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Cuenca Health Concerns: Dry Air, Nose Bleeds, Gas, Dentists, Hospitals

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Cuenca is a beautiful city high up in the Andes Mountains. The climate here is spring like cool-warm during the day and cold at night. From what we have experienced the healthcare system is good here: good doctors/specialists and clean modern hospitals.

In this post, we'll share some of the things we learned and experienced while living in Cuenca, Ecuador. We'll cover dry air, our dentist, and Mount Sinai Hospital. Plus the surprising gas-reducing benefits of oregano tea.
Let's get started!

Cuenca's Dry Air Climate 

The health concerns that we (more specifically Bryan) have experienced are somewhat odd. But because knowing our little story may help others, I'm going to make a short story, well … long.

Problems With the Climate in Cuenca

When Bryan was a little boy in Canada he was sick every winter with bronchial infections. He was put on antibiotics every year to help fight the bronchial and related ear infections.

As he became an adult these problems disappeared, but when we moved to Cuenca they started coming back.

After about 6 months of living here in Cuenca, Bryan started developing a really strong cough, and his ears began giving him problems. His cough was so bad that it was interfering with his daily life.

He was losing sleep and spending much time during the day in bed. We couldn't figure out what the problem was because it was much warmer in Cuenca than it was in Canada during the winter. The recurrence of his childhood health problems did not make any sense to us.

We went to the doctor and he was put on antibiotics again and again. I was worried about the damage the antibiotics were doing to his system so we started seeking out a specialist that might be able to get to the root of the problem.

We found an allergy specialist and after many tests, we were told that the climate here was not good for him.
The doctor felt that because the climate changes so much during the day (chilly in the morning, hot by the afternoon, and cold at night) it was kind of shocking his system and causing an allergic reaction.

We were told that moving to a warmer climate would be better for him.

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The mountainous and lush Yunguilla Valley

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One of the many streams running through Yunguilla Valley

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The view of Santa Isabel, Yunguilla Valley

Moving From Cuenca to a Small Town, and Back Again

We packed up and moved to Santa Isabel which a small town in Yunguilla Valley –  a subtropical valley about an hour and twenty minutes away from Cuenca.

As soon as we arrived in Santa Isabel Bryan's health improved and his coughing totally disappeared. We were very happy about that and enjoyed life there, but after a year we needed to move back to Cuenca.

I was very worried about Bryan's health problems coming back, but we thought that if we rented an apartment in a large building it would be warmer and he would be fine.

We rented a furnished apartment in a large complex for about a month before moving all of our things back. A few days after we arrived his cough started coming back. The apartment was warm, so I realized that the difference must have been due to the dry air, not just the temperature.

Solving the Climate Problem in Cuenca

I started boiling water to put humidity into the air and within a half an hour his coughing stopped! I was shocked at the difference such a simple thing could make, and relieved to know that we could successfully live in Cuenca once again.

When we found an apartment of our own and moved all of our things back we picked up a couple of humidifiers.

We put one right beside the bed so that Bryan could breathe humid air all night long. He no longer has the health problems he experienced when we arrived.

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How to Handle Cuenca's Dry Air

The air is dry here in Cuenca, we didn't notice it at first but after a number of months, our skin started feeling really dry. We were waking up with a lot of mucus because the dry air was irritating our lungs and nasal passages.

My nose was even cracking on the inside. I know, that sounds gross but if you are having similar problems you know how annoying these things can be.

I didn't need the humidifier for a serious problem like Bryan had, but I've noticed that since we got it we no longer have the mucus problems and my nose is back to normal.

We live in a second-floor apartment, we have no problems with moisture. The humidifier does not cause any problems with mold because the air is dry the moisture put in the air during the night dries up during the following day.

I think Bryan's lungs are damaged from the health problems he had as a child, so hopefully, you won't experience the same problems here in Cuenca as he had when we arrived. But if you are experiencing any problems due to the dry air, you might just need to pick up a humidifier.

Update: After purchasing the above baby humidifier in Cuenca, we ordered a cool mist humidifier and the AcuRite Indoor Humidity Monitor on Amazon. Both are highly recommended.

Just be careful not to drop the humidity monitor on a tile floor. It tends to affect performance…


Mount Sinai Hospital in Cuenca

cuenca-hospitalBryan recently needed some allergy testing, and routine medical procedures, we were referred to a specialist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Cuenca.

The Mount Sinai Hospital is very modern, bright and clean.  There are two large complexes, the main one faces Avenida Solano, a main avenue in Cuenca, and the other directly across from it is on a smaller side street (Miguel Cordero). 

Parking is not a problem because there is a paid parking lot right next to the complex on the side street.

Our family doctor referred us and set up the initial appointment, so for the first visit we had a scheduled appointment, date, and time . . . but for subsequent visits, we were simply told which days the doctor was available. 

We were then free to choose the day and time we found most convenient, when we arrived we took a seat in the waiting room and awaited our place in the order of arrival.  The wait was not long.  The specialist was very professional and spoke fluent English which was a great bonus for us.

We were very happy with the experience, and we’ve been told by many that this hospital is the best in Cuenca. 

We have heard that it’s also the most expensive, as is the large pharmacy in the downstairs entrance of the main complex. 

The complex across the street also has a pharmacy, and we were surprised to find a significant difference in the price of the medication we needed when we checked into it.

The appointments cost about $20 per visit, which was on par with appointments I had in a different clinic with a specialist in a different field.  Cost may depend on the type of procedure required, but we are not really sure, we haven’t had many problems requiring medical care since we’ve been here.

Here are some pictures of the complex so you can get an idea of what it’s like.  Overall we were very happy with the care we received, it was the same or better than similar healthcare procedures in Canada.  The equipment was very modern, the staff and doctors were very caring and thorough.

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Dr. Jose Acosta: Our English Speaking Dentist in Cuenca Ecuador

One of the difficult aspects of moving abroad was setting up a new network of contacts. We needed to find doctors, lawyers, dentists . . .

We are still building up our group of contacts. So when we find someone good we get kind of excited and want to tell everybody about it.

On that note, we found a really good dentist here in Cuenca. We met Dr. Jose Acosta when he asked Bryan to design a website for his business. As we got to know him, saw his office and the videos on his site we were impressed and decided that we should give him a try.

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Starting Out Small – A Deep Cleaning

We started out with something simple, getting our teeth cleaned. Dr. Acosta cleaned very thoroughly, even cleaning under the gums.

It was a little painful because some of my teeth are sensitive, but when he was finished my teeth felt so good! He also explained that by cleaning so deeply the gums and teeth would be healthier.

Ialso had some cavities so I had to go back a number of times to have them taken care of. I was really happy with his work so I decided to take an even bigger plunge.

Maryland Bridge Replacement

When I was little my brother and I were play-wrestling and he flipped me over his back. My face hit the floor and my front tooth popped out.

So I have a Maryland Bridge (a fake tooth with wings coming off both sides that are cemented to the real teeth on each side) for my front top left tooth. When Dr. Acosta saw the way it was put in he told me that it was important to have it removed and have a new one installed correctly.

I never really liked the one I had anyway. There were dark shadows on my teeth from the metal wings of the bridge. So for cosmetic reasons as well as the health of my teeth I decided to have a new bridge put in.

Dr. Acosta speaks English so that gave me confidence that if I had problems along the way I would be able to communicate clearly with him. A front tooth is kind of a big deal.

Dr. Acosta was right, the old bridge had been put in wrong and there was leakage behind it causing damage. Once the old bridge was removed he showed me the back of my front teeth, it was not a pretty sight.

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Dr. Acosta did a really good job with my bridge. He had me back a number of times for fittings and even sent me to the lab to make sure the color was as close as possible.

I'm really happy, my bridge looks so much better! And now I know my other front teeth are not being damaged. Dr. Acosta used a different material for the wings of the bridge, so I no longer have the dark shadows on my front teeth.

We will continue to go to Dr. Acosta for all of our dental work, and recommend him to friends. 

Have you had dental work done in Cuenca? Let us know about your experience by commenting on this post.

Note: This review is provided based on our own experience. Dr. Acosta didn't request this review or compensate us in any way.

Nose Bleeds and Intestinal Gas at High Altitudes… 

The following section is a post by an American expat living in Cuenca since 2007. 

A young friend recently visited us from the States and I was taken aback to find him sitting calmly in the car one day with a wad of tissue protruding from his nose.

What on earth was he doing? He was having a nose bleed. Our friend was in Cuenca for a week and had a number of such episodes.  At an altitude of over 8,200 feet, Cuenca is apparently located in the “nose bleed section”.

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Before visiting the Sierra region of Ecuador it is good to be aware of the side effects some have experienced due to the higher altitudes.  At higher altitudes some visitors experience nose bleeds, headaches and a potentially embarrassing phenomenon some call H.A.G.  What is H.A.G.?

To explain, imagine the following scenario: You are strolling along one of the many tree lined river walks in Cuenca with that special someone.   A gentle breeze hits you in the face and you are enjoying the restful sound of the bubbling river.

It seems that there is nothing to disturb the peace and solitude of the moment.  Then it happens: a sharp pain hits you in the gut, your sphincter slams shut and you have to excuse yourself as you desperately seek a private place downwind to relieve yourself.

What is happening to your body? Why does your abdomen feel so swollen?  You, my friend, are most likely experiencing something that many newcomers to higher altitudes have but seldom talk about in mixed company. 

You have H.A.G. (high altitude gas).

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If the subject of flatulence offends you, perhaps you should not read this article.

However, as a service to newcomers to the high altitude of Cuenca, I feel that it is important to “clear the air” and state a fact of life:  At higher altitudes, many people seem to have more gas, flatulence, farts, methane or whatever you prefer to call it.

I am no doctor or scientist; I am just giving my own “seat of the pants” analysis of what I have observed and personally experienced.

I have no problem talking about natural bodily functions and over the past few years have done an informal survey of many expats who come to Cuenca and almost all say the same thing:  They definitely suffer from (or enjoy, depending on your attitude) more flatulence here in the mountains.

We all chalk up the extra “oomph” in our life to the higher altitudes here.  We also find ourselves eating a healthier, and apparently more gas-producing, diet here and that surely contributes to the fun factor.

Whatever the cause, you may want to be prepared for the potential for nose bleeds, headaches and more pressure in your pants as you roam the streets taking in the sights and sounds of Cuenca.  Enjoy.

The next section is by Dena Haines.


Eliminate In-Flight Gas With Oregano Tea

Oregano. It's much more than a seasoning for your favorite Italian dish. It's also a gas-buster. Especially for flight-related intestinal gas.

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This isn't really dinner conversation: trapped gas on a long flight (but I know you've had it).

You know the gas I'm talking about. The gas that makes you unbutton your pants during a long flight. The gas that builds up and makes you squirm in your seat.

Fight that gas with a hot cup of oregano tea!

Eliminating Painful Gas With Oregano Tea

Long flights are notoriously hard on travelers – digestively speaking. Trapped gas sounds funny – but it can be very painful.  It can be hard to move and even hurt to breath.

I experienced this on a long flight from Canada to Ecuador. When we landed in Guayaquil a friend suggested oregano tea. I was skeptical but tried it anyway.

And within 20 minutes the pain was gone!

Now, I never travel without oregano tea.

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Tip: For travel, it's best to use an unopened package of oregano leaves (label on) unless you have teabags. (You can imagine airport security finding a little Ziploc bag full of dry green leaves in your luggage!)

3 More Health Benefits of Oregano Tea

Turns out that oregano tea has a number of health benefits. A few are particularly helpful for travelers:

  1. Drinking oregano tea regularly can help fight parasites and amoebas.
  2. It has powerful antibacterial properties that fight the growth of many different kinds of bacteria.
  3. It also helps with headaches, insomnia, muscle spasms, congestion, diarrhea and motion sickness.
Caution: If you are allergic to mint, be careful with oregano because it belongs to the mint family.

Making Oregano Tea

If you can't find oregano tea bags at your local store, you can easily make it at home.

Pick up some oregano (the same stuff you use in your pizza sauce) and steep it in boiling water.

Strain out the leaves (an infuser makes this much easier) and add some honey.

How much dry oregano should you use? About the same amount you would see in a normal bag of tea.

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Tip: You might get a better deal if you buy oregano in bulk. Just keep it in the freezer as you use it. If you can't find it at the supermarket you can buy a 1lb bag on Amazon. Don't forget the infuser – most of the oregano tea sold in North America is loose leaf (not in a bag). Here are some more tea accessories to consider.

In many other parts of the world, it's commonly found packaged in tea bags.

Your Turn

What's your best in-flight gas story? Have you experienced the gas-busting relief of oregano tea? Do you have any other health tips for travelers? Please share your comments on this post.

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Jack Strebel

Monday 22nd of January 2018

I spent a month in Cuenca and developed a cough that I couldn't get rid of. Worst experience in Cuenca is the air pollution from vehicle exhaust especially buses! Terrible!

Carla Stillman

Friday 1st of January 2016

Deat Bryan and Dena I've read many of your blogs before but came upon this blog regarding your allergies and finding help with the humidifier. It makes total sense! I've been here 2 months and didn't know why I couldn't get rid of my cough. Guess what I just did as an experiment? I hooked up my coffee drip maker with just water as a temporary measure to see if my coughing would stop and it did! I'm going to get a humidifier immediately. Thanks so much! Carla

Shelley Brandes

Tuesday 10th of March 2015

Stumbled on your site when I googled allergens in Cuenca. I'll try a humidifier as I'm experiencing a dry cough and stuffed nose since I arrived. The fumes really get to me, also. Do you, by chance, know what trees/grasses grow here as I am allergic to quite a few in the hill country of Texas-- especially cedar. I'm looking at relocating here and don't want to make the same mistake twice. Great site with helpful information. Thanks! Shelley - Fredericksburg, TX

F.W. Leyland

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

I have mild asthma and am currently living in a wet/cool climate at sea level. I notice from the net the high levels of humidity in Cuenca throughout the year. After reading this informative blog with comments, I understand that one needs a humidifier in Cuenca. Because of the high humidity, I would have thought one would need a de-humidifier? But perhaps those are only for the tropical coast? -Winston

Bruce Cook

Monday 1st of August 2016

While the air seems dry and acts as if it is dry, the humidity is actually around 70 %. What you are experiencing is the lack of atmospheric pressure. At sea level, atmospheric pressure is 14.7 lb per sq in. At 8000 ft, it is more like 10 lb per sq in. What this means is that the surface tension of the water is very thin. This allows the moisture to evaporate very quickly. So you are correct to treat 70% humidity as if it is dry. It is acting that way. As to the allergens, The Eucalyptus is one of the most allergenic trees out there. Indigenous to Australia and brought here in the late 1800's. As so many things in Australia are toxic or just plan dangerous. That is why you see so many people with scarves over their faces. When I comb my hair I find a fuzzy residue trapped in my comb. Kind of looks like dust bunny material. Hence, more coughing. Try a Homeopathic allergenic support system from the drug store or natural store. One snort and I'm good all day. Bee pollen is good also.

GarySisk

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

I thought when I first moved here that it was humid, but I found out the opposite. Humidity here seems to run 40-60%. I also have asthma and had trouble with dry throat at night but after reading Bryan's article I bought a humidifier and if helps mucho! I do have to stop often to caught my breathe here and that has not changed in two years!

Bryan Haines

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

We've noticed that many online forecasts get it wrong. Sometimes they show the weather from the coast as Cuenca's weather. From our experience, the only reason someone would use a dehumidifier in Cuenca is if the house was poorly constructed and the rain water is getting into the walls. We've run a humidifier at night for years and still the air is dry by the next night.

Mary

Wednesday 11th of December 2013

I found all of these articles interesting. But, if you do a search for Cuenca with the word mold and humidity in the headline.......or do the same on you tube, there will be a gentleman who speaks about the mold in homes. Many times people who are affected by mold get numerous lung issues.......his entire family came down with this. CUENCA is very prone to mold which is very very dangerous. I have had a mold illness for the past 12 years. Please be careful ! Humidifiers will not help the mold situation. Listen to the you tube programs.....he has 8 on there and then you decide. Good luck.

Bryan Haines

Wednesday 11th of December 2013

Thanks for your concerns Mary. While it's true that some homes have mold problems, from my experience I haven't seen this to be common. There are poorly constructed houses with insufficient ventilation. Some house are built very close, and without rain gutters, so that rain water runs down between the walls of the two homes and soaks through the concrete. This will causes mold growth. I've known a number of families affected by this - both expats and Cuencanos. They had mold growing up the walls and became sick with lung infections. Generally speaking though, the air is dry. In Cuenca we've lived in well constructed and well ventilated homes and haven't had trouble with mold. But we did have symptoms as Dena describes in the post. My symptoms went away almost immediately upon using the humidifier. The humidifier running every night / all night never caused any mold growth in our home. The thing to remember when reading blogs and watching videos is that we all write about our experiences. It isn't that one of us is right and the other is wrong. It really depends on our personal experiences.

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