20 Things You’re Probably Doing That Nurses Wouldn’t
Nurses spend their work lives caring for the sick—you’d better believe they know how to keep from getting sick themselves! Here are some common health mistakes nurses try NOT to make.
Nibbling on your nails
Most people consider nail-biting a bad habit, but there are also serious health risks associated with it, says Angela Campos, RN, a registered nurse who specializes in critical care in Cumberland Foreside, Maine. “Fingernails are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria like E.coli and salmonella that are transmitted by food. When people chew their nails, this bacteria can quickly enter mucous membranes in the mouth leading to illness.” If you need help quitting the habit, try these strategies to stop biting your nails.
Wearing your shoes in the house
“Our shoes act as a vector, picking up allergens—dirt, dust, mold spores, chemicals, bacteria, and viruses—wherever we go,” warns Lauren Bryan, RN, MPH, an infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “You can imagine the scenario for cross-contamination: shoes with the stomach bug norovirus on them from the grocery store come home and contaminate the floor where you set your handbag, your child then lifts the purse to get a piece of gum out of the bag, then with bacteria on their hands they put the gum into their mouth. Norovirus can live for weeks on a surface and it only takes a few viral particles to make you sick.”
So instead of bringing all of that stuff into and around your house, Bryan advises leaving your shoes in the mudroom, garage, porch, or a bin in the entryway. “Just don’t set a shoe rack indoors next to an air vent or it will aerosolize all of those particulates on your shoes.” And remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after tying your laces or otherwise handling your shoes, she says.
Assuming your airplane seat is clean
“We all know the downside to the recycled air on airplanes—but the seats can harbor all sorts of nastiness, too,” says Bryan. “Think about it, folks are trapped in a seat and their coughs, sneezes, mucus, food droppings, etc., all sit on the seat you’re about to inhabit. And there’s never enough time for the airlines to clean the seat properly [between flights].” Next time you fly, wipe down the armrests, tray table, and seat with a disinfecting or hand-sanitizing wipe before settling in, and try these 17 other strategies for staying healthy on a plane.
Sleeping on dirty sheets
“Even if they’re not stinky or visibly soiled, sheets need to be changed weekly,” says infectious disease specialist Natalie Ingmire, MSN, RN, director of quality and patient safety at Centura Health at Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, Colorado. Why? Dust mites. The mites themselves aren’t harmful to humans, notes Ingmire, but their droppings are known to trigger respiratory problems, especially in those with allergies to the mites. Learn more about why you really need to wash your sheets every week.
Never wiping down your purse or wallet
How many times have you wiped down your wallet or purse? If you’re like most people, probably never. “You may not think to sanitize your purse, but you should,” says Ingmire. “All those important things that you keep in it—phone, keys, credit cards—come in daily contact with the world and can harbor all kinds of nastiness. A nurse will wipe down wallets, purses, and keys with a Clorox wipe once in a while.”
Ignoring the TV remote on cleaning day
“Even if you’re a good hand-washer, hands are rarely 100 percent clean at home, and the TV remote catches all those germs,” says Ingmire. “So wipe the remote down with a disinfecting wipe, especially on vacation when you have no clue as to the last time your hotel remote was sanitized.” You’ll also want to know these 12 other items hotels aren’t cleaning properly.
Borrowing a swipe of lip balm
“Sharing makeup or Chapstick is the quickest way to spread cold sores and other infections,” says Ingmire. “If I have an eye infection and you use my mascara, you’re getting it. And, if I keep using my own infected makeup, I’ll keep infecting myself!” So it’s important not to share makeup, and to throw yours away and replace it after an infection. If you’re not sure if you have an eye infection, check out these clear symptoms of pinkeye.
Using kitchen sponges for too long
“Sponges are the heavy lifter in the house in terms of clean up, but if you don’t replace them frequently, you’ll spread nasty stuff like salmonella everywhere,” warns Ingmire. Several studies have found high levels of bacteria in used kitchen sponges, including one published in 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports, that found several germs that can cause illness in people, including fecal bacteria (when this shows up in the kitchen, it’s usually from meats, not your own bathroom).
“I don’t own one and never will,” says Ingmire. But if you like using sponges to wash dishes and counters, be sure to disinfect them regularly. The Good House Keeping Institute and EMSL Analytical testing lab tested several different methods and found that the number one way to kill bacteria in your kitchen sponge is to soak it for five minutes in a mixture of 3/4 cup of bleach in one gallon of water, then rinse. The second-best method: Soak with water and microwave for one to two minutes.
Keeping secrets from your medical provider
Being open and honest with your healthcare providers is incredibly important, but too many people let embarrassment or worry get in their way, says Melissa Rubio, PhD, APRN, a nurse practitioner at the Lung Health Institute. “Sometimes patients will answer what they think their provider wants to hear, rather than what is real,” says Rubio. You may say you don’t smoke or drink, for example, when you might do so occasionally in a social setting. Or you may say you eat healthier or get more exercise than you really do.
“When that happens, providers lose the opportunity to educate patients about a healthy lifestyle, especially if we already think you have a good handle on your health. Trust me, all of us can learn a thing or two about healthier living, and we also realize that our patients are human, and no one is perfect all the time.”
If you find yourself staying mum and not being truthful because you don’t feel comfortable with your particular doctor or have had a bad experience with him or her, “it is perfectly OK to search for a provider who makes you feel comfortable, matches your energy and meets your needs,” says Rubio. “We are not offended if you feel that we are not a good match.” Start your search with these secrets to finding a good doctor.
Not having a regular bedtime
“The current lack of respect for sleep in our society that suggests you’ll be able to catch up on sleep later is dead wrong. You can never fully catch up on missed sleep,” says Valerie E. Rogers, PhD, RN, CPNP, assistant professor, University of Maryland School of Nursing. “The chronic sleep deprivation we subject ourselves to on a daily basis has important consequences for health including weight gain, lowered ability to fight off infections, and poorer heart and digestive health.” Not only that, but lack of sleep can also take a serious toll on mental health and fuel depression and/or anxiety, says Campos. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. One of the best ways to get it is to set a regular bedtime and stick to it. Incorporate these daily habits for better sleep into your routine.