Allergies and what you can do about them.

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With the nice warm weather that we have had these past few days, you may think that nothing can ruin it for people. Unfortunately, with warm spring weather comes allergy season, and this allergy season is predicted to be worse than average this year due to the climate change. Allergy season usually starts around March 17th, but because of the weather the season has started later. The start of allergy season is correlated with the onset of pollen and mold. Although the season has really just started within the last week and a half and the airborne pollen count is still relatively low, some people who suffer from allergies are already showing severe symptoms already.

So what really is to blame for the allergy season being worse than usual this year? The answer: the climate change. Our planet has been becoming increasingly warmer and this has a large effect on when our seasons end. As Earth has become warmer, it has brought an early spring, late-ending fall, and all of this combined with lots of rain and snow (1). There has also been historically high levels of carbon dioxide in our air. The historically high carbon dioxide levels combined with the increasingly warmer Earth has created a perfect environment for the trees and plants that make pollen. This perfect environment for the trees and plants has encouraged fungal growth and for the plants to release their spores. So due to this reason that is why this year’s allergy season is predicted to be the worst one yet, and it’s all due to the climate change.

Global warming has a more profound effect in allergy season across our nation. In areas that are extremely hot and are in a drought, the dust will worsen air pollution which will exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases (1). Poison  ivy thrives in areas that have high carbon dioxide levels, so in these regions it is expected that the poison ivy oil will be more potent than prior years (1). The climate change will also affect the insect population, and possibly making their stings and bites more potent and fatal to those who are sensitive to them (1).

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, and an estimated 50 million Americans suffer from allergies nationwide (1). Out of the 50 million Americans that suffer from allergies, about 20 million of those Americans suffer from asthma. Asthma has actually been increasing across the globe, and experts attribute this to the Earth’s climate change.

So what can these 50 million Americans do to prevent their allergies from becoming out of control? Experts recommend that people suffering from allergies should try to spend a lot of time inside, especially around noon time. People who suffer from allergies should not wait for their allergy symptoms to arise before starting their allergy medication. Allergy medication should be taken regularly, and your allergy symptoms don’t need to be present for you to take it (1). It has also been recommended to shower at night and change your clothes regularly for those who are very sensitive to allergens (1).

I hope that this article has opened your eyes to the impact of allergies, and how something like climate change can severely affect them!

Sources:

(1)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/31/2013-allergy-season-could_n_2989655.html

 

Obama’s Brain Area Mapping Project

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With Obama being re-elected, the Obama administration has proposed a new research project that aims at mapping out every single neuron in the brain. This kind of research project is very similar to the Human Genome Project, which aimed at identifying the chemical sequence that makes up DNA and identifying and mapping out human genes. After the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, there was a much better understanding of genes and how they contribute to diseases. This also led to new treatments based on the better understanding of the genes involved, and it also led to the expansion of many different fields. The Brain Area Mapping project aims to map every neuron in the brain within a 10 year period, with the ultimate goal being to understand the human brain better.

The way that neuroscientists and researchers are planning on tackling this incredible task of mapping out all the neurons in the brain is to start by mapping smaller brained animals and work their way up to mapping the human brain. Something that everyone needs to realize is that this project’s target is to measure neurons at the single neuron level, which is something that is extremely hard to do now a day. In the past year, there have been multiple proposals for new non-invasive sensors and methods that will make studying a single cell in the neuronal circuit very easy (1). Neuroscientists know certain neuronal pathways that lead to certain conditions, but there are many missing pieces in these pathways that scientists just do not understand. This project is revolutionary because being able to understand the functions of the neurons in a given neuronal pathway will fill in the missing pieces to many neuronal pathways studied today. The reason that researchers have not been able to get answers for the missing pieces in a pathway is simply because there have not been tools or techniques that can enable researchers to do so. Currently, researchers can study  the activity in a single neuron using electrodes and can watch the whole brain in action using various imaging techniques, but they cannot see how the neurons work together in networks (1). The level that researchers can manipulate a single neuron is almost non-existent because they can only measure the activity of a neuron but cannot manipulate it due to lack of technology. This prevents researchers from being able to understand the effects of a single neuron on the entire brain.

The benefit of mapping out all the neurons in the brain is not only to better understand the human brain, but better understand the origin of diseases and help come up with new treatment options (1). This project hopes to discover the origins of schizophrenia, autism, depression, dementia, and various other neurological disorders (1). To understand these various neurological disorders better and to know the origin of them allows researchers to make more effective treatment options for people who suffer from them. As of right now, many treatment options for these neurological disorders are based on data from various experiments, but because we cannot study the effect of a neuron on a network of neurons these treatment options are not 100% effective due to lack of understanding.

As a neuroscience major, and hopefully future doctor, this project is extremely exciting to me. I have been in many neuroscience classes where we learn pathways where x is “thought” to cause y, or where the mechanism of a pathway is unknown. This project will hopefully be able to answer all the questions where something is unknown or not well understood, and can help to understand the origin of neurological diseases. With the success of the Human Genome Project, the Brain Area Mapping project is hopefully just as successful as its predecessor.

(1) http://www.livescience.com/27721-brain-activity-map-project-launch.html

College Students & Malnourishment

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Something that I think all college students can relate to is the fact that we don’t have very healthy eating habits. It’s hard as a student to balance my school work with other activities going on in my life, and then on top of all of that have a healthy diet. College students, like myself, are always on the go. Because of this, the majority of college students who live on campus rely on the meal plans and food options that the university provides. Although the meal plans and food options that the university provides are extrememly convenient, not all of them are the most healthiest of choices. Even those students who live off campus and buy their own food do not have good dietary habits. Studies on college student’s eating habits have been coming out saying that college students are considered to be malnourished.

When I first read the study and saw that college students are considered to be malnourished, I felt that maybe they were exaggerating a tiny bit because I associated malnourishment with people who did not eat anything. Malnutrition is defined as lacking the proper nutrition that the body needs to function optimally. Basically this is the same thing as eating empty calories, otherwise known as calories that your body cannot use to help itself function. This means that malnutrition is not based on someone’s weight, because someone who is an average weight or even overweight can be considered malnourished base on what they consume. As a college student, I can completely relate to the fact that trying to eat a balanced diet is extremely hard. While the campus food options are extremely convenient, they are not the best options for someone trying to consume a balanced diet. But as a college student, a lot of the time convenience is more of a priority than nutritional value.

Unfortunately eating pizza and ramen regularly and skipping meals come with some short and long term effects. Eating an unbalanced diet will not provide one with a lot of energy to power through the day. One of the major short term side effects is fatigue. Just think, your body relies on you to provide it with nutrients that it can use as energy. If you are eating empty calories, your body cannot use those empty calories as energy so you become very fatigued. Another short term side effect is the inability to handle stress. This should come as no surprise because if you have no energy, you’re not going to be able to handle stressful situations and think clearly through them. Surprisingly, weight gain is a short term side effect of an unbalanced diet, as well as of malnourishment. If you eat a diet that is high in calories with no nutritional value, you are going to gain weight. Eating an unbalanced diet for a long time has some significant side effects that can affect you years down the road. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers are associated with prolonged bad eating habits.

Basically, your eating habits that you have now will affect you down the road if you continue to have a poor diet. Luckily there is time to change your eating habits, and if you make an effort to add more nutritional value to your diet you can really help yourself down the road.

The Real Dangers and Effects of Tanning

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With spring break just days away and many college students headed to the beach, I thought it would be very appropriate to talk about the reall effects of tanning. Tanning, whether it is outside on the beach or indoors at a tanning salon, is dangerous if you do not take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.

Tans are created through exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or from tanning bed lamps if that’s how you like to tan. When you acquire a tan, you’ve acquired more than just bronzed skin. Technically when you get a tan it means that you have acquired skin cell damage. UVA and UVB are the two types of ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cell damage. UVA rays are associated with a deeper form of radiation that can damage cells deep within your skin, not just the cells on the surface of the skin. UVA rays are also very closely associated with the development of melanoma, a very aggressive form of skin cancer that is the leading cause of death from a skin disease (1). UVB waves are associated with the development of a sun burn. The sun emits a combination of UVA and UVB rays, but tanning beds usually emit mostly UVA because at one point it was thought that UVB rays were the only harmful rays due to the rays causing a sunburn. This should just show you how dangerous tanning beds are because they emit mostly rays that penetrate deep past the barrier of your skin, and can damage cells that are not even on the surface of your skin. Not only can these ultraviolet rays harm your health, but they also cause you to go through premature aging. Wrinkles and leathery skin are two of the main consequences from too much sun exposure, and I think it’s safe to say that no one wants to have leathery skin and wrinkles.

There are many risk factors for developing skin cancer, but the people are at a high risk for developing skin cancer are: have fair skin; have blonde, red, or light brown hair; have blue, green or gray eyes; have freckles; those who do not tan easily or burn very quickly; and those who have a family history of skin cancer (1). If you fit into the high risk category, do not worry because there are tons of ways that you can be outside having fun in the sun while still protecting yourself from the sun’s rays.  Sunscreen is one of the top ways to prevent yourself from sustaining skin damage while still being able to enjoy the suns warm rays. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to going outside and you should be using a minimum of SPF 30. Make sure that the sunscreen that you choose to use protects you from UVA and UVB rays. Not all sunscreen protects you from both rays, so make sure that you check the bottle before you purchase it. Also make sure that you apply sunscreen to all the parts of your body that are exposed to the sun. More than 90% of skin cancer cases are in areas of the skin that are directly exposed to the sun (1).  Wear a hat and sunglasses. A large brimmed hat can protect your face from the harmful effects of the sun. As for sunglasses, make sure that they protect you from UV rays. If you start turning red or feel that your skin is burning, get out of the sun. Even if you are convinced that you can stay in the sun longer, when your skin turns red it is a tell tale sign that you are getting too much sun exposure.

If you take the right precautions before going to the beach or spending the day outside, you can ensure that you will be protected from the sun and have a good time. All these methods are very easy to do, and follow. If you protect yourself now, you’ll thank yourself down the road when you do not have skin cancer. So just remember, always wear sunscreen and reapply it, wear a hat and sunglasses in super sunny areas, and get out of the sun if you begin to turn red. So protect yourself and have a wonderful spring break!

(1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001853/

How my experiences helped me choose my career field

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Thus far I have done all of my blog posts on medical issues that affect college students, or I have given advice on how to avoid injuries and illnesses. This week I have decided to do something very different. In class we have really focused on preparing ourselves to get a job once we have graduated college, with the main focus on resumes and cover letters. When we had to create a master list for class, it really made me think about why I chose to enter the field that I am in and what experiences contributed to it.

As many of you have probably figured out, my goal is to be in the medical field. After I graduate, my plan is to take a year off and apply to medical school. When we had to make the master list of everything that we have done, I was reminded of all the experiences that I have had thus far that made me want to be in the medical field. I realized that getting experience within your field really makes a difference. I feel that everyone knows at least one person who came into college as a pre-med student, but immediately switched after they realized all the work that goes with it. Although I have never had that specific experience, it just goes to show that you may think that you are cut out for something, but once you experience it you decide otherwise.

I have had many experiences that made me solidify my choice of entering the medical field, but one experience in particular completely solidified it. My current internship with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office (ACME) solidified that I have chosen the right field of work. Up until I started my internship I had always been “behind the lines” of the medical field, meaning that I never was really in the thick of the action. I had always watched from the sidelines, longing to get into the action. I had thought that I would never find something where I actually got to do more than just sit and watch from a distance, but when I came across the Autopsy Internship at ACME that all changed.

On my first day I had no idea what to expect because I had never been exposed to a dead body before. I’m not saying that I was longing to see a dead body, but it was something that comes with being in the medical field. The first day was pure shock, seeing an autopsy and seeing a dead body was something that initially freaked me out. I went home that day wondering what I had got myself into and if I could handle it. I went back the second day knowing what I was going to see, and I ended up being completely fine. After many weeks, I have really blossomed and I completely love it. The cases that we get are so interesting and the hands on experience make me so excited to be there. I’ll save you most of the gruesome details, but just know that this kind of thing is not for everyone. My supervisor has told me countless stories of interns quitting because they saw an autopsy and realized that they were not cut out for it. I am not saying that that is a bad thing at all. It is actually completely normal to believe that you are cut out for something, but then when you experience it you realize that you are not.

The moral of the story is to always experience something before you decide it is for you. I am so thankful for my experience at ACME, and I hope that everyone can have an experience like I did that can solidify your career choice. Although it may freak people out when I tell them that I do autopsies, the experience solidified my decision to persue a career in the medical field.

The real dangers of concussions

Concussions are something that have been misunderstood for many years, but are coming back as a very hot topic due to recent research and findings. For many of us who have participated in contact sports throughout the years, we know about concussions or may have even experienced one. Many people who hear about concussions or experience one, simply push it off to the side and do not think that it is a big deal. Unfortunately this has been a huge misconception about concussions and now the general public is starting to see the real effects concussions have on people, especially on players within the NFL.

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A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (1) defined as “a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works” (1). Although a concussion is a physical event where your brain jolts forward and becomes bruised, the real effect of a concussion is on the brain function not the structure. Most people think of a concussion as a blow to the head that just bruises the brain but does not actually change the way your brain functions, but this is completely false. Believe it or not, our brain’s actually come equipped with mechanisms for protection against blows to the head that come in the forms of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid. Our brain’s have three layers of meninges, which function to hold the brain in place and keep it from moving all around in the skull. Flowing through the brain is cerebrosprinal fluid (CSF), and one of its main functions is to protect the brain from blows to the head by providing a “cushion” so that the brain does not slam into the cortex when the head is impacted. Although the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid are there, these two mechanisms cannot protect the brain from all kinds of blows. A concussion actually occurs when the force of the blow exceeds the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid’s ability to protect the brain. The impact from the blow can cause permanent nerve damage, blood vessels can break, and the brain can bruise.

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The symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe symptoms. The symptoms of a concussion are:  acting confused or spacy, being drowsy, headache, unconsciousness, memory loss, nausea, vomitting, seeing flashing lights, seizures, coma, and unequal pupils (3). As you can see there are a variety of different symptoms that occur with a concussion, and it really depends on where the concussion occurred in the brain. One common misconception about concussions is that when you have one you have to lose consciousness. This is obviously not true because of the variety of symptoms that a concussion can manifest as.

The real question that should be answered is why is sustaining a concussion so dangerous in sports? Well besides the fact that your brain is technically “injured,” the problem arises when people who sustain a concussion go back into their sports game too soon without allowing your brain to completely heal. Most concussions are usually minor, and can completely heal within a week or two (2). After sustaining a concussion your brain is going through lots of chemical changes because of the injury, which leaves your brain very susceptible to a second injury (2). Not giving your brain a chance to fully recover before sustaining another concussion is usually fatal. This is exactly why concussion are not a joking matter.

There are many long term effects that an undiagnosed concussion can have. These long term effects are making an unprecedented appearance in the NFL. Unfortunately last May Junior Seau, New England Patriots linebacker, committed suicide in his home.  At first there was much confusion as to why Seau committed suicide, but after much investigation it was discovered that he was starting to suffer from symptoms that were indicitive of having many concussions. Even though Seau had no medical history of suffering from concussions, Seau’s family told investigators that he did in fact suffer from concussions throughout his football career. His family also stated that Seau would always bounce right back from his concussions and continue to play. Seau’s family donated his brain to the National Insitute of Health (NIH), and the NIH found that Seau had suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) (4).

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CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that can occur after multiple traumatic injuries to the brain (4). The symptoms of CTE are similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s Disease, and include: dementia, memory loss, aggression, and depression (4). A brain that has CTE has clumps of  tau all throughout the brain (4). Tau is a protein that is associated with dementia, and is quite often seen in patients who have Alzheimer’s Disease (4). Seau was only 43 years old when he committed suicide, which is way too young of an age to be seeing the symptoms of dementia. Dementia usually manifests itself around age 65-70 (4). Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed after death. A recent study was done of brains of former NFL players whose families donated their brains postmortem. Out of the 35 brains that were donated, 34 of them had CTE (4). This just shows the serious long term effects of concussions if they are left untreated. The bottom line is that you can never be too careful when you get hit in the head. Take the safest route by seeing a doctor, and make sure that you follow the doctors orders so that your brain can live a happy and healthy life!

(1) http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports/index.html

(2) http://www.livestrong.com/article/556332-concussion-dangers/

(3) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001802/

(4) http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/10/health/seau-brain-disease/index.html?hpt=he_bn2

How to Prevent an Injury

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I think that for most of us it is true that we have played a sport at one in our lives, even if we didn’t stick with it. My entire childhood and teenage life was sport filled, so at one point sports were a huge part of my life. It’s just a fact that playing sports constantly goes hand in hand with injuries. Sometimes injuries occur in a “freak of nature” type way, which means that they couldn’t have been prevented. These types of injuries are caused by the way people fall, or land from a fall, which if you’ve ever fallen and gotten injured you know that it is really difficult to change the trajectory of your fall. Although these kinds of injuries can and do happen, most sports injuries can be prevented. Even if you cannot completely prevent an injury, there are still various things that you can do to decrease the risk of injury. So for this blog post, I am going to talk about the top three sports injuries and the various ways that you can prevent them from happening to you.

Knee Injuries

A knee injury consists of  torn ligaments and cartilage, as well as damage to the tendons underneath the knee cap (also known as “Runner’s Knee”) (1). Knee injuries are so common because there are so many ligaments and tendons in there, as well as it has a lot of cartilage. Another reason that knee injuries are so common is because the knee cannot freely rotate. So turning the pivotting in the wrong direction can cause any of these ligaments, tendons, and cartilage to tear. Gender also apparently plays a role in knee injuries. Research has estimated that women are 8 times more likey to get a knee injury than men (2). Researchers believe that because the female hip bone is wider, it places the thigh bone at a more extreme angle where the thigh bone meets the knee, which puts strain on the knee (2). It is also believed that female hormones play a role in weakening the knee (2).  Preventing knee injuries consists of strengthening the leg muscles, specifically the ones around the knee, so that way if you twist or turn in the wrong direction the knee will not be injured because the muscles around it will support it. The simple exercise of lunges helps strengthen the knee muscles a lot. imageLunges are a pretty simple exercise, but it can greatly decrease the chance of a knee injury because it strengthens the muscles around the knee.

Ankle Injury

Ankle injuries occur when a ligament in the ankle is stretched beyond its maximum stretch, or when the ligament tears completely (3). This is an injury that is an extremely common injury because it can occur  if the ankle bends or twists the wrong way. Like the knee, the angle is composed of a lot of ligaments that can be torn. This has personally happened to me last year when I was playing soccer and I awkwardly fell on my ankle, causing my ankle to snap laterally and then snap back to its original position. The pain was excruciating and I knew that something had to be wrong. The next morning, my ankle was so tight and it hurt a lot to bend my ankle in certain directions, so I went to the orthopedic surgeon. After numerous x-rays, it was determined that I had a very bad sprain and he ordered me to six weeks of intense physical therapy. The purpose of the physical therapy was to strengthen the muscles in my ankle, specifically the ones that were around the site of my injury. Many of the exercises that the physical therapist had me doing were focused on doing things on one foot, specifically balancing on one foot. At the time this was very hard for me to do because the ligaments in my ankle were sprained, but as the physical therapist visits continued it got easier to accomplish. The physical therapist told me that the best way to prevent an ankle injury is to do exercises that strengthen the muscles in the ankle so that the muscles can resist a movement that occurs in the wrong direction. One specific exercise that he pointed to was balancing on one foot, while standing on a wedge board. imageThese balancing acts really helped me overcome my ankle injury, and can prevent you from getting an ankle injury too.

Shoulder Injury

Shoulder injuries occur when the shoulder is dislocated, sprained, or strained (1). This usually occurs when the muscles in the rotator cuff loosen due to overuse (1). The rotator cuff contains all the muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder, thus keeping the shoulder in place. So if you overuse these muscles and don’t strengthen them, you are bound to get a shoulder injury. The number one way to prevent a shoulder injury is to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder (1). One exercise that really helps strengthen the muscles in your shoulder is one that requires an exercise band. The exercise band goes around any structure that can take resistance, for example you can wrap the exercise band around a metal pole. The person should stand perpendicular to the structure that the exercise band is around, and with the exercise band to one side of them, simply pull the exercise band so that the band is now infront of you. Do this at least 12-15 times per side and then rotate your body so that the exercise band has tension in it, and slowly give into the tension while moving your arm laterally.image

 

These simple exercises are great for strengthening the muscles in your shoulder, and helping to decrease the risk of getting an injury.

I think one of the most important take away points is that prevention is key. The more you spend time strength training your muscles, the less likely you are to get injured. Keep in mind that preventing injury is a lot easier than trying to recover from an injury and restrengthen your muscles. I hope that you found these exercises and preventing method interesting, and hopefully you’ll adopt some of them so that you can prevent injuries!

(1) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,527700,00.html

(2) http://www.oprah.com/health/Knee-Strengthening-Exercises-Prevent-Knee-Injuries-with-PEP-Regimen

(3) http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=67541