Blog Posts

Suffering from shin splints?

May 7th, 2018

It’s not just fitness fanatics adamant about getting in their daily jog who are in danger of developing shin splints. Anyone who has flat feet, poorly fitting shoes or weak ankles, hips or core muscles are susceptible to shin splints as well.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Referred to by some doctors as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints usually develop as a result of continuous force being applied to the shin bone (tibia) and the connective tissue that attaches the shin bone to the muscles around it.

That continuous force can lead to a swelling of the muscles around the tibia. When those muscles are swollen, more pressure is applied to the tibia and the result can be a variety of symptoms, most of which are more annoying than anything else.

For example, someone suffering from shin splints may feel nothing more than a dull ache in their shins or a swelling in the lower leg. Others, however, may experience sharp, jabbing pains in and around their shin during exercise or numbness in their feet.

In more severe cases, the shin of someone suffering from shin splints may feel hot or painful to the touch, the lower part of their legs may feel weak, or they may experience prolonged bone or muscle pain in the lower leg and calf.

In those more severe cases, some of which are the cause of small cracks or fractures in the bone, it may be best to consult a doctor. In most cases, however, shin splints can usually be treated by adhering to some common treatment methods.

The most effective treatment method is rest – and lots of it. Depending on the cause of your shin splints, the time needed to recover properly can be anywhere from three to six months. In less severe cases, however, a few weeks of rest may do the trick.

That may seem like a lot, particularly for a workout warrior type who is accustomed to hitting the gym three or more times a week or running every day, but there are other activities that can be done to maintain good fitness while shin splints are healing.

Riding a bike, swimming or using an elliptical machine provides many of the same cardiovascular benefits that running does, and none of those activities put the same degree of stress on the legs that running does.

In addition to rest, icing the area of the leg that is painful or uncomfortable for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a day until the pain is gone helps to reduce the bothersome effects of shins splints, too.

As is the case with a lot of aches and pains, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin if your doctor allows it will further advance the healing process as well.

With extensive use of all the above, though, some side effects such as bleeding and ulcers can develop. Always be sure to follow label directions specifically when using those over-the-counter aids and if possible consult your doctor before taking them.

Finally, for those whose shin splints are more a result of physical issues such as flat feet or poor-fitting footwear, the use of orthotic shoe inserts or a better fitting pair of shoes can make all the difference in the world.

You’ll know your shin splints are gone when you resume whatever constitutes normal activity and you can apply pressure to the area that used to hurt without feeling pain or run and jump without feeling any pain in or around the shins.

Prior to that, though, strengthening your core muscles and the area around your hips and increasing your intake of foods such as milk and yogurt that are high in calcium and Vitamin D can help prevent shin splints from coming back.

Remember, it’s not just weekend warriors and fitness fanatics who get shin splints. Anyone can get them. The good news is that no one has to suffer from them for very long.

Minding Mental Health

May 1st, 2018

May is a great month. Spring’s in full bloom (which isn’t entirely GOOD news for those of us with allergies), and it’s time to celebrate our very special Moms. There’s another tradition we celebrate in May.Minding Mental Health

Having been deemed Mental Health Month it is the time we become more aware of mental health and mental illness. Mental illness is a big issue, and there’s still a lot of misinformation about it swirling in the air.

For starters, the American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as “any health condition involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illness is associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” Still, the majority of people with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives despite their illness.

Almost everyone is touched in some way by mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that approximately one in five American adults, or 43.8 million people, experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 25 has a serious mental illness, one that limits major life activities. Serious mental illnesses include diseases like major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I’m not done. One in 12 people has a substance abuse disorder.

Why are so many people affected by mental illness? The exact cause of mental illness is unknown, but researchers have uncovered a few factors that may contribute to its formation. One is genetics. Many mental illnesses run in families, suggesting people inherit at least a susceptibility to developing a particular illness.

An imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters have been linked to some types of mental illness as well. These chemicals help brain cells communicate with each other. If they can’t communicate properly because the chemicals are out of whack, clear messages can’t get through from the brain.

Another contributing factor is psychological trauma such as severe physical, emotional or sexual abuse endured as a child, witnessing a traumatic event or experiencing significant loss. Environmental factors can also contribute. These include the death of someone close to you, a divorce or a big change in your life, like a new job. These factors often foster substance abuse.

Whatever the cause, mental illness is just that, an ILLNESS, not a weakness in your character.

Mental illness runs the gamut, from mild depression to psychotic schizophrenia. Each illness has its own set of symptoms, but I’m giving you a few general symptoms so you know what to watch out for, in yourself and others. These are some of the more common symptoms of mental illness in adults. For more, go to the American Psychiatric Association website.

  • Confused thinking
  • Feeling sad or irritable
  • Feeling extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there

If you notice these symptoms and are willing to get help, consult a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist. They understand mental illness and can recommend the best course of treatment for you. If you ever feel like hurting yourself or others, call your local crisis hotline or 911.

The treatment chosen is based on the type of mental illness you have and the severity of your symptoms. The most common methods of treatment are medication and psychotherapy, or a combination of both. There are other options that may be considered including hospitalization, day treatment, group therapy and specific therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

In most cases, treatment is effective, but you’ve got to be compliant. If you’re prescribed medication, take it. If it causes intolerable side effects, tell your doctor. Maybe you can try another drug. Counseling helps more than you might think, but you’ve got to participate. Treatment may take time to work, but if you comply, you’ll likely feel better and function fully.

What a Pain

April 24th, 2018

Diagnosing and Treating Sciatica.

  • When you stand, does pain shoot from your lower back, down your thigh and maybe to your knee?
  • Do you have tingling, numbness, weakness or difficulty moving your leg or foot?
  • Does one side of your buttocks constantly ache?
  • Do you have hip pain?
  • Does your discomfort worsen when you bend at the waist, cough, sneeze or sit?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from sciatica.

This common condition, which often shows up in middle age, involves irritation to or inflammation of the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve starts from nerve roots in the spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttocks to send nerve endings down the lower limb.

Sciatica – not to be confused with other back pain – is often caused by a herniated disc in the lower back pressing on or pinching the sciatic nerve. Other causes include spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal; nerve irritation from adjacent bone; tumors; infections; arthritis; injury; pregnancy; or prolonged sitting on an object such as a wallet in a back pocket.

Sometimes, no direct cause of sciatica can be found.

Doctors diagnose sciatica by conducting a physical exam and taking the patient’s symptoms and medical history into consideration. Sometimes, x-rays and other tests such as a CT scan, an MRI and an electromyogram are used as well.

Pain management specialists, chiropractors, orthopedists, rheumatologists, internists, general practitioners, physical therapists and massage therapists are among the health care professionals who evaluate and treat sciatica. It can last for days or weeks, or it can become a chronic ailment.

Traditionally, bed rest was the recommended treatment for sciatica. But how realistic is that approach? Many people, especially those who have jobs, children or other responsibilities, don’t have the luxury of lying around and doing nothing for weeks.

And there’s no guarantee that lying low will ease a bout of sciatica. One study by a research team in the Netherlands showed that patients who rested for three months showed a level of improvement equal to those who practiced “watchful waiting” during that period. The two groups also had similar rates of absenteeism from work and of surgical intervention.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.So, what can you do to ease the agony of sciatica? Don’t expect to find a lasting solution from over-the-counter pain medications, heating pads, cold packs or dietary supplements. They either don’t help or provide only temporary relief.

Chiropractic adjustments performed over multiple sessions can be effective. TENS units, which send stimulating pulses across the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands, are sometimes useful, too.

Physical therapy, as well as low back conditioning and stretching exercises, are other options, as are muscle relaxers, cortisone injections, prescription medications, acupuncture and activity restrictions. For those whose sciatica results from nerve compression at the lower spine, surgery sometimes is required.

Once patients recover from sciatica, they need to use common sense and a healthy lifestyle to prevent it from coming back. That means exercising regularly, maintaining proper posture and bending at the knees while lifting heavy objects.

The Eyes Have It

April 17th, 2018

By the time he had reached the end of this 20-year playing career, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar had become known as much for the safety goggles he wore during games as the skyhook he used to become a 19-time NBA All-Star and six-time NBA most valuable player.

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar

It was the result of repeated eye injuries, the last one being a second scratched cornea that he suffered midway through the 1974 season he spent with the Milwaukee Bucks, that prompted Abdul-Jabaar to don the goggles, explaining “I’m down to my last pair of eyeballs.’’

Nearly 50 years later, the chances of an athlete suffering an eye injury such as those that prompted Abdul-Jabaar to don his goggles are still great as more than 25,000 professional and recreational sports participants seek care for sports-related eye injuries each year, according to Prevent Blindness®.

Just as great are the chances of preventing most of those injuries. With the use of proper eye-ware, 90-percent of all eye injuries, including many that occur during sports or recreational activities, can be prevented, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The AAO has thus designated April as Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month, and the organization’s timing could not be better. With spring-like temperatures already upon us and summer drawing near, more and more people will begin engaging in water and pool activities, which is where most eye injuries occur.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 6,000 eye injuries occurred during water and pool activities in the calendar year of 2016. During the same calendar year, more than 5,700 eye injuries were suffered by athletes participating in basketball.

Virtually all sports and recreational activities, including golf, fishing and cycling, carry some risk of eye injuries. As we noted, though, most of those injuries can be prevented by following some simple, common-sense rules and knowing wearing equipment designed to protect wearers from eye injuries.

For anyone playing basketball or racquet sports, for example, a pair of proper safety goggles – those labeled as ASTMF803 approved – can go a long way toward preventing serious eye injuries. So can the use of helmets with face shields for those participating in baseball, football and hockey.

One thing to keep in mind is that regular prescription eye glasses do not provide enough protection to prevent serious eye injuries. In some cases, they can even increase the chances of an eye injury being more serious than it needed to be. That’s why, for many athletes, it’s makes good sense to get a good pair of prescription eye guards.

Eye guards are becoming more prevalent, not just in professional sports, but throughout the youth sports culture as well, and for good reason. A good pair of eye guards costs between $20 and $40 dollars, which could be a fraction of what the cost associated with repairing even a minor eye injury could be.

A pair of prescription eye guards will be more costly, of course, but that cost may not be any greater than the cost of replacing a pair of contact lenses. And as Abdul-Jabaar pointed out all those years ago, the cost, no matter how great, will always be cheaper than that associated with replacing the only set of eye balls you’ll ever have.

Oral Cancer Concerns

April 10th, 2018

Let’s discuss something we don’t usually think about and don’t often hear about: oral cancer, or more specifically oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer. Often grouped together, these cancers are not among the most hyped, but they’re disfiguring – and deadly – just the same.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Where are we talking about? The oral cavity, essentially the mouth, includes the lips, inside lining of the lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, front two-thirds of the tongue, floor of the mouth under the tongue, and bony roof of the mouth, or hard palate.

The oropharynx is the top part of the throat that starts in the back of the mouth. It begins where the oral cavity ends. The oropharynx generally includes the area behind the wisdom teeth, the last third of the tongue, the back part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate), the tonsils, and the side and back wall of the throat.

Anatomy of the pharynx (throat). The three parts of the pharynx are the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx.

There’s a lot we don’t know about what causes cancer, but we know it often occurs when mutations in certain genes cause certain cells to grow out of control, causing tumors to form. What researchers are trying to pin down in most cases is what causes the mutations in the first place. That’s a really simplistic explanation.

Here, I’m going to tell you about risk factors and symptoms, so maybe you can catch an oral cancer in its early stages. Then, I’ll give you a few strategies for prevention, but if you want the full scoop on oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer, read this information from the American Cancer Society.

One of the things you’ll read is that the American Cancer Society estimates 51,540 American will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2018, and an estimated 10,030 of them will die from it. Fortunately, the death rate has actually been declining over the last ten years. These cancers are much more common in men than women.

Let’s start with risk factors. What traits and behaviors put you at greater risk for becoming one of those estimated 51,500 people to get one of these cancers. The top two risk factors are using tobacco and drinking alcohol. The tobacco risk increases the more you use it and the longer you’ve done so.

Also, about seven out of ten people with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. The risk is increased even more in people who use tobacco and drink heavily. Some studies suggest the combination leaves people as much as 100 times more at risk than people who don’t smoke or drink.

There are some genetic syndromes that can lead to oral cancer, and a weakened immune system can make a person more susceptible. Risk also increases with age and is affected by an unhealthy diet. Researchers are now finding that infection with the HPV virus is a rising risk factor for some forms of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.

These cancers generally appear as a growth or sore in your mouth that doesn’t go away. It can be on anywhere in your mouth, including your lips, tongue and cheeks Here are a few other symptoms to watch out for:

  • White, red or speckled patches in your mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Loss of feeling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness or persistent sore throat
  • Lump in the neck

There are other signs and symptoms as well.

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are generally treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, or a combination of these treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the patient’s age and how advanced the cancer is, it’s stage. Treatment can leave you disfigured or with problems speaking or eating. Additional treatment may be necessary.

Today, patients also have the benefit of biological and targeted therapies. These therapies kill cancer cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissues.

Some of the risk factors can’t be controlled, but these are things you can do to reduce your risk or find oral cancer early. These include:

  •  Limit your tobacco use
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables
  • Protect yourself against HPV infection
  • Examine your mouth at least once a mouth and look for lumps or spots
  • See your dentist regularly. The dentist can often spot suspicious areas in your mouth before you do.

You don’t want to be one of the 51,500 who will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year, and you especially don’t want to be one of the 10,000 who don’t make it. Now that you know about these cancers, be aware of your risk factors and on the lookout for symptoms.

Sexual Violence: Be Aware

March 31st, 2018

It happens every 98 seconds. Someone in the US becomes a victim of sexual assault. So says this article from HuffingtonPost.com. That works out to more than 570 people who fall prey to sexual violence every day. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It’s a good time to think about this problem and aim at preventing it.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Stop Sexual Violence

There’s a lot more to know about sexual violence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 19 percent of women and 2 percent of men will have been raped at some point in their lifetime. Another statistic from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) states that nearly one in five women and one in 71 men are victims of rape or attempted rape.

In addition, 44 percent of women and 23 percent of men will experience some other form of sexual assault, yet less than 40 percent of these incidents are reported to police. Sexual violence is 2.5 times more prevalent than the most common health conditions – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS – combined.

Sexual assault doesn’t discriminate, either. It affects people of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, ethnicity and income level. Those who perpetrate the violence can be male or female and may be a family member, acquaintance, trusted friend or stranger. More often than not, the perpetrator is someone the survivor knows.

Rape is a pretty obvious form of sexual violence, but what else is considered a sexual assault? The US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It’s an umbrella term that includes many specific acts, which are determined by state law.

In general, sexual assault incorporates all types of rape, including statutory rape and marital or partner rape. It also includes incest, sex with children, sexual exploitation and trafficking, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, masturbating in public and voyeurism. The definitions of these acts can vary slightly from state to state.

Many survivors are reluctant to reveal what’s happened to them, so sexual assaults are seriously underreported. In many cases, survivors don’t even tell their families or friends about their experiences, much less the police. Often, they feel ashamed and, sometimes, blame themselves.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.Survivors may also be afraid of their attackers or want to protect them. They may distrust the police or believe there’s not enough evidence to convict the attacker. That fear is not unfounded, since it’s very difficult to get convictions in these cases. In fact, close to 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence will walk free.

The perpetrator may use force, but they may also use threats, manipulation or coercion to commit their crimes. Just because the survivor may lack physical injuries does not mean he or she consented to the act and an assault did not occur. In reality, the number of false cases of sexual violence reported to police is low.

Before these statistics leave you feeling too depressed, know that the NSVRC is confident that prevention is possible. According to them, prevention can happen when individuals and communities take action to promote safety, respect and equality, and reject oppression, which creates a culture in which violence is seen as normal.

In their fact sheet titled “Prevention is Possible,” the NSVRC gives some suggestions for steps individuals, businesses and communities can take to change the culture of oppression in this country, which condones violence, uses power over others, and excuses unfair treatment and harm. Sexual violence is born of this oppression and control over others.

Here are a few strategies from that NSVRC fact sheet that individuals and communities can use to help eliminate the culture of oppression and prevent sexual violence.

  • Individuals can intervene to stop problematic and disrespectful behavior.
  • Individuals can promote and model healthy attitudes, behaviors and relationships.
  • Individuals can believe survivors of sexual assault and help them find local resources.
  • Communities can assess the risks in their environments and improve problem areas.
  • Communities can provide support for survivors of sexual violence.
  • Communities can hold those who harm others accountable and ensure that appropriate treatment options are available.

Prevention strategies that are most successful are those that address the root causes and social norms that enable sexual violence to exist in the first place. Respecting others and treating them equally ends oppression and promotes safer communities. We all have roles to play in preventing sexual assault. Will you play yours?

Endometriosis Agony

March 27th, 2018

For about 10 percent of women in their childbearing years, a difficult, sometimes agonizing condition called endometriosis is an unwelcomed reality. This disruptive disorder, which primarily strikes those in their teens to their 40s, affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. There’s a lot we know about endometriosis, and a lot we don’t.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

For starters, we know endometriosis occurs when the type of tissue that lines the uterus, called the endometrium, is found growing outside of the uterus. Most often, this tissue is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, rectum, lymph nodes, and bladder and other pelvic organs. These areas of tissue are called endometriosis implants.

During a woman’s menstrual cycle, the endometrium in the uterus gets thicker in response to estrogen to prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg. If an egg is not fertilized and implanted, the cells of the thickened endometrium are sloughed off, and you have the bleeding of the menstrual period.

There’s a problem, however, with the endometriosis implants growing outside of the uterus. They also build up in response to estrogen, but they have nowhere to bleed at the end of the cycle. This leads to inflammation and pain that can be excruciating. It can also lead to the formation of cysts and scar tissue, called adhesions. These adhesions can cause pelvic organs to stick together, causing pain and interfering with function.

Pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Other symptoms include painful periods, low back pain before and during menstruation, cramps, heavy menstrual bleeding, pain during sex and pain during bowel movements. In addition, 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis suffer from infertility.

One of the things we don’t know about endometriosis is what exactly causes it. There are, however, several theories. One of the theories is that endometrial tissue has the ability to turn into and replace other types of tissue outside of the uterus.

Another theory is endometrial tissue fragments travel through blood vessels or the lymphatic system to other parts of the body, where they settle and grow. Another involves dysfunction of the immune system. Researchers have demonstrated, however, that endometriosis runs in families, so there is a genetic component to its development.

Being of childbearing age is the biggest risk factor for developing endometriosis, but there are others. Additional risk factors include having menstrual cycles shorter than 28 days and having periods longer than seven days. If you had your first period before age 12, you’re at a higher risk, as you are if you’ve never been pregnant.

Diagnosing endometriosis can be a challenge because other conditions have similar symptoms. For women in the US, it can take 10 to 12 years to get a correct diagnosis. Your best bet for an accurate diagnosis is to find a doctor who specializes in endometriosis.

A knowledgeable OB/GYN will often suspect endometriosis based on your history and physical examination. It’s important to be totally honest with your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor may order an imaging test such as an ultrasound, MRI or CT scan to look for cysts or adhesions, but the only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is by laparoscopy.

During a laparoscopy, which is a minimally invasive surgery, your doctor will insert a slender tube with a camera attached to it through a tiny incision in your abdomen. He or she can then see the misplaced tissue and remove the endometriosis implants during the same procedure.

Treatment for endometriosis may include anti-inflammatory medications for pain and/or hormone medications to suppress the production of estrogen. Laparoscopic surgery may be used to remove the problematic tissue. If all else fails and symptoms impact the quality of your life, removal of your uterus and ovaries is a last-ditch option to treat this devastating disorder.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.None of these treatments is a cure, and endometriosis pain can continue or return. So, you might want to also look at alternative treatments that have proven to benefit other painful conditions. They may help with endometriosis pain, as well. These include acupuncture and acupressure to relieve pain, and meditation to lower stress and ease pain.

Symptoms of endometriosis generally improve after menopause, when production of estrogen is significantly decreased. But in the meantime, don’t suffer. Tell your doctor in detail about the symptoms you suffer. Together, you and your doctor can create a treatment plan that works best for you.

Aiming at AMD

March 20th, 2018

If you’re a Baby Boomer, like me, now’s the time to get wise about a dangerous threat to your eyesight. It’s age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, and it’s one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 50. To get you started learning more, here are a few realities about this insidious eye disease.

For one thing, AMD is everywhere. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million Americans currently have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from the disorder. And as we Baby Boomers continue to age, the number with AMD is expected to rise significantly, to an estimated 6.3 million by 2030.

AMD is a disease that affects the macula, the center portion of the retina. The retina is the sensitive area in the back of the eyeball responsible for capturing light that enters the eye and turning it into nerve impulses sent to the brain by the optic nerve. The brain translates the impulses into images.

The macula is responsible for the straight-ahead central vision that allows us to see fine detail. This central vision provided by the macula enables us to distinguish faces, read, write and do close-up work like sewing and baiting a fishing hook.

There are two forms of AMD, the dry form and the wet form. About 80 percent of people with AMD have the dry form, which occurs when the tissue of the macula gets thinner and deteriorates with age. With the dry form of AMD, small clumps of protein, called drusen, begin to grow, and you may start to slowly lose vision.

The wet form of AMD, which is much less common, involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. In time, these abnormal vessels can leak blood and other fluids. The leaked fluids can damage the macula and lead to loss of vision, which typically occurs more quickly than with dry AMD. The dry form can progress into the wet form over time.

The key to saving your vision is early detection and intervention, but you’ve got to watch out. AMD is tricky. It can be hard to detect initially because it doesn’t typically have noticeable symptoms in its early stages, outside of the presence of drusen. That’s why it’s important to see your eye doctor regularly so he or she can examine your retinas closely to look for drusen and any other signs AMD is developing.

As AMD progresses, however, you may notice a blurry area in the center of your vision that may evolve into an empty spot. That empty area may be apparent when reading a page of type, like a book or newspaper. In addition, straight lines may look wavy, and colors might not be as sharp. Objects in your view may also appear blurry or distorted. If these symptoms occur, see your eye doctor right away.

Currently, there is no treatment for dry AMD, especially in its early stages. However, research has shown that this disease is less prevalent in people who exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables and fish, and don’t smoke. Eye professionals believe these healthy behaviors may also help people with dry AMD keep their vision longer.

The belief about a healthy diet was bolstered by two research trials called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). During these trials, scientists at the National Eye Institute studied the effects of vitamin and mineral supplementation on AMD. They determined that taking a specific formulation of vitamins and minerals slowed the progression of AMD in people who had intermediate and late disease. AREDS2 supplement therapy is now routine.

For people with wet AMD, there are several treatments available to destroy the abnormal blood vessels growing underneath the retina and halt the progression of the disease. These include laser surgery and photodynamic therapy, both of which use lasers to close the abnormal vessels and slow the loss of vision.

More commonly, though, are monthly injections into the eye to slow the progression of wet AMD. With wet AMD, high levels of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are released into the eyes. VEGF promotes the growth of the new, abnormal blood vessels. During this treatment, anti-VEGF medications are injected into the eye, which blocks the new vessels growth.

None of these treatments for AMD are cures, and they can’t restore vision that is already lost. But they can help slow additional vision loss. If you’re a Baby Boomer, be sure to see your eye doctor regularly to check for signs AMD is developing. Remember, early action can limit loss and save your remaining vision.

Progression to Periodontitis

March 13th, 2018

Recently, I had a chance to learn more about a common oral health problem. The problem is peridontal disease, or periodontitis. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47.2 percent of American adults age 30 and older have some form of gum disease. They add that gum disease increases with age, with 70.1 percent of adults 65 and older affected by it.

How does a person get to that point? I’ll try to explain. Periodontitis generally starts with gum inflammation, a condition called gingivitis. It’s called gingivitis because this inflammation primarily affects the gingiva, the part of the gums surrounding the neck of the teeth.

If you brush and floss regularly, it will remove most of the plaque that naturally builds up on your teeth. But if you don’t, some plaque may remain. Bacteria in this plaque can cause the gums to become irritated, which is gingivitis. When this occurs, it’s common for the gums to bleed when brushed. Other gingivitis symptoms include red, swollen and tender gums, and bad breath.

Even though your gums may swell and bleed with gingivitis, no irreversible damage to your bone or other tissue typically occurs at this stage. Your teeth are still secure in your jaw. And with proper care and good oral hygiene, you can restore your gum health on your own at this point in the game.

If you don’t treat your gingivitis, however, it can progress into full-blown periodontitis. Like gingivitis, periodontitis is also caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, and it can lead to red, swollen and bleeding gums. But, periodontitis generally also leads to tissue damage that cannot be repaired without professional intervention.

If you develop periodontitis, it’s likely you’ll see gum pockets start to form around your teeth, which provide an opening between the gum tissue and the teeth. This opening enables bacteria and tartar to get under your gum line, which can lead to bone destruction. With bone loss, your teeth can become loose and eventually fall out.

To make matters worse, researchers are also studying possible links between the bacterial infection of periodontitis and other health conditions. Some studies suggest a possible connection between gum disease and heart disease, stroke, premature births, diabetes and respiratory disease. Research is ongoing to further study these potential links.

Treatment for periodontitis typically starts with deep cleaning. During a deep cleaning, the problem plaque is removed using a method called scaling and root planing. Scaling involves scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line, and root planing is removing the spots on the tooth roots where the bacteria accumulate. You may also be prescribed antibiotic medications to take along with the deep cleaning.

If the deep cleaning and medications fail to reduce the inflammation and tighten your gum pockets, surgery may be the next option. The most common surgical technique for periodontitis is flap surgery, which involves lifting back the gums, removing the tartar and reattaching the gums. Along with this, the dentist may place bone and tissue grafts to regenerate lost tissue.

Instead of surgery, some dentists offer an alternative treatment for periodontitis using laser technology. During this procedure, the laser penetrates deep below the gum line to destroy the bacteria and restore your gum health.

There is some good news. You can reverse gingivitis and prevent any progression to periodontitis by keeping your teeth and gums healthy. To do that, practice good oral hygiene: brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly, and visit your dentist routinely for checkups and cleanings. And if you smoke, quit. It’s not healthy in general, and it’s a big risk factor for mouth and gum diseases, including cancer as well as periodontitis.

There you have it. Now that you know more about gum disease, you’re aware of what to do to avoid it. You also know how to treat it if you’re one of the 47.2 American adults dealing with gum disease. Good health to your gums!

A Fearsome Fungus

March 6th, 2018

Who’s afraid of fungus? If you’re like me, you probably don’t think too much of fungi you can see, like mold on a piece of bread or a mushroom. But the tiny fungi living on your skin and inside your body can grow out of control and cause annoying, and sometimes serious, infections. Fungal infections are extremely common.

A July 2017 article in The Lancet reports these infections affect more than one billion people world-wide each year. What’s frightening is that these result in approximately 11.5 million life-threatening infections and more than 1.5 million deaths per year. You read that right, deaths from fungi.

When I hear “fungal infection,” I immediately think of the common culprits: athlete’s foot, yeast infections, jock itch, toenail fungus and diaper rash. These uncomfortable conditions have a few things in common. They’re all relatively mild skin infections, are easily treated with over-the-counter or prescription medicines, and are all caused by a strain of fungus called Candida.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 150 species of Candida. The majority of infections in humans are caused by a species called Candida albicans. C albicans infections occur mostly on the skin, but can enter the bloodstream and become invasive. The CDC says there are about 46,000 cases of invasive infection with this fungus in the US annually. These invasive infections can be very serious, even fatal.

Recently, another Candida species popped up on the scene that’s causing some alarm in health officials. It’s called Candida auris. C auris is a fungus to be feared. It’s deadly and some of its strains are multi-drug resistant. Infection with this fungus has been found in more than a dozen countries, including the US. Here, it typically strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes who have one or more medical conditions.

People who are sick are at greater risk for C auris infection because their immune systems are weakened by their illnesses. People who have been recently treated with antibiotic or anti-fungal medications are also at risk, as are those who have tubes going into their bodies. These include tubes to help them breathe or eat, central lines in their veins, or catheters in their bladders.

These infections can be difficult to detect. Symptoms of C auris infection are often not noticeable because of the patients’ other illnesses. Symptoms also depend on where in the body the infection occurs. C auris causes wound and ear infections, as well as infections in the mouth and genitals. It can also enter the bloodstream, and causes sepsis, which can slow blood flow, damage organs and lead to death.

C auris is a huge concern to health officials because it is often resistant to multiple types of medications used to treat fungal infections. Fortunately, the cases identified in this country so far have responded to one class of anti-fungal drugs called echinocandins.

Another concern surrounds the proper diagnosis of C auris infections. That requires specialized laboratory technology and methods, which are not universally available. Misdiagnosis can lead to mismanagement of care and increased spread of the infection. Spread occurs through contact with equipment or surfaces contaminated with the fungus, or from person to person contact. Early detection and good hygiene are the best weapons against C auris infections.

It’s important to be aware of this new fearsome fungus, but it’s not time to panic. C auris infections are still pretty rare in the US. If we’re educated and vigilant, they can stay that way!

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