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13 Modern Health Problems and Their Solutions

Is gluten-free healthy? Should I have that colonoscopy? What’s the deal with fasting?

pattern of apples
Getty / AARP

Between fad diets, trendy skin care regimens and an evolving landscape of illnesses and treatments, staying on top of the latest health news is no easy task.

That’s where AARP has you covered. We tapped the pros to take on 13 common health issues and dole out some sensible advice for each.

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1. No more meat???

I know someone who can’t eat beef, pork or lamb because of a tick bite. Could it happen to me?

Potentially. There is a carbohydrate called alpha-gal in the saliva of lone star ticks (common in the East and South) that is also present in the meat of mammals. A bite from that type of tick can trigger our immune systems to develop allergic reactions to beef, pork, lamb gelatin, even dairy products. Alpha-gal syndrome is one of many tick­-related health conditions; Lyme disease is the best known. Ticks are prevalent across the U.S. If bitten, use tweezers to gently lift the tick out of your skin (don’t twist or use oil or fire). If concerned, place the tick in a plastic bag and send it to a tick testing center to see if it was carrying dangerous bacteria.

—Sunjya Schweig, M.D., director, California Center for Functional Medicine, Oakland

2. Honey, where are my ...

... keys, hat, glasses, mask? I’m constantly searching for my everyday things and want to stop.

Try to establish a single spot where you always keep everyday stuff, such as a bowl on an entryway table. So every time you come in, your wallet, keys, mask, glasses, all that kind of stuff, just goes right there in the bowl. Another step: Clear out clutter around the most heavily trafficked parts of your house; it’s easy to spot things on clean counters. Also stick with one purse, bag or wallet for everyday use. Finally, don’t stress over occasional bouts of forgetfulness; it’s very common. But if it’s causing you trouble in a serious way, get checked out by your doctor.

—Thomas Laudate, clinical neuropsychologist, Tufts Medical Center, Boston

3. Is it long COVID?

My spouse is convinced she has it. How can we know?

If she had COVID-19 and symptoms have persisted for more than four weeks, that’s probably long COVID. There is no diagnostic test to identify this; it’s based on symptoms and, of course, a history of recent infection. Studies show that as many as 30 percent of severe COVID infection patients develop it. Among those with mild COVID, the rate is about 13 percent. The most common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, taste or smell issues or brain fog, all of which can last three months or longer. Some people experience headaches, joint pains, dizziness, sleep disorders, increased depression and anxiety. There is no definite drug therapy, and we are still investigating treatments. If you think your spouse may have it, have her see her primary care physician. There are centers that specialize in long COVID they can refer her to. But rest, pacing her activities and eating healthfully can help her recover more quickly.

—William Lago, M.D., medical director, COVID reCOVer Clinic of the Cleveland Clinic

4. Sneezing & wheezing

With each October and April, my symptoms get more intense. Is it just me, or are seasonal allergies getting worse?

It’s not just you. Rising CO2 levels and higher temperatures are causing plants to produce pollen for longer periods of the year. As a result, pollen counts are as much as 40 percent higher than they were in previous decades. I tell my patients they need to be more proactive. Check Pollen.com to see if the pollen count is high before heading out. On those days, close the windows and let the AC do the work for you. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can reduce airborne allergens. Shower and change your clothes after time outdoors. Saline sinus rinses, nasal sprays and antihistamines can help. If you can’t manage symptoms on your own, talk to your doctor about allergy shots, which can build up your tolerance to allergens like ragweed and dust mites. —Julie Wendt, M.D., allergist, Relieve Allergy, Asthma & Hives, Scottsdale, Arizona

5. Food fad bandwagon

My daughter is trying to convince me to join her on a fasting regimen. Smart or dumb?

It depends on what that regimen looks like. Fasting has been linked to reduced inflammation and, in animal studies, longevity. But restricting calories too severely can slow your metabolism and accelerate muscle loss. You’re probably fine starting with a 12-hour fast: If you finish dinner at 7 p.m., don’t eat again until 7 a.m. That will reduce your overall calorie intake, give you time to digest and even allow the body to burn some fat for energy overnight. But anything longer than that should probably start with a visit to your doctor, especially if you have any existing health concerns or take medication with food in the morning.

—Elizabeth DeRobertis, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Scarsdale Medical Group, an affiliate of White Plains Hospital in New York

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6. Is a colonoscopy risky?

My doctor says I should get a routine colonoscopy, but the headlines are conflicting. Should I book it?

Yes. It could save your life. If you are at least 45 years of age and at average risk for colorectal cancer, you should start regular screenings, which may include a colonoscopy, according to the American Cancer Society. People with a family history of colon cancer should start earlier. Colonoscopies have a bad reputation due to prep — you have to drink a solution that empties out your bowels — and the idea of having a tube inserted into the colon. But colonoscopy prep is much less problematic than it was in the past, and the procedure is performed under sedation, so you won’t remember a thing. Keeping up with colonoscopies is very important. When you catch cancer early, your odds of survival are vastly improved. Furthermore, detection and removal of precursor lesions, such as adenomas, can prevent the development of full-blown cancer.

—Rogerio C. Lilenbaum, M.D., senior vice president and chief physician executive, Jupiter Medical Center, Jupiter, Florida

7. High anxiety

Every now and then, a wave of anxiety just washes over me.

Recent studies show that as many as one-fourth of older adults are experiencing feelings of anxiety. There are two common manifestations: For some, it feels like a nagging worry, tension or restlessness that happens throughout the day; others, like you, experience a sudden onset that may come with shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, sweating or other physical symptoms. To relieve either form, try an anxiety-releasing routine a few times each day. Relax your jaw and shoulders, then move down your body from there; the process should take five minutes or less. Staying active can also help; boredom is fertile ground for anxiety. When an anxious thought strikes, get up and do something different to interrupt that pattern of thought. Breathing in for four seconds, holding for two and exhaling for eight also can help the entire body relax.

—Molly Camp, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

8. Just taste it!

No one in my home wants to eat quinoa, squash, kale or other healthy foods.

First, just start roasting vegetables in a 400-degree oven with some sea salt, your favorite spices and olive oil to bring out the natural sugars and crispy textures. Pretty much any vegetable that’s not leafy will work. Then, stick them on your family’s dinner plates or on the table. In time, they’ll get in the habit of eating them. I’m also a fan of “sneaky vegetables.” Mix in chopped mushrooms next time you are cooking with ground meat, or blend soft or cooked vegetables into sauces or soups. And include fresh fruit on the table at meals. Who doesn’t want a slice of watermelon?

—Diana Guevara, registered dietitian and community health specialist, UTHealth School of Public Health, Dallas

9. Pasta conundrum

My spouse uses only gluten-free products at home “because it’s just healthier.” True?

No. If you have celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity or you feel unwell when you consume gluten-containing foods, then going gluten-free makes sense. About 6 percent of the U.S. population has a gluten sensitivity, with about 1 percent having celiac disease. But if that’s not you, then going gluten-free isn’t “healthier.” Many gluten-free foods like crackers, pasta, cereals and baked goods are made from corn, rice or tapioca starches that have very little fiber and are often lacking in nutrients. That said, eating fewer carbs that contain gluten is often a sensible health goal. The best way is to focus on foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Gluten-free whole grains like certified gluten-free oats, sorghum, teff, quinoa, amaranth or black rice are healthy, too. And if you experience abdominal problems, see a doctor; no one should self-diagnose a gluten allergy.

—Lauren Harris-Pincus, dietitian and owner, NutritionStarringYou.com

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10. Too much crunch

I bit into a sandwich made with a crusty roll, and ... wow, it hurt!

You might have a chipped or broken tooth. If you’re hit with a sudden toothache after eating something crunchy, don’t take it lightly, call a dentist for an appointment immediately. Truth is, there’s no home cure for a broken tooth. But there’s much you can do to prevent the next one. The most important thing is to keep good oral hygiene. Be cautious around sticky, crunchy or gummy foods; stay religious about flossing and brushing; then take a few extra moments each day to massage your gums, either with a soft toothbrush or your fingers. That helps keep your gums and teeth healthy, preventing tooth decay and ultimately avoiding ailments like chipped or broken teeth.

­—Guneet Alag, dentist, Fab Dental, Hayward, California

11. My poor gut!

I’m (buuurrp!) gassy all the time.

Stress, antibiotics, over-the-counter supplements, too much take-out food, viruses and many other factors may have caused an increase in GI symptoms over the past few years, by altering the bacteria in our guts. If you notice additional symptoms like unexplained weight loss, increased nausea or vomiting or stool changes, go see your doctor. But as far as standard gas, it’s mostly about your diet. Start by cutting back on carbonated beverages and foods that can upset the stomach: artificial sweeteners; milk and ice cream; onions and garlic; wheat products like cereal, bread and crackers; beans and lentils; and tree fruits such as apples, cherries and peaches. These foods contain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and thus ferment in the gut. Increased fiber can get things moving in the case of constipation, and probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut can restock the good bacteria.

—Andrew Boxer, M.D., Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey

12. Facing up to age

My skin doesn’t absorb my makeup anymore.

Exfoliation and hyaluronic acid sound like the opposite of what you use for your aging or damaged skin. But they are exactly what you need. Regular exfoliation combined with adequate hydration will ensure that your makeup doesn’t look cakey. I recommend you exfoliate twice a week or even every other day, followed by a hydrating facial serum with hyaluronic acid. It will plump your skin if you let it soak in a few minutes. If you wish, finish off your routine with a light coat of foundation.

—Michael Crumm, celebrity aesthetician in Los Angeles

13. Eyes wide open

It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I can’t resist dozing off.

Start by drinking more water. I have about 1 out of every 4 patients complain about fatigue, and the biggest culprit is dehydration. Men need around 15.5 cups a day; women need 11.5 cups. Drink coffee to perk up? Then you actually need more water, because caffeine is a diuretic. Skipping breakfast can also cause afternoon fatigue, as this can send afternoon blood sugar levels crashing down. Ultimately, eating three small meals a day with healthy snacks is the best way to keep your blood sugar levels stable, reduce big swings in your insulin hormone, keeping you alert and motivated throughout the day.

—Marc Helzer, M.D., University of Michigan Health-West

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