Medical News Today: What to do if bleach gets on the skin

Bleach is a common household product that many people use for cleaning and disinfecting. It can kill most types of viruses, bacteria, molds, mildew, and algae. Bleach also whitens or lightens the color of certain materials.

Household bleach tends to contain 3–8% sodium hypochlorite. It is not usually toxic to the skin itself, but it can irritate the skin, eyes, and other parts of the body. It can be more harmful if mixed with other household chemicals, such as toilet cleaner, or if someone inhales it.

This article looks at what to do if bleach comes into direct contact with the skin or eyes. It will also discuss when to see a doctor and provide tips on how to use bleach safely.

Effects on the skin and other body areas

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If a person gets bleach on their skin, they can try washing the area with mild soap and water.

Household bleach is corrosive but not usually dangerous if a person uses it according to the label.

The effects of exposure to bleach will vary depending on the part of the body it affects, the concentration of the bleach, the duration of the exposure, and the amount.

Exposure to bleach can affect these body areas in the following ways:

  • Eyes: Exposure to bleach can make the eyes look red and feel irritated. The affected eye may tear up, and the person may experience blurry vision.
  • Mouth and throat: The mouth and throat may feel irritated, but the bleach will not usually cause any severe damage.
  • Skin: The skin may be irritated and look red.
  • Stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) tract: It is unusual for bleach to damage the stomach or GI tract because they are very resilient to such substances.
  • Lungs: Breathing in bleach fumes can irritate the lungs. For example, a person may experience bronchospasm. Bronchospasm causes the chest to feel tight and makes it hard for the person to catch their breath.

Exposure to bleach can be dangerous or even fatal if it mixes with other household chemicals. Bleach manufactured in countries outside of the United States may be even more dangerous due to the increased concentration.

For example, when combined with ammonia, bleach will create a toxic gas called chloramine. People can inhale the gas or absorb it through the skin. High levels of exposure to chloramine gas can be fatal.

Exposure to chloramine gas can cause many symptoms, including:

What to do for bleach exposure

In most cases, diluting the bleach with water will be enough to ease the skin irritation it causes. However, if someone gets bleach in their eyes or lungs, they should seek immediate medical attention. If a person ingests bleach, they should call Poison Control on 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

First aid advice for bleach exposure, depending on the area of the body it affects, is as follows:

  • Eyes: Flush the eyes with tap water. Then, see a doctor immediately.
  • Skin: Wash the exposed skin with mild soap and water.
  • Mouth or throat: If a person has swallowed a lot of bleach or an unknown amount, they should call Poison Control. They should also drink plenty of water. Drinking milk may ease the irritation. However, people should never force themselves to vomit, as it will cause more damage.
  • Lungs: Anyone who has inhaled bleach and is having trouble breathing should see a doctor, especially if they have asthma.

When to see a doctor

Anyone who gets bleach in their eyes should, after flushing the area with tap water, seek medical attention straight away.

People with asthma who inhale bleach should speak to a doctor straight away, especially if they start to experience any breathing difficulties.

Getting bleach on the skin is not usually dangerous when it is only for a short duration. However, it is important to speak to a doctor if the irritation does not pass within a few days or becomes severe.

When someone mixes bleach with other household chemicals, especially those that contain ammonia or acid, exposure can be very harmful. If someone has exposure to chloramine gas, for example, they should seek medical attention right away.

Tips for using bleach safely

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that it is critical to read and follow the safety instructions on any household cleaning product to avoid accidental exposure.

The most important things to remember when using bleach are as follows:

  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner.
  • Always wear rubber gloves to protect the skin on the hands.
  • Wear goggles or another form of eye protection.
  • Do not breathe in product fumes.
  • Keep the windows and doors open to ventilate the area.
  • Store it away from children.

Alternatives to bleach

The environmental protection organization Beyond Toxics warn of the environmental impact of bleach. They state that the bleach manufacturing process produces a highly toxic chemical called dioxin.

In large quantities, dioxin may:

  • lead to reproductive and developmental issues
  • damage the immune system
  • interfere with hormones
  • give rise to cancer

Discarded bleach may also mix with ammonia- or acid-based products in sewers and create dangerous chloramine gas.

Some alternatives to bleach for cleaning and whitening materials include:

  • hydrogen peroxide
  • lemon juice
  • washing soda or borax
  • vinegar

Summary

Household bleach is not usually toxic, though exposure can cause irritation.

If someone gets bleach on their skin, they should clean the affected area with soap and water.

If bleach gets into the eyes, the person should first flush the eyes with water and then seek medical attention.

When mixed with other chemicals in household cleaning products, bleach can produce a toxic gas called chloramine. Chloramine gas can be hazardous and even fatal. Anyone who has exposure to chloramine should therefore speak to a doctor.

Original Article

Medical News Today: Differentiating ingrown hairs and herpes

Herpes and ingrown hairs are both common and have similar symptoms, so how can people differentiate between them?

More than half of adults in the United States have oral herpes, and 1 in 8 people between the ages of 14 and 49 years have genital herpes.

As many people shave the area around their genitals and other parts of the body that herpes may affect, it can be difficult to tell the difference between herpes and ingrown hair.

In this article, we examine the causes, symptoms, and treatment of both herpes and ingrown hair and explain how to tell them apart.

Pictures

Ingrown hair

Typically, hair grows up and out of the hair follicle. Sometimes, though, the hair curls into the follicle, which causes it to grow under the skin. This downward growth can irritate the skin and cause inflammation that leads to the formation of red and painful blisters called pseudofolliculitis barbae.

Although anyone can develop ingrown hairs, they are more common in people who remove their hair, especially those who shave it.

In some people, ingrown hairs become so infected that they cause intense pain and even scarring. Sometimes, bacteria from other areas of the body get into ingrown hairs, causing painful infections that can cause fever and other signs of illness.

A person can usually prevent ingrown hairs by not removing body hair. Alternatively, the following hair removal practices may help reduce the risk of ingrown hairs:

  • exfoliating before hair removal
  • pulling the skin taut and shaving only in one direction
  • using a clean, sharp razor

Over-the-counter lotions may also reduce shaving-related irritation.

For more severe cases, a doctor may recommend retinoid cream to help the rash clear faster and steroids to relieve inflammation. When ingrown hairs become severely infected, a person might need oral antibiotics or an antibiotic cream.

Herpes

Herpes is a common virus that a person gets through contact with herpes sores, which can occur if they kiss someone with oral herpes or have sex with someone with genital herpes.

The herpes virus lives in the body forever and occasionally reactivates, causing painful blisters that tend to break open and ooze.

While doctors often differentiate between oral herpes (HSV-1) and genital herpes (HSV-2), it is possible to spread oral herpes to the genitals, primarily through oral sex with an infected person who is having an outbreak.

For most people, the symptoms of herpes are mild, and after the first outbreak, subsequent outbreaks are less severe. However, in people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic illnesses, herpes may be more dangerous.

A pregnant woman may also be at risk of transmitting an active infection to the baby during vaginal delivery, so it is important for anyone who thinks that they might have herpes to get a proper diagnosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no cure for herpes. However, antiviral treatment can decrease the severity and frequency of outbreaks. It may also reduce the likelihood of a person spreading the virus to others.

How to tell the difference

Both herpes and ingrown hairs can cause painful red blisters, itching, and skin irritation.

If skin irritation is due to herpes, a person may experience:

  • sores that only appear on one side of the genitals
  • blisters that last 2–4 weeks
  • ulcers that appear 2–12 days after exposure
  • fever or flu-like symptoms
  • pain and other symptoms that occur before herpes blisters appear

It is more likely that an ingrown hair is responsible for a rash developing if a person has:

  • irritation that appears within 1–2 days of shaving or affects an area that has had exposure to a lot of friction
  • a visible hair growing just under the surface of the skin
  • risk factors for ingrown hairs, such as curly or tightly coiled hair

Other causes of skin rashes and blisters

Some other types of skin rashes and blisters include:

  • Atopic dermatitis. This common type of eczema causes the skin to become itchy and inflamed. A person might notice red, itchy spots after using a new lotion, detergent, or shampoo.
  • A life threatening allergic reaction. A sudden rash that appears out of nowhere, spreads rapidly, or covers the entire body could indicate a severe allergic reaction. The person should go to the emergency room if they have other symptoms, especially if these include difficulty breathing.
  • Eczema. Other types of this chronic skin condition cause dry, flaky patches. Sometimes, these can resemble tiny blisters.
  • Cellulitis. Cellulitis is a severe bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin. A person with severely infected razor burn or ingrown hairs can get cellulitis. The affected skin is usually warm and red, and it may feel swollen. Cellulitis can spread quickly and may even become life threatening without prompt treatment.

When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor if they have:

  • a first outbreak of herpes in the genitals
  • severe symptoms of a genital herpes outbreak, such as open sores around the genitals, anus, or thighs
  • symptoms of an ingrown hair that are very severe or do not go away on their own within a few days
  • a fever alongside a rash
  • a rash that is spreading rapidly
  • a rash and also have HIV or uncontrolled diabetes or are taking drugs that weaken the immune system

Parents or caregivers should take a baby or child who develops a rash to see a healthcare professional immediately. A pregnant woman who has a herpes outbreak close to her due date should also seek immediate medical care.

Summary

It is easy to panic about a sudden rash, especially when it is painful or itchy.

However, there is no reason to try to self-diagnose the issue. A doctor can quickly tell the difference between herpes and ingrown hairs and can recommend treatments that help with either.

Original Article

Medical News Today: Insomnia: When I took part in a sleep study

What is it like to spend a night in a sleep lab? How easy is it to sleep hooked up to numerous cables? And is there a link between the microbiome and sleep?

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What happens during a sleep study?

Sleep is an essential part of our daily routine and health. Lack of sleep can be detrimental to our well-being.

Insomnia is a sleep condition that affects around one-third of the population of the United States, with 10–15 % of people experiencing "severe and chronic insomnia."

The National Sleep Foundation describe insomnia as a condition in which a person experiences unsatisfactory sleep despite having the opportunity to sleep. In practical terms, this means trouble falling or staying asleep.

My mother has been living with insomnia for many years. Sleep is a regular topic in our conversations.

In my role as Research Editor at Medical News Today, I come across research studies into sleep regularly.

But, despite our insights into why sleep is important, what causes insomnia is not entirely clear.

A few months ago, my mom took part in a study looking into a link between the microbiome and sleep. I was very keen to speak to both her and the researcher leading the study afterward.

So, here is what happened when Mama Martin spent a night in a sleep lab.

A night at the sleep center

I arrive at the Advanced Sleep Research Institute in Berlin, Germany, at 8.00 p.m. A medical student is on duty. There are two people here today that she is looking after. She will stay awake all night to monitor our progress.

The medical student takes me to a room with a single, hospital-style bed. There is also a TV. When you lie in the bed, you can see the camera that will record your sleep.

Next, she attaches the electrodes.

She puts two on my legs and several on my upper body, which are linked to the ECG. She then places more electrodes on my upper arms, hands, and a lot on my head.

The student also attaches a mask to screen for sleep apnea to my face. It's hard, and the indents will remain visible on my face for a while after I take it off in the morning.

Finally, she attaches an oxygen monitor to my finger. It has only taken about 5 minutes to get me prepped, but I find it hard to imagine that I will ever go to sleep like this.

As soon as my preparation is complete, I lie down.

A few minutes later, the medical student's voice comes on over the speaker. She asks if I can hear her. Then she asks me to do a vision test — look left, look right, open eyes, close eyes.

Next, we do a breathing test. I breathe in, breathe out, through my nose, through my mouth, hold my breath. This way, she can check that all the monitors are working correctly.

If I need to go to the bathroom, I need to call her so that she can detach me from cables. I don't drink much in the evening so that I won't need to use the bathroom in the night.

The lights go off at 10.00 p.m.

Once I fall asleep, the clock starts ticking down the 8 hours allotted sleep time.

The cables are not very comfortable, and I notice them every time I wake up. But, contrary to my expectations, I still manage to sleep fairly comfortably.

Surprising results

I have had trouble with my sleep since 2007. At the time, I had a lot of stress at work, including some incidences of bullying. Then I lost my husband in 2010.

My insomnia has been the same since the start. Most nights, I listen to audiobooks when I wake up and can't go back to sleep.

I listen to stories that I already know, so they are not too exciting and pick soothing stories.

During my night at the sleep center, I slept relatively well, but I thought I had slept really badly.

I was awake at around 4.00 a.m. I wasn't allowed to listen to my audiobook that night, so I used a relaxation breathing technique. I thought I was awake for a long time then.

When I find out the results, I am surprised. I was, in fact, not awake for long at all. And there were some unexpected revelations in the data.

I didn't know that I sleep on my front. I also apparently sleep a lot on my right side, although I know that I mostly fall asleep on my left side. I never knew that I move so much when I'm sleeping.

At the end of my 8 hours of sleep, the medical student wakes me up. Then comes the rather lengthy job of washing the sticky residue left over from the electrodes out of my hair. I was told before my visit to bring shampoo, but I wasn't prepared for quite how long this would take.

After my night at the sleep center, I send off my sample for the microbiome analysis.

The results show a possible imbalance in the composition of my gut microbiome. Specifically, they indicate that I have a higher risk of leaky gut syndrome and histamine intolerance.

How that links to my sleep is not clear at the moment.

Studying the microbiome and sleep

After speaking to my mom, I also caught up with Katharina Lederer, who is a medical practitioner in Berlin. This study is part of her medical Ph.D. thesis.

Firstly, I asked Lederer if she had spent a night in a sleep lab herself.

"Yes, I have, and my experience was surprisingly [good]. Most patients ask how they are supposed to sleep with cables on their heads, legs, chest, and sensors on their fingers. But most people, as I did, fall asleep quite quickly."

Katharina Lederer

Lederer also explained that "most people are surprised how long they actually sleep."

"Our perception of how long we sleep can be hours off our actual sleep time. Especially, people with insomnia feel that they sleep [for a much shorter time] than they mostly do due to the frequent sleep interruptions," she told me.

Is there a link between the gut microbiome and sleep? Lederer thinks so.

"In my daily practice in the sleep laboratory, I encountered many patients who don't just have trouble sleeping but also problems with their bowels, including pain, diarrhea, or constipation," she explained.

"Both conditions have some common risk factors, such as high stress levels, insufficient movement during the day, and also nutrition."

Lederer explained that research links our brains and our bowels via the gut-brain axis.

So, what is happening in this sleep study?

"The first step was to find out if people with insomnia suffer from more gastrointestinal problems than their healthy counterparts. This seems to be the case, but the numbers of the study are still too small to give a statistical significance," Lederer said.

"In a second step, we are examining the microbiota of a group of patients with insomnia and comparing them to a healthy control group. Unfortunately, this is still in process."

But could changing a person's microbiome improve their sleep, or would changing their sleep affect their microbiome?

"There are a few studies already showing that sleep restriction can have an effect on the microbiota," Lederer explained. "I suspect that there is also an influence the other way around, of the microbiota on our sleep, but this has only been shown in limited studies with mice yet."

Changing perceptions

My final question to Lederer was whether taking part in a sleep study changes people's attitude toward their insomnia.

"I hope so," was her reply. "You can't fix any sleep problem in a day. Most patients suffer from sleep disorders for many, many years before they come to the sleep center."

"The brain is so used, almost conditioned, to wake up in the middle of the night or to connect the bed with negative emotions that it takes a while until sleep disorders are treated," she continued.

This was certainly the case for my mom. She has, in the past, used an activity tracker to monitor her sleep but was not sure how much she could trust the results.

"Taking part in a sleep study has clarified for me that I actually sleep much more than I thought," she told me.

My mom and Lederer also discussed recommendations for sleep at the initial consultation.

These include no reading or using a phone in bed, not exercising vigorously too close to bedtime, not eating or drinking caffeinated drinks for several hours before going to bed, not watching anything too exciting on TV, and getting up 8 hours after falling asleep.

Since her night at the sleep center, mom's sleep hasn't changed.

But she feels more confident in the amount of sleep her activity tracker shows her.

"I feel better about my sleep after seeing the results of my night at the sleep center. I am also mindful of the good sleep hygiene tips that I learned."

Renate Martin

Original Article

Medical News Today: What is the autonomic nervous system?

The autonomic nervous system is a complex network of cells that controls the body's internal state. It regulates and supports many different internal processes, often outside of a person's conscious awareness.

This article will explain the autonomic nervous system, or ANS, how it works, and the disorders that can affect its functioning.

Anatomy

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The ANS helps to regulate many of the body's internal functions, such as heart rate.

The nervous system is a collection of cells that send and receive electrical and chemical signals throughout the body.

The nervous system consists of two main parts:

  • The central nervous system: This consists of the brain and spinal cord.
  • The peripheral nervous system: This contains all the neurons outside of the central nervous system.

The ANS is part of the peripheral nervous system. It is a collection of neurons that influence the activity of many different organs, including the stomach, heart, and lungs.

Within the ANS, there are two subsystems that have mostly opposing effects:

  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS): Neurons within the SNS generally prepare the body to react to something in its environment. For example, the SNS may increase heart rate to prepare a person to escape from danger.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS): Parasympathetic neurons mostly regulate bodily functions when a person is at rest.

Function

The nervous system regulates the internal environment of the body. It is essential for maintaining homeostasis.

Homeostasis refers to the relatively stable and balanced conditions inside the body that are necessary to support life. Some of those that homeostasis regulates include:

The ANS receives information from the environment and other parts of the body and regulates the activity of the organs, accordingly.

The ANS is also involved in the following bodily functions:

  • producing bodily fluids, such as sweat
  • urination
  • sexual responses

One critical function of the ANS is to prepare the body for action through the "fight or flight" response.

If the body perceives a threat in the environment, the sympathetic neurons of the ANS react by:

  • increasing heart rate
  • widening the airways to make breathing easier
  • releasing stored energy
  • increasing strength in the muscles
  • slowing digestion and other bodily processes that are less important for taking action

These changes prepare the body to respond appropriately to a threat in the environment.

Factors that affect how it works

The fight or flight response of the ANS evolved to protect the body from dangers around it. However, many stressful aspects of daily life can also trigger this response.

Examples include:

  • work-related stress
  • financial concerns
  • relationship problems

Chronic stress can cause the ANS to trigger the fight or flight response over long periods. This continuation will eventually harm the body.

Some drugs can also affect the way the ANS functions. Examples include:

Autonomic disorders and their causes

Autonomic disorders affect the functioning of the ANS. They can sometimes occur as a result of the following:

  • aging
  • damage to neurons within the ANS
  • damage to specific parts of the brain

Certain medical conditions can also affect the ANS. Some common causes of autonomic disorders include:

Less common causes of autonomic disorders include:

  • multiple system atrophy (MSA)
  • spinal cord disorders
  • Lambert-Eaton syndrome
  • botulism
  • viral infections
  • damage to nerves in the neck

Autonomic disorder symptoms

Autonomic disorders can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • dizziness and lightheadedness due to orthostatic hypotension (OH), which is a significant drop in blood pressure when standing up after sitting
  • reduced or absent sweating, leading to intolerance of heat
  • dry eyes and mouth
  • digestive issues
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • difficulty urinating
  • erectile dysfunction
  • pupils being less reactive to light

When to see a doctor

Autonomic disorders can be serious. People who experience symptoms of an autonomic disorder should see a doctor for a full diagnosis.

Talking to a doctor is particularly important for people with diabetes or other conditions that can increase the likelihood of autonomic disorders.

Testing

To diagnose the cause of ANS symptoms, a doctor will first assess a person's medical history for risk factors.

A doctor may also request one or more of the following:

  • Tests to detect orthostatic hypotension: A doctor may measure OH using a tilt-table test. In this test, a person lies on a bed that tilts their body at different angles while a machine records their heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Electrocardiogram: This test measures electrical activity within the heart.
  • Sweat test: This test assesses whether the sweat glands are functioning correctly. A doctor uses electrodes to stimulate the sweat glands and measures the volume of sweat they produce in response to the stimulus.
  • Pupillary light reflex test: This test measures how sensitive the pupils are to changes in light.

Summary

The ANS regulates the internal organs to maintain homeostasis or to prepare the body for action. The sympathetic branch of the ANS is responsible for stimulating the fight or flight response. The parasympathetic branch has the opposite effect and helps regulate the body at rest.

Autonomic disorders have many different causes. They can occur as a natural consequence of aging or as a result of damage to parts of the brain or ANS. They may also occur as a result of an underlying disorder, such as diabetes or Parkinson's disease.

A person should see a doctor if they experience symptoms of a possible autonomic disorder. A doctor will work to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and prescribe appropriate treatments.

Original Article

Medical News Today: Thousands of LA jail inmates should receive community mental health support

A new report has found that more than half of the people with mental health conditions currently confined in Los Angeles county jails would benefit from mental health treatment in specialized community centers instead of incarceration.

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Thousands of LA jail inmates would benefit from receiving mental health support away from prison, a new report suggests.

The Los Angeles (LA) county jail system holds thousands of inmates at any one time, and past reports have suggested that these include many people who were previously homeless and who experience mental health issues.

As a result, if they do not receive appropriate support, these people have a high chance of recidivism, as well as a high likelihood of experiencing homelessness once more after their release from jail.

For this reason, last year, the LA County Board of Supervisors decided to focus more on the possibility of offering mental health support in community-based centers to inmates who may qualify for it.

To this end, LA County commissioned RAND Corporation — a not-for-profit, global policy-oriented research organization — to find out how many current county jail inmates would benefit from moving to community-based facilities to receive mental health treatment.

The 31 page report used data about the jail population from June 2019, which revealed that at that time, 5,544 inmates were living in special mental health housing units or receiving psychotropic drugs, or both.

A pathway to 'smart policy making'

The researchers who conducted this study had to develop a set of considerations to find out how many and which of these inmates would benefit from diversion to community-based mental healthcare.

Eligible individuals, the researchers say, are those who experience a serious mental illness that requires targeted therapy.

"Knowing how many people are appropriate for diversion is a first step toward understanding the types of programs, staff, and funding that would be needed to treat those individuals in the community," says lead author Stephanie Brooks Holliday.

The researchers estimated that 3,368 — or 61% — of these LA county jail inmates were definitely eligible for diversion to community-based clinical services, while an additional 414 (7%) were potentially eligible.

The remaining 32% of the people in this prison subpopulation (1,762 individuals) were definitely not eligible for diversion, according to the new report.

When applying the eligibility criteria to a representative sample of 500 participants living in county jails who also experienced mental health problems, the researchers found that 59% of the men and 74% of the women were eligible for diversion to a mental health program.

"Diversion is stopping the cycle between jail and homelessness," emphasizes county supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was not involved in the study on which the report was based.

"Just in the last 3 years, the Office of Diversion and Reentry has safely diverted over 4,400 people from the county jails to more appropriate settings where they can get treatment, instead of the costly alternative of serving additional time in jail and being released with no supports, too often ending up homeless. This is smart policy making."

Mark Ridley-Thomas

"RAND's research underscores the need to double down on diversion to reach all those who could benefit," the LA county supervisor adds.

The researchers involved in the RAND study also make some recommendations in their report. One of these is that the relevant authorities should increase the number and capacity of community-based programs for diversion.

Another recommendation is that LA County officials should improve the quality of data collection processes to get more information about jail inmates eligible for diversion.

"[E]ven with increases in diversion, there will continue to be a large number of individuals with mental health needs who remain in the jails," Holliday cautions.

That is why, she adds, "[i]t is important that there are services in place to care for people who are incarcerated and provide continuing services once they are released back into the community."

Original Article

Video » Discover NIMH: Dr. Sarah Lisanby on Brain Stimulation Therapy

Discover NIMH: Dr. Sarah Lisanby on Brain Stimulation Therapy

 

Watch on YouTube.

Transcript

>> HOLLY LISANBY: There's nothing more rewarding than seeing a person respond, seeing a person go from the depths of depression, hopelessness, even having thoughts of wanting to end their life, and have that melt away and have them return to the person that they were before the serious disease of depression had affected them.

Original Article

Video » Discover NIMH: A Former Patient Feels Hope Through Research

Discover NIMH: A Former Patient Feels Hope Through Research

 

Watch on YouTube.

Transcript

>> MJ CROMM: As a patient who goes to the doctor who has depression, you don't hear about all of the really cutting-edge things that are– that are being investigated and that might really help you. Hearing about all of that really made me feel like there was hope. Just because I had tried several antidepressants, and none of them had worked, that didn't mean that I was incurable, that I was never gonna feel better.

Original Article

Medical News Today: How the ‘rubber hand illusion’ may help those with OCD

New research shows how the use of a multisensory illusion may help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The new method could bypass the disadvantages of exposure therapy.

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Contamination fears may cause people with OCD to wash their hands excessively.

In 1998, researchers Matthew Botvinick and Jonathan Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh, PA, detailed an experiment that people would later refer to as the "rubber hand illusion" (RHI).

In the experiment, 10 people sat down, resting their left arm on a table. A screen hid each participant's arm from view, and instead, they could see a life-sized rubber hand model.

The researchers placed the hand right in front of the person so that they could see it from the same angle as they would their own hand.

After asking each participant to fix their gaze on the rubber hand, the experimenters used two small paintbrushes to stroke the rubber hand and the participant's actual hand at the same time.

After 10 minutes, the participants reported feeling the rubber hand as though it were their own.

Now, new research has used the RHI to help people with contamination-related OCD overcome their fears.

Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist in the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, is the first author of the new paper, which appears in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

In contamination-related OCD, the fear of touching a doorknob, for example, may cause people with the condition to spend hours washing and scrubbing their hands to an excessive degree afterward.

Doctors and mental health professionals often recommend "exposure therapy" to treat this and other forms of OCD.

Exposure therapy encourages people with OCD to start touching potentially contaminating surfaces without washing their hands afterward.

However, says Jalal, "exposure therapy can be very stressful and so is not always effective or even feasible for many patients."

This limitation is what made him and his colleagues want to explore other options, such as contaminating a fake hand instead.

Using a fake hand to treat OCD

The new research builds on previous RHI experiments that Jalal carried out together with fellow neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, who is a co-author of the new study.

In these previous studies, Jalal and Ramachandran contaminated the fake hand with fake feces, and the participants reported feeling disgusted in the same way that they would if they had used their own hand.

For the new study, the researchers recruited 29 people with OCD from the McLean Hospital Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute in Belmont, MA.

Of these participants, 16 experienced the paintbrush stroking on both their real hand and the dummy hand at exactly the same time, whereas 13 controls experienced the stroking out of synch.

After 5 minutes, the experimenters asked how real the dummy hand felt to the participants. Then, they used a tissue to smear the dummy hand with fake feces while simultaneously touching the real, hidden hand with a damp paper towel to mimick the feeling of them having feces on their hand.

The experimenters again asked the participants to rate their level of disgust, as well as how anxious they were and how strongly they felt the urge to go and wash their hand.

RHI may ease OCD contamination fears

At first, both groups reported feeling the illusion, regardless of whether or not the stroking of the two hands was simultaneous.

Then, the researchers took away both the clean paper towel and the fake feces tissue, leaving fake feces on the dummy hand. After this, they stroked the rubber hand and the real hand for another 5 minutes, still either synchronously or asynchronously.

In this condition, the participants in the intervention group reported feeling more disgusted than those in the control group.

In the next step, the stroking stopped, and the researchers placed fake feces on the real right hand of each of the participants.

This time, the people in the control group rated their anxiety, disgust, and urge to wash at seven on a 10-point Likert scale, whereas the intervention group reported these factors as a nine.

"Over time, stroking the real and fake hands in synchrony appears to create a stronger and stronger and stronger illusion to the extent that it eventually felt very much like their own hand," reports Jalal.

"This meant that after 10 minutes, the reaction to contamination was more extreme."

"Although this was the point our experiment ended, research has shown that continued exposure leads to a decline in contamination feelings — which is the basis of traditional exposure therapy."

Baland Jalal

Replacing traditional exposure therapy

In other words, the researcher believes that it is safe to conclude from these findings that after 30 minutes, participants would experience a drop in feelings of anxiety, disgust, and washing urge, based on the proven success of exposure therapy.

"If you can provide an indirect treatment that is reasonably realistic, where you contaminate a rubber hand instead of a real hand, this might provide a bridge that will allow more people to tolerate exposure therapy or even to replace exposure therapy altogether," continues the scientist.

He adds, "Whereas traditional exposure therapy can be stressful, the rubber hand illusion often makes people laugh at first, helping put them at ease."

"It is also straightforward and cheap compared to virtual reality, and so can easily reach patients in distress no matter where they are, such as poorly resourced and emergency settings."

In the near future, the researchers plan to compare this technique with existing treatments in randomized clinical trials.

Ramachandran agrees that the findings are strong, but also points out that more research is necessary before moving on to clinical trials.

"These results are compelling but not conclusive," he says. "We need larger samples and to iron out some methodological wrinkles."

Original Article

Medical News Today: How does air pollution affect our health?

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Air pollution appears to cause or contribute to a variety of health conditions. The effects of air pollution on a person's health can range from mild breathing difficulties to severe cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and stroke.

Harmful gases and particles in the air come from a range of sources, including exhaust fumes from vehicles, smoke from burning coal or gas, and tobacco smoke.

There are ways to limit the effects of air pollution on health, such as avoiding areas with heavy traffic. However, significant change relies on improvements to air quality on a global scale.

In this article, we discuss how air pollution can affect a person's health.

What is air pollution?

air pollutants coming out of a car exhaust pipe that may have negative health effects on the body Share on Pinterest
Avoiding areas with heavy traffic may help limit the effects of air pollution on health.

Air pollution consists of small particles that can be natural or artificial.

The range of possible pollutants means that air pollution can affect people both outdoors and indoors.

Outdoor air pollution consists of:

  • particles from burning coal and gas
  • harmful gases, such as nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide
  • tobacco smoke
  • ground-level ozone

Indoor air pollution consists of:

  • household chemicals
  • harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide or radon
  • building materials, such as lead or asbestos
  • pollen
  • mold
  • tobacco smoke

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pollutants that pose the highest risk to a person's health are:

  • particulate matter (particle pollutants), which comprises suspended solids and liquid droplets
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • ozone

Short-term exposure

Short-term exposure to air pollution, such as ground-level ozone, can affect the respiratory system because the majority of the pollutants enter the body through a person's airways.

Short-term exposure to air pollution may lead to respiratory infections and reduced lung function. It may also aggravate asthma in people with this condition.

Exposure to sulfur dioxide may cause damage to the eyes and respiratory tract, as well as irritating the skin.

Long-term exposure

Research into the long-term health problems that air pollution can cause is ongoing. Research has linked air pollution to serious health problems, adverse birth outcomes, and even premature death.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Exposure to particle pollutants may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the WHO, air pollution causes 43% of COPD cases and deaths worldwide.

COPD is a group of diseases that cause breathing-related difficulties, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases block the airways and make it difficult for a person to breathe.

There is no cure for COPD, but treatment can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Lung cancer

According to the WHO, air pollution causes 29% of all lung cancer cases and deaths.

Particle pollutants are likely to contribute to this figure significantly as their small size allows them to reach the lower respiratory tract.

Cardiovascular disease

Research shows that living in an area with higher levels of air pollution may increase the risk of death from stroke. Air pollution may trigger stroke and heart attacks.

A 2018 review notes that the Global Burden of Disease Study estimated air pollution to be responsible for 19% of cardiovascular deaths in 2015. It was also the cause of about 21% of deaths due to stroke and 24% of deaths from coronary heart disease.

Preterm delivery

According to research that featured in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, exposure to polluted air can make pregnant women more likely to experience preterm delivery.

The researchers found that the chance of preterm delivery lessened with decreased exposure.

Health effects from specific pollutants

According to research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, outdoor air pollution is a carcinogen, meaning that it may cause cancer.

Polluted air contains separate particles and chemicals, each of which has a different effect on health.

Particle pollutants

Particle pollutants consist of a combination of different particles in the air.

Due to the small size of these particles, they can reach the lungs and raise the risk of lung and heart disease.

They may also cause a worsening of symptoms in people with asthma.

Ground-level ozone

Pollutants react with sunlight to create ground-level ozone. Smog consists largely of ozone and is a key trigger of asthma symptoms.

Carbon monoxide

According to a 2016 article, if the levels of carbon monoxide are lower than 2%, this gas does not appear to affect a person's health.

However, if the levels are higher than 40%, carbon monoxide may be fatal.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:

  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • a headache

If a person suspects that they are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, they should move to an area with fresh air and seek immediate medical help.

Sulfur dioxide

Sulfur dioxide is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil.

It can cause eye irritation and make a person more vulnerable to developing respiratory tract infections, as well as cardiovascular disease.

Nitrogen dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide is present in vehicle exhaust emissions. Gas and kerosene heaters and stoves also produce large amounts of this gas.

Exposure to nitrogen dioxide may lead to respiratory infections. Typically, inhaling nitrogen dioxide causes wheezing or coughing, but it may also lead to headaches, throat irritation, chest pain, and fever.

How can we reduce exposure?

People can reduce their exposure to air pollutants by limiting the amount of time that they spend in areas with poor air quality. It is important to be aware of possible air pollutants both outdoors and indoors.

Outdoor air pollution

Governments, businesses, and individuals can all help in minimizing air pollution. Reducing emissions from vehicles and the levels of pollutants in the atmosphere may improve the quality of the air.

A person can also check the current air quality by using the AirNow website. This government service monitors air quality across the United States.

The site provides information on air pollution levels, which it color codes according to their potential effect on health. If the rating is orange or above, people can help protect their health by:

  • avoiding walking beside busy roads
  • exercising for less time outdoors or using an indoor venue instead
  • staying indoors until air quality improves

Indoor air pollution

A person can reduce indoor air pollution by ensuring that buildings are clean and ventilated.

Dust, mold, and pollen may all increase the risk of respiratory problems.

Radon gas can build up in homes that developers built on land that has uranium deposits. Radon gas can cause lung cancer.

A person can check for radon in the home by using a radon test kit. Alternatively, they can hire a professional to take this measurement for them.

Radon test kits are available to purchase in stores and online.

A person can use a carbon monoxide detector to monitor the carbon monoxide levels in their home or workplace.

Carbon monoxide detectors are available to purchase in stores and online.

Summary

Air pollution can be harmful to a person's health. It may cause respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

A person can reduce the likelihood of health problems by checking the air quality in their local areas and being aware of any existing health conditions.

Carbon monoxide can be fatal. If a person thinks that they have carbon monoxide poisoning, they should get into fresh air and seek medical help immediately.

Original Article

Medical News Today: What to know about white blood cells

White blood cells circulate around the blood and help the immune system fight off infections.

Stem cells in the bone marrow are responsible for producing white blood cells. The bone marrow then stores an estimated 80–90% of white blood cells.

When an infection or inflammatory condition occurs, the body releases white blood cells to help fight the infection.

In this article, learn more about white blood cells, including the types and their functions.

Types and function

an infographic showing the different types of White blood cells

Health professionals have identified three main categories of white blood cell: granulocytes, lymphocytes, and monocytes. The sections below discuss these in more detail.

Granulocytes

Granulocytes are white blood cells that have small granules containing proteins. There are three types of granulocyte cells:

  • Basophils: These represent less than 1% of white blood cells in the body and are typically present in increased numbers after an allergic reaction.
  • Eosinophils: These are responsible for responding to infections that parasites cause. They also play a role in the general immune response, as well as the inflammatory response, in the body.
  • Neutrophils: These represent the majority of white blood cells in the body. They act as scavengers, helping surround and destroy bacteria and fungi that may be present in the body.

Lymphocytes

These white blood cells include the following:

  • B cells: Also known as B-lymphocytes, these cells produce antibodies to help the immune system mount a response to infection.
  • T cells: Also known as T-lymphocytes, these white blood cells help recognize and remove infection-causing cells.
  • Natural killer cells: These cells are responsible for attacking and killing viral cells, as well as cancer cells.

Monocytes

Monocytes are white blood cells that make up around 2–8% of the total white blood cell count in the body. These are present when the body fights off chronic infections.

They target and destroy cells that cause infections.

Normal ranges

According to an article in American Family Physician, the normal range (per cubic millimeter) of white blood cells based on age are:

Age Normal range
Newborn infant 13,000–38,000
2-week-old infant 5,000–20,000
Adult 4,500–11,000

The normal range for a pregnant women in the 3rd trimester is 5,800–13,200 per cubic millimeter.

High white blood cell count

If a person's body is producing more white blood cells than it should be, doctors call this leukocytosis.

A high white blood cell count may indicate the following medical conditions:

  • allergic responses, such as due to an asthma attack
  • those that may cause cells to die, such as burns, heart attack, and trauma
  • inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or vasculitis
  • infections, such as with bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites
  • leukemia

Surgical procedures that cause cells to die can also cause a high white blood cell count.

Low white blood cell count

If a person's body is producing fewer white blood cells than it should be, doctors call this leukopenia.

Conditions that can cause leukopenia include:

Doctors may continually monitor white blood cells to determine if the body is mounting an immune response to an infection.

White blood cell test

During a physical examination, a doctor may perform a white blood cell count (WBC) using a blood test. They may order a WBC to test for, or rule out, other conditions that may affect white blood cells.

Although a blood sample is the most common approach to testing for white blood cells, a doctor can also test other body fluids, such as cerebrospinal fluid, for the presence of white blood cells.

A doctor may order a WBC to:

  • test for allergies
  • test for infection
  • test for leukemia
  • monitor the progression of certain conditions
  • monitor the effectiveness of some treatments, such as bone marrow transplants

Conditions affecting the white blood cells

The following are conditions that may impact how many white blood cells a person has in their body.

Aplastic anemia

This is a condition wherein a person's body destroys stem cells in the bone marrow.

Stem cells are responsible for creating new white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

Evans syndrome

This is an autoimmune condition wherein the body's immune system destroys healthy cells, including red and white blood cells.

HIV

HIV can decrease the amount of white blood cells called CD4 T cells. When a person's T cell count drops below 200, a doctor might diagnose AIDS.

Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. Leukemia occurs when white blood cells rapidly produce and are not able to fight infections.

Primary myelofibrosis

This condition causes a person's body to overproduce some types of blood cells. It causes scarring in a person's bone marrow.

How to raise or lower white blood cell count

Whether or not a person needs to alter their white blood cell count will depend on the diagnosis.

If they have a medical condition that affects the number of white blood cells in their body, they should talk to a doctor about the goals for their white blood cell count, depending on their current treatment plan.

A person can lower their white blood cell count by taking medications such as hydroxyurea or undergoing leukapheresis, which is a procedure that uses a machine to filter the blood.

If a person's white blood cell count is low due to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, a doctor may recommend avoiding foods that contain bacteria. This may help prevent infections.

A person can also take colony-stimulating factors. These may help prevent infection and increase the number of white blood cells in the body.

Summary

White blood cells are an important part of the body's immune system response. There are different types of white blood cell, and each has a specific function in the body.

Certain conditions can affect the number of white blood cells in the body, causing them to be too high or too low.

If necessary, a person can take medication to alter their white blood cell count.

Original Article