low as minus 6 degrees F. For extremely low temperatures, look for a mixture using calcium or magnesium chloride instead.

Laws regarding snow and ice clearing vary by state and locality, but most mandate that some action be taken within a reasonable time period after it stops snowing. For example, the Illinois Snow and Ice Removal Act states that any owner who “removes or attempts to remove snow or ice from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition of the sidewalk resulting from his or her acts or omissions unless the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton.”

The dangers from slips and falls should not be taken lightly, especially for the elderly. Each year thousands are rushed to emergency rooms as a result of icy falls with injuries that could have easily been prevented. One enterprising hospital, St. Vincent’s in Indianapolis, Indiana, even decided to give away road salt to local residents one winter to try and prevent such injuries and the resulting emergency room visits. In the end, the person who is most likely to slip and fall is the homeowner themselves.

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Don’t let asthma ruin the holidays

(BPT) – With colder months arriving, there are a few things on everybody’s minds: festive treats, gift shopping and of course, time spent with family and friends. As many people look forward to the holiday season, asthma sufferers need to be aware and prepared for all the triggers this time of the year can bring. The change in weather, traveling or being in a relative’s home with new allergens can all trigger an asthma attack.

Charmayne Anderson has been living with asthma for as long as she can remember. Now, as Director of Advocacy at the Allergy and Asthma Network, she educates others on how to prepare for an asthma attack and enjoy life — and the holidays — unencumbered by their condition. After living with asthma through childhood, adolescence and now adulthood, she has witnessed an evolution of asthma medications and respiratory treatments firsthand.

“When I was diagnosed with asthma as a child, there were no inhalers or similar treatments for us to take home,” Anderson said. “My parents would have to take me for after-hours emergency care visits for an injection to help get my breathing under control.”

Anderson, along with the approximately 25 million asthma patients in the U.S., has more advanced and effective treatment options today to help manage symptoms and asthma attacks. For most people with asthma, having a rescue inhaler on-hand at all times is crucial, whether at home or on the go. Since asthma triggers may change frequently, it’s difficult to predict when an attack could strike. Particularly at this time of year, walking in the chilly winter air could be enough to cause wheezing and shortness of breath.

“For someone who has asthma, it can be a life-or-death situation. When you’re experiencing an attack, even if it’s minor, if you can’t get relief immediately it just escalates and becomes even greater,” said Anderson. “Having my rescue inhaler with me at all times and being able to check the dose counter is critical.”

One modern feature of asthma inhalers that has been especially helpful for Anderson and others areis dose counters integrated into rescue inhalers. For Anderson, dose counters serve as a forewarning that her inhaler is running low. Such a seemingly small reminder has certainly made a big difference; Anderson believes dose counters have helped her be more proactive in filling her prescription and being aware how much medication is left.

Every year, asthma accounts for 10.5 million doctor visits and 1.6 million emergency room visits in the United States. By utilizing dose counters and maintaining an asthma treatment plan, asthma sufferers like Anderson can help avoid emergency situations like these and travel with some confidence knowing they’re prepared.

Anderson said, “Prior to using a rescue inhaler with a dose counter built in, there were many times when I was away, out or not necessarily paying attention to how much medicine was in my inhaler. I’d get to a point when I would need it and I realized there was nothing in it, and I’d scramble to refill it.”

Now, when it comes time to travel for the holidays, the number one thing on Anderson’s to-do list is to make sure her and her children’s inhalers are filled.

“Before heading out of town I check everyone’s dose counter to make sure there is enough medication,” said Anderson. “Reaching out to a pharmacy while you’re traveling for the holidays is hard, especially when you’re experiencing an asthma attack and in an emergency situation.”

For additional information on the importance of dose counters, visit KnowYourCount.com.

Ms. Anderson has been compensated for her time in contributing to this program.

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September 2017

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Home cleaning routines for allergy relief

(BPT) – Many people turn to nasal sprays and antihistamines to combat seasonal nasal allergies or hay fever, but keeping the home clean to combat allergens, pollen and dust mite debris is just as important in the fight against allergies.

Vacuum often, and with the right filters and bags

One key to minimizing allergens at home is to vacuum at least twice per week. Start by using attachments to clean surfaces up high, working down to the floor. Make sure to vacuum curtains and upholstery as well as hard surfaces, and pay extra attention to entryways and areas around windows.

It’s also important to select vacuum accessories that have been designed specifically to capture allergens. Arm & Hammer Premium Allergen vacuum bags are specially designed of synthetic material to capture even more allergens, dust and pet hair from the home’s surfaces. In addition, the brand’s HEPA filters trap particles 75 times smaller than a human hair, including 99.97 percent of dust mite debris, animal dander, molds and pollen.

Frequently replacing vacuum bags and filters will keep vacuums running smoothly to keep a clean home happening. New bags are needed every one to two months, and filters should be replaced every three to six months. Don’t be fooled by washable filters as they too should be replaced — after one or two washes they may become less effective at capturing dust and allergens.

Wash bedding with hot water

Vacuuming high and low can help with surfaces, but bedding also should be a focus when attempting to allergen-proof the home. Sheets, blankets and comforters all attract dust mites in even the cleanest environments. Wash bedding once a week in hot water to keep allergens at bay. It’s also smart to consider protective covers for mattresses and pillows to stop dust mites from getting in too deep.

Keep air dry

Too much moisture in the air can help dust mites thrive, and may also lead to mold. Using a dehumidifier, especially in humid climates or summer months, can help control the spread of mold and dust mites.

Minimize indoor plants

While plants can be a great way to build ambiance in the home, some indoor plants can amplify allergy symptoms by releasing spores and other allergens into the air. For those with a green thumb who can’t live without plants at home, make sure to research the plants that are least likely to increase pollen or mold exposure indoors.

Keep the outdoors out

While it is hard to control exposure to pollen and other triggers when outside, those with allergies can avoid bringing pollen into the house with them. Keep shoes and jackets limited to the entryway or mudroom, and shower and wash hair before bedtime to stop the spread of pollen.

There is a range of Arm & Hammer bag and filter styles made to fit nearly all brands and models of vacuum cleaners, sold at Wal-Mart stores and www.walmart.com.

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What’s the deal with teen driving crashes?

(BPT) – It’s no surprise that teen drivers get into more traffic collisions than their older counterparts, but why? Some reasons include less driving experience, a higher willingness to take risks and passenger distraction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than 350 teen drivers got into collisions due to some type of distraction, according to data from 2015. Forty-one of those fatalities were because of other occupants in the vehicle.

Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., limit teens from driving with passengers other than immediate family members until they receive full license privileges. Most often, they’re restricted to only driving with one passenger for the first six months. However, NHTSA teen fatal accident data reveals that 16-year-olds drive with the most passengers, averaging 2.7 occupants who were involved in fatal accidents compared to 2.5 for 17-year-olds; 2.2 for 18-year-olds; and 2.1 for 19- and 20-year-olds.

“Passengers can be a huge distraction in the car, especially for young drivers who may not have the same reaction time as more experienced drivers,” said Randy Petro, Mercury Insurance’s chief claims officer. “Graduated driver’s licenses exist for a reason and parents need to be diligent with their teens to ensure they’re adhering to these rules and not driving around with their friends before the law says they can. Even then, it’s important to keep their focus on the road.”

Passenger distractions aren’t the only causes of teen driving accidents. Here are a few more of which you should be aware.

* Time of day: 342 accidents and 394 fatalities happen at 6 p.m., respectively.

* Day of the week: Weekends are the worst time to drive, but more accidents happen on Saturdays (1,007 accidents and 1,191 fatalities).

* Speeding: 1,505 accidents were directly related to speeding.

Mercury Insurance created the Drive Safe Challenge to provide a platform for parents and teens to have serious discussions about driving. Its goal is to reduce the number of teen crashes and fatalities, and it includes tips to help parents communicate with their kids about appropriate driving behavior, as well as useful information and videos to assist teens with being safe behind the wheel. It has recently been updated to include common causes for teen driving accidents by state. Texas teens, for example, experience the most teen driving crashes with 709, while Washington, D.C., has the fewest at 2.

Be sure to talk to your kids and set ground rules before they get in the car, because being a good driver may even qualify them for an auto insurance discount.

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Flu facts: Top 5 things you need to know about the flu shot this year

(BPT) – You hear about it on the news. You see the signs in the pharmacy windows. Even your friends and co-workers are talking about it. The flu shot is a highly discussed topic, and for good reason!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population — or up to 64.6 million people — gets the flu, and tens of thousands of people are hospitalized every year because of it. Further, the flu can strike anyone, and adults aged 18-64 years old are the most likely to get ill, accounting for 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations. This number goes up in certain areas, and some states — such as Texas, Florida and California — tend to be hit harder by the flu than others.

“Flu-related illnesses are already trending twice as high in 2017 as they were in 2016, and we are seeing an uptick in flu-related visits across the country,” said Dr. Jason Tibbels, MD, board-certified family physician and director for quality programs at Teladoc, the largest and most trusted telehealth provider in the world. “This year, officials want at least 70 percent of Americans to get a flu shot; however, fewer than 50 percent were vaccinated against the flu last season.”

How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from the annual flu outbreak? The first step is to understand the benefits and any potential risks of flu vaccination and then — if it’s right for you — go get the flu shot.

It’s also important to understand that while the vaccine is the best defense in protecting against flu, there’s still a chance that with it, you could get sick. If you do start to experience symptoms, telehealth is an on-demand, anytime, anywhere resource. This means you can access hassle-free medical care from your home during the middle of the night, from your college dorm room, while at the airport for an early morning business trip, and anywhere else you have access to a phone, a mobile app or the web. A telemedicine doctor can assess your symptoms before they worsen. Visit Teladoc.com/flu to learn more about the telehealth benefits that may be available to you to access care when and where you need it.

We asked Teladoc’s Dr. Tibbels why the flu shot is so important this year. Here are his top reasons:

1) It keeps you out of the emergency room. The flu shot reduces the risk of hospitalization due to flu by approximately 50 to 60 percent.

2) It reduces sick days. Missed time at work due to flu-related illnesses causes an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually.

3) It promotes overall health. The flu vaccine is a helpful tool for people with chronic health conditions. Flu vaccination is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, and is also proven to have reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease. Further, vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy, reducing the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about 50 percent. And getting vaccinated also protects the baby several months after birth.

4) If you do get sick, it may decrease the severity. The flu vaccination does not guarantee protection against the virus; people who get the shot are still at risk of getting sick. However, if you do get sick, the flu vaccination can make your illness milder. If you start to experience symptoms — whether or not you’ve had the flu vaccine — it’s important to see a doctor. Many people have 24-hour access to board-certified and licensed physicians seven days a week via telemedicine from home, work or on the road through a phone or tablet, making it easier than ever to get a diagnosis and start treatment.

5) It helps stop flu from spreading. Did you know that the flu virus can be spread to people within three feet of a sick patient when that patient coughs, sneezes or talks? Getting vaccinated doesn’t just help protect you from the flu; the flu shot is the responsible choice for protecting those around you. Vaccination is especially important for protecting more vulnerable populations, such as babies and young children, the elderly, and people with certain chronic health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“When it comes to the flu, it’s not wise to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Dr. Tibbels. “Talk to a doctor! We’re available all day, every day, all through flu season and beyond.”

To learn more about Teladoc and the level of flu risk where you live, visit Teladoc.com/flu.

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A message for parents: School eye screenings don’t replace a comprehensive eye exam

(BPT) – With the academic year in full swing, many schools across the country are administering vision screenings to students. Parents mistakenly breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing that their children “passed” the screening. What parents don’t know are the significant limitations of school-based screenings. School vision screenings fail to detect a range of potentially harmful vision issues, the American Optometric Association (AOA) reports.

Unfortunately, nine out of 10 parents think that school-based vision screenings are all their children need to confirm good eye health. But screenings miss up to 75 percent of dangerous eye conditions in children, according to AOA’s new Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline: Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination. What’s more, when a vision screening does indicate a possible problem, only 39 percent of children receive the care they need from an eye doctor.

One of the biggest hurdles to detecting poor vision is the child’s awareness of the problem. Most children with vision problems don’t know that other children see better than they do; they think their poor vision is “normal.”

“Healthy eyes and good vision are essential for every child’s development,” says AOA President Christopher Quinn, O.D. “Parents need to know that school vision screenings can miss potentially severe eye or vision problems. They cannot replace a comprehensive exam by a doctor of optometry.”

The AOA, which represents more than 44,000 optometrists, optometric professionals and optometry students in communities across the country, recently issued a new, evidence-based guideline for vision care in children that informs parents and caregivers about protecting their children’s eye health. The guideline, which is based on a three-year review of the latest research, concludes that children should receive a comprehensive eye exam during their first year of life and again between the ages of 3 and 5, before entering first grade and annually thereafter.

“Regular, comprehensive eye exams not only contribute to helping children succeed, they prevent and diagnose serious eye problems that can be more expensive to treat and cause permanent vision impairment if left undetected,” Quinn says.

Vision and academic performance

Multiple studies have linked vision problems with poor academic performance and behavioral issues. In fact, children with undetected and untreated vision problems can exhibit some of the same symptoms as kids with attention-deficit disorders, leading to false diagnoses.

“Good vision is more complex than just being able to see clearly,” Quinn says. “In order to see well enough to perform to the best of their academic abilities, children’s eyes need to focus, track, work together and judge distance and depth. Typical school vision tests only screen for nearsightedness.”

Eye health problems

A comprehensive eye exam by a doctor of optometry can help detect serious eye health and vision problems that in-school screenings simply aren’t designed to catch. These problems include amblyopia, a condition that impairs vision in one of a child’s eyes because the eye and the brain are not working together properly.

According to AOA, parents should keep these four tips in mind when it comes to their children’s eye health and safety:

1. Know that pediatric eye exams with a doctor of optometry are most likely covered by your health insurance plan. Most health insurance plans, including those sold in health insurance marketplaces, cover comprehensive pediatric eye exams.

2. Look for indicators of vision and eye-health issues in your children. Common signals that your child may have a vision problem include covering one eye, holding reading materials close to the face, a short attention span and complaining of headaches or other discomfort. Remember, most children don’t know they have a problem, so they are unlikely to say anything, even if they are struggling.

3. Prevent eye strain by monitoring use of digital devices. Increased exposure to electronic devices in and out of the classroom can cause digital eye strain, including burning or itchy eyes, headaches, blurred vision and exhaustion. AOA recommends following the 20-20-20 rule (taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away), blinking frequently and adjusting your child’s computer screen to prevent glare.

4. Make sure your kids wear proper eye protection for sports and outdoor activities. Well-fitting, protective eye wear and quality sunglasses that offer UV protection are critical to maintaining key visual skills and preventing injuries.

To learn more about vision health, visit www.aoa.org.

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Tips to make sure your fire extinguisher is at the ready

(BPT) – You check your alarms regularly and practice your family escape plan — but are you overlooking an essential component of home safety? Having fire extinguishers and knowing how to use them is an important part of maintaining a safe home for you and your family.

“In America, a fire starts in a residential home every 86 seconds and the rapid protection offered by fire extinguishers can make the difference between minor or insignificant damage and greater tragedy,” said Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for First Alert, the most trusted brand in home safety. “However, because many Americans have never activated a traditional fire extinguisher before, many do not understand the essential role that fire extinguishers play in a home safety plan, and lack the confidence and know-how to use them properly.”

Follow these tips on fire extinguisher placement and usage to help ensure you and your family are properly prepared in case of emergency:

Compare features: Two of the most important features in fire extinguishers are size and intended use. Larger commercial fire extinguishers meant for public spaces may be too heavy or unwieldy for some family members. Select a home fire extinguisher that weighs 3 pounds or less. Other features to look for include a metal valve and trigger, which offer the durability of a commercial-grade extinguisher, as well as an easy-to-read color-coded gauge for accurate measurement. Spray times vary by make and manufacturer, so select extinguishers that perform above the standard and feature longer spray times. Remember, a fire extinguisher that has been discharged is no longer effective, so consider rechargeable extinguishers that can be recharged by a certified professional if the unit is used.

Keep it in reach: When seconds count, having an extinguisher nearby is crucial for rapid response. For this reason, place an extinguisher in each area of the home where a fire could potentially occur, including the kitchen, living room, each bedroom and the garage. In most cases, one extinguisher is likely not enough protection for an entire household. In addition, make sure that every responsible member of your household (including house sitters and babysitters) knows where each fire extinguisher is placed. The National Fire Protection Association recommends installing fire extinguishers close to room exits so that you can discharge it and quickly escape if the fire cannot be controlled.

Know your ABCs: While they may all look similar, fire extinguishers have very specific ratings that indicate what kind of fire they are designed to extinguish. Extinguishers with a Class A rating can put out fires caused by wood, paper, trash and other common materials, while Class B rated extinguishers are intended for gasoline and flammable liquids. Class C rated extinguishers are meant for fires caused by electrical equipment, such as frayed cords. For general protection, it’s best to select a multirated extinguisher, such as the First Alert Rechargeable Home Fire Extinguisher, that’s capable of handling most types of household fires.

Know how to use it: A simple way to remember proper usage instructions is with the acronym PASS:

* Pull the pin on the extinguisher

* Aim the nozzle low toward the base of the fire

* Squeeze the trigger

* Sweep the nozzle from side to side

Frequently repeat the acronym when practicing your family escape plan so that if a fire occurs, the response will be automatic.

Know when to go: Combating small fires with an extinguisher is one component of a fire response plan, but the primary goal should be safe escape. The first step in any scenario should be to call 911. In addition, a fire extinguisher is no substitute for having — and regularly practicing — a home fire escape plan, and ensuring that proper functioning smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed throughout the home to provide early detection. Keep in mind that alarms and fire extinguishers aren’t designed to last forever, and must be replaced at least every 10 years.

To learn more about fire safety, visit FirstAlert.com.

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