Category Archives: Science
Medicine has existed for thousands of years, and yet healthcare professionals are still only “practicing” it…so goes the old physician’s dinner joke. But there’s a great deal of truth to that old joke. For all that we know, for all that we can do, for all the diseases and conditions that used to spell only death or disfigurement, that have been cured or controlled or conquered, there are still so many things we don’t know, can’t do anything about, and have yet to understand. And that’s where the “practicing” comes in–we have yet to master medicine, anatomy, or disease. We are still journeymen, perhaps even apprentices, learning and growing and developing new skills and techniques all the time. And that’s where life science researchers come in.
We owe a great deal to those lab rats in their white coats and sterile environments. In days gone by, doctors often did their own research, and some still do. Home or hospital research laboratories overseen by curious or desperate physicians have given us everything from aspirin to the polio vaccine to x-rays. Now, most research is conducted in dedicated facilities–university labs, commercial research firms, government R&D facilities. And instead of practicing physicians, we have dedicated research staff–technicians, professional researchers, former clinicians–and they are just as busy seeking answers and innovations as those back room pioneers of long ago.
What have we gained from our lab rats recently? A lot of time and money is going into diabetes research, cancer research, and understanding the workings of the body at the smallest, most basic levels–cellular anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology. Diabetes research has helped us understand the process of advanced glycation and what happens to certain foods when they are cooked in certain ways. It’s helped us understand the link between obesity and diabetes and how we can avoid the disease altogether with proper diet and exercise. Cancer research has resulted in better understandings of cell life, death, and mutation. Just how cells can go from healthy to cancerous, how they can be influenced by free radicals, how they can migrate from one part of the body to another, all came about from the hard work and tireless efforts of lab researchers. Cell migration assays, among other techniques and tools, have been developed to help in these efforts. Many of these tools and methods begin in the realm of the research lab only to become the common life science products of hospital and clinic labs in years to come. What researchers use today may be the diagnostic tools of tomorrow. And that’s all part of the “practice” of medicine, in the lab and out.
Of all the ophthalmic instruments in your optometrist’s or ophthalmologist’s office, the corneal topographer is one you know well but you don’t even realize it. You know what it is, most likely, from your most recent exam, but you probably don’t know how it works or what it is used for. So, in the interest of educating our readers, and in making you more familiar with a common eye care tool, let’s meet the corneal topographer.
The corneal topographer is a machine that you sit down in front of and stare into. The little aperture or opening you stare into features a light with black concentric rings inside. Some of the surfaces are red while others are orange or yellow in color. The black rings are pretty standard. What you may not realize is that the center ring or dot is actually the lens of the digital camera. The topographer creates a 3D map or image of your eye’s outermost surface, or cornea. Now why would you and your optometrist or ophthalmologist want a map of your eye’s surface? Several good reasons actually, including:
- Diagnosis – several eye diseases can change the shape of the cornea, including glaucoma. Changes in the cornea’s shape or topography can indicate an eye health problem.
- Vision Correction – an accurate mapping of the outermost surface of your eye is vital to proper fit and use of contact lenses. Since corneal topography became more accurate and readily available, many patients have noticed a great improvement in how their contacts feel and work.
- Pre-Op/Post-Op Evaluation – A patient who needs to undergo LASIK surgery to correct vision problems will benefit greatly from corneal topography as the ophthalmologist has an accurate image of the cornea to use both before and after surgery to evaluate the surgery’s results.
Like the excimer laser used in many eye surgeries, the corneal topographer came into common use in the 1990s, though unlike the laser, its beginnings date about 100 years prior. A Portuguese ophthalmologist used a disk with painted black and white rings to roughly map the surface of his patients’ corneas based on the reflection of the disk’s rings on the cornea. He then drew maps, similar to those produced by geologists, of the surface of his patients’ eyes. Computer technology in the 1990s allowed for systems that both mapped the topography of the cornea and then produced digital images and maps. Fully automated corneal topography was now readily available.
So the next time you’re sitting in the eye doctor’s office, instead of wondering why you have to stare at a bunch of little circles in a round hole, you’ll know that you can count on the corneal topographer to map your eye’s health.
Healthcare is a growing, constantly changing field. As techniques and innovations develop so too do the individuals involved in serving patients. With the depth and breadth of the healthcare field and its careers, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to write an article on all the skills necessary for success in all the various jobs under the wide umbrella of healthcare. However, there are some skills and knowledge that are necessary to healthcare careers in general, and that’s what we’ll examine today.
- Research – Whether you’re a scientist developing a new life science product or a lab technician performing a P24 Elisa assay, keeping up to date with the developments and innovations in your field is vital to success in any healthcare career. In such a fast growing field, staying on your toes could mean the difference between life and death for one of your patients. It’s no surprise that most healthcare professionals have to undergo continuous education every year.
- Attention to Detail – Missing a symptom, incorrectly measuring a dosage, skipping a line in another professional’s reporting, mixing up samples or specimens–all this could lead to disastrous results for either you or your patient. A good eye for detail and the ability to stay focused on what you are doing each moment of your working day are highly valuable skills in a healthcare career.
- Compassion – Healthcare professionals, even those who see the inside of a research lab more than they do a patient’s body, must have a great deal of compassion and concern for their fellow man. How could you not? Most healthcare practitioners tend to see their patients at their worst or are motivated to prevent that worst from happening. An individual would have serious trouble doing his job well for long without a kind heart and a compassionate attitude.
- Desire to Change the World – Healthcare professionals all have a bit of the crusader in them. They want to make a difference in the lives of others. They want to improve the world and secure it for our future generations. From discovering the hidden chemistry of lipid peroxidation to discovering a sick child’s favorite flavor of medicine, wanting to know, needing to know, something that can better humanity is a day in the life of a healthcare professional. After all, you can’t make a change until you know what needs to be changed.
We often speak of health care professionals here on the I Love 2 B Healthy Blog. Healthcare is a pretty big field, and most of us, when we see or hear the term, only think of a few of the “big professionals” whom deliver healthcare. In the spirit of fun and to teach you a little something along the way, we’ve decided to feature a few of the lesser-known, not quite as commonly thought of careers in the realm of health care. These professionals are definitely unique, and some are, well, just downright odd.
- Researchers – Without the devoted and talented lab residents behind life sciences research, there wouldn’t be much news to report from the world of medicine or fitness. Whether it’s a technician overseeing a cell migration assay, a physiologist uncovering the mysteries of advanced glycation, or a group of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists working within a pilot program to test the efficacy of the newest wonder drug or treatment, without the time, care, curiosity, and courage of researchers, very few advances or innovations would ever see the light of day. Without all their efforts, we’d still be practicing 19th century healthcare.
- Laughter Therapists – Not clowns or comedians, these psychiatrists and psychologists are treating their chronically, clinically depressed patients with laughs instead of drugs. By teaching patients to smile and experience joy in their everyday lives, these specialists in laughter medicine see promising results. By using the laughter therapy techniques, patients can experience laughter and positive feelings more often, negating the need for chemical antidepressants.
- Sleep Technician – No, this guy doesn’t get to sleep on the job, nor does he teach others how to get a good night’s sleep. A sleep technician monitors patients during sleep studies. He has to keep an eye on the computer sensors and on the patient’s vital signs. He has to keep records of things like dreams, trips to the bathroom, teeth grinding, snoring, and even how many times you yawn. For those who may need a sleep aid or have a life threatening condition like sleep apnea, a sleep tech is the guy you want to spend time with.
- Art or Music Therapist – Like the laughter specialists, these dedicated individuals use their talents and training to help patients suffering from physical or psychological difficulties. Through music and art, patients can deal with traumatic memories, depression, loss of motor skills, anxiety, and dementia. A group of music therapists, for example, have discovered that listening to music from their era can help seniors suffering from memory loss and depression. Art therapy is often used with stroke and traumatic injury patients to help them recover and redevelop fine motor skills. This month, an art exhibit in Philadelphia will feature the art of women recovering from eating disorders.
While doctor or nurse may be the first healthcare professional to come to mind, there are myriads of other healthcare careers out there, helping us make a better life.
Medical laser equipment falls into one of two categories: cold and hot. Hot lasers are used in cauterizing and as laser scalpels, slicing through tissues with precision and ease. Cold lasers, also known as low level lasers, however, have many and varied uses. Cold laser treatments have been used for everything from pain control to body sculpting. In fact, low level or cold laser treatments’ many faces are changing the face of medical science forever. The many faces of cold laser therapy include the following:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – The FDA has cleared low level laser therapy to relieve the pain and numbness in the wrist and forearm caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. This technique is preferred as a form of non-invasive, non-drug treatment for CTS. Some patients report immediate relief with no side effects or downtime.
- Allergic Rhinitis – Even if you don’t know what allergic rhinitis is, you’ve probably suffered from it at some point. Allergic rhinitis is when an allergen causes inflammation and pain in the nasal passages. When this inflammation is caused by pollen, it is known as hay fever. Cold laser treatments have shown to be effective in about 70% of hay fever sufferers, alleviating the pain and inflammation in their poor, abused noses.
- Fibromyalgia – Some fibromyalgia patients have shown a remarked decrease in the pain and discomfort caused by their condition when undergoing low level laser therapy. It is believed that the photostimulation of tissues from the laser treatments alleviates the aggravated nerves and muscles causing the patient’s pain.
- Tennis Elbow – In a study conducted in the late ’90s, 82% of patients with acute epicondylitis–tennis elbow–and 66% of chronic sufferers experienced complete pain relief and restored mobility in the effected arm after experiencing cold laser treatments.
- Osteoarthritis – In another study, patients with pain, swelling, and stiffness in their hands caused by osteoarthritis showed marked improvement after receiving cold laser therapy. Some saw all symptoms relieved, while others saw a significant reduction in their pain, discomfort, and lack of mobility.
- Laser Acupuncture – Cold lasers prove to be just as effective as traditional acupuncture without having to break the skin. The laser’s pinpoint accuracy can simulate the needle’s punch, stimulating the same nerves in the same manner. Acupuncture has been proven to alleviate all sorts of problems, from headaches to stomach ailments.
- Wound Healing – Low level lasers have been studied in several different trials of wound healing. In most cases, wounds healed 50% faster under laser therapy than when left on their own.
- Body sculpting – So-called “laser liposuction” is the result of using a cold laser to emulsify fatty tissue deposits by breaking down the cell walls and allowing the fat and water inside to dissolve into the body’s lymphatic system and eventually flush from the body.
Cold lasers are an amazing technological achievement. The next time you find your health ailing, consider seeking some form of low-level laser therapy.
We tend to think of some medical procedures as “new,” innovative, or products of the “Modern World.” In some cases, we’re right–gamma knife treatments are less than 65 years old, laser surgery less than 50, and most antibiotics aren’t quite senior citizens yet themselves. While many may think of “complicated” procedures, such as the treatment of tumors, acoustic neuromas, and trigeminal neuralgia, as newfangled and fresh, in actuality, many of today’s brain surgery procedures have an old and distinguished past, perhaps not as old as obstetrics, but ancient none the less.
Brain surgery, believe it or not, dates back to the Stone Age. That’s right, Grak and his caveman buddies were candidates for the earliest skull cracking medicine men. Skip ahead a bit to 3000 B.C. and we actually have papyrus scrolls left by Egyptian physicians describing brain surgery procedures. In fact, it’s in those scrolls that we have the first recorded usage of the term “brain” for that grey squishy thing we carry above our shoulders and between our ears. The Pre-Incan civilizations of Peru also practiced early forms of brain surgery. We’re talking 2000 B.C. here. In all of prehistory, civilizations that performed brain surgery did so with amazing success. Archaeological evidence tells us that patients lived for years after enduring their cranial operations.
Ancient brain surgeries were performed to cure or heal diseases and conditions that included mental illness, epilepsy, headaches, osteomyelitis, and head injuries from battle and everyday accidents. Some forms of brain surgery were performed for magical or spiritual practices. Often these surgeries were reserved for the elite–priests, kings, chieftains, and nobles. The procedures were first performed with obsidian knives, shaped from razor sharp volcanic rock. Later, tools made from bronze were commonly used.
Skip ahead to ancient Greece and the “Father of Medicine,” Hippocrates, who left us with several treatises on brain surgery. Many of the topics of his texts–spasms, seizures, and head injuries like contusions, fractures, and depressions–are still in good stead today, 2000 years later. Not to be outdone, ancient Rome had its very own rock star brain surgeon. While Hippocrates would not operate on skull depressions or do much to treat those suffering from brain injuries, Celsus did. Celsus described both procedure and treatment in his works from the first century A.D.
There was a time when the Muslims more or less ruled the Western world, during Europe’s Dark Ages. During this time, two Islamic surgeons, Abu Bekr Muhammed el Razi and Abu l’Qluasim Khalaf, made great strides and had a great deal of influence on the science of brain surgery.
During the Renaissance, even with the ban on the study of anatomy, many scientific minds were great physicians and surgeons, including Leonardo da Vinci, who left us his superb anatomical drawings and diagrams in his portfolio. While da Vinci didn’t do any brain surgery that we know of, his notebooks are still inspiring and instructing scientists today.
Brain surgery as we know it didn’t really come about until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but when we consider the work of all those who came before–both great and unknown–our new and innovative procedures are merely another step in the long road of brain surgery’s history. I wonder if Grak would be proud?
While we most associate sunglasses with movie stars, jazz singers, fighter pilots and beach bums, it may come as a surprise to you to discover that judges in ancient China should receive credit for being the first habitual sunglasses wearers. They didn’t do it to protect their eyes from the bright glare of the sun, but rather to conceal their emotions and expressions from the witnesses they were interrogating in their courts. It wouldn’t do to have the defendant catch a hint of sympathy in the judge’s eyes, now would it? The judges took flat panes of smoked quartz and fashioned them into opthalmic equipment fit for Tom Cruise.
Another ancient fan of sunglasses was that wacky, wild guy Emperor Nero. He supposedly liked to view gladiator contests in the Coliseum through polished emeralds. Blind people throughout the centuries were often given smoked glass lenses to conceal their disfigured or defective eyes. While none of these served the function of today’s sunglasses, they did serve as precursors.
An English optometrist, James Ayscough, began experimenting with blue and green tinted lenses in the 1700s to see what effect the colored glass might have on improving certain vision problems. Too bad he didn’t have an excimer laser or corneal topographer. They would’ve told him all his pretty lenses did was mess with the way his patients saw the world, and not in any improved way.
Sunglasses really came into their own in the 1930s. The first pairs were sold on the boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1929. They were such a hit that by 1930, they were seen on the faces of some of the country’s rich and famous, and a new fashion standard was born. By 1936, polarization made its first appearance, along with the now ever-popular aviator glasses. Aviators were really just that: designed by a pilot to protect from the sun’s glare and the wind of the open cockpit. The lenses still hold the traditional shape of the pilot’s goggles, with sidepieces as light, airy, and strong as the wing struts on a bi-plane. World War II saw aviators become standard equipment for many men, both in the air and on the ground. Perhaps the most famous aviator wearer before Tom Cruise was General Douglass MacArthur.
After the war, as America turned to developing cheaper and lighter materials, sunglasses received the plastic treatment, going from either solid black or metal framed to an array of colors. Shapes began to change, too, as the materials became easier and easier to mold and design. Who can forget cat eyed glances from Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe? The sixties and seventies saw even more radical designs and colors to match the fashions of the day, but little had changed about the technology of the lens until the advent of UV blockers and gradient lenses that could “sense” the sun’s brightness and change accordingly. Today, you can get prescription sunglasses, frames in almost any style, color, or shape, and even pint sized pairs for your kids.
The next time you slip on your shades–be they cheap or expensive designer editions–take a moment to think back to all the sunglass-wearing folks of yesteryear, and then pause to strike your most regal, imperial pose. After all, Nero did it!
You know that old joke? The one where fellow #1 asks the other guy if his face hurts. Then fellow number two says “No. Why?” and fellow #1 comes back with, “Well, it’s killing me!”
Facial pain and numbness may not be fatal, but to many sufferers, it feels as if their faces are trying to kill them. Facial pain and numbness aren’t as rare as you might think. And some of the conditions that cause it aren’t as serious as you might think. Some are, we’ll not fool you. But some, well, they just aren’t as big a deal as the pain and discomfort they cause would make them seem. Let’s look at some conditions associated with facial pain and numbness, and then we’ll discuss how to treat them.
- Bell’s Palsy – Bell’s Palsy is a temporary (usually lasting about 2 weeks) condition that causes numbness, paralysis, and possibly pain to all or part of the face. This numbness can be caused by a whole host of conditions, from the common cold sore to a cranial fracture. Researchers believe that most cases are caused by the herpes simplex (that causes the cold sores) affecting the cranial nerves that serve the face. Treatment with steroids generally relieves the condition. Eye drops may be necessary if the eyelid is affected by the paralysis.
- Acoustic neuroma – An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows around or near the acoustic nerve. If the tumor is large enough to affect facial nerves, or located in a precise position, numbness and paralysis can occur. Some patients also experience loss of hearing and facial pain with acoustic neuromas. Acoustic neuroma treatment is often in the form of gamma knife surgery–a non-invasive radiosurgical procedure that stops tumor growth.
- Trigeminal neuralgia – Of all the causes of facial pain, trigeminal neuralgia is perhaps the worst. It’s got the lovely little nickname of suicide disease, due to the number of people who prefer death to living with the intense episodes of pain it causes. It, too, is a neuropathic disorder. The trigeminal nerve serves the face just above the jawline, and is responsible for the act of chewing. It controls the muscles in the jaw, and therefore, if you eat, you activate the trigeminal nerve. Trigeminal neuralgia is believed to be caused by blood vessels pressing on the nerve and pinching it or rubbing it, causing the intense and sudden episodes of pain. Trigeminal neuralgia treatments range from medical–anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and opiates such as morphine, to surgical–gamma knife surgery, microvascular decompression (a spongy material is placed between the offending blood vessel and the nerve), and even “balloon” compression. Treatment may have to be repeated, as the blood vessel and nerve may once again come into contact.
So, if your face is hurting you, seek treatment. Most cases are simple. Other cases may be more serious, but help is available. Don’t be afraid to show your face and go get it!
EKG machines are considered vital pieces of medical equipment. They’re in clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices. Ambulances carry portable versions, and many veterinarian surgeons consider them essential pieces of veterinary equipment, as well. We all know what they do–monitor your heart’s beating–and we’ve all seen the dramatic scenes in movies and television programs of their blips and beeps and readouts. But few of us actually know how they do what they do.
Well, dear reader, consider yourself out of that group, because today were going to learn how these lovely medical machines do what they do.
First, a little history and language lesson. EKG is actually an abbreviation for the original German term for the machine. It was pretty much developed by a Dutch scientist, and his German term has continued to come down to us in the form of the acronym–elektrokardiogramm. The word has Greek as its origins–electro meaning dealing with electricity, cardio meaning having to do with the heart, and gram meaning writing. So, an EKG machine provides a written record of the electrical activity within a person’s heart. Some older machines may carry the title ECG, but most medical professionals prefer to call the machine by its original moniker.
Your heart consists of 4 chambers. The upper two are the atria, the lower two are ventricles. You have a right and a left atrium and a left and right ventricle. The blood enters the heart through the right atrium, enters the right ventricle, gets pumped into the lungs to be oxygenated. The oxygen rich blood now enters the heart through the left atrium, then goes down into the left ventricle and from there is pumped into the body. Your heart knows to do this properly through electrical impulses sent from the brain to the cardiac muscles. The EKG machine can pick up and read these electrical impulses. This enables the machine to record whether or not your heart is functioning as it should.
The electrical impulses can be read through sensors, known as leads, that are sensitive enough to pick them up through the skin. There are various spots throughout the torso where these impulses can be detected more clearly than others. That’s why the placement of the EKG leads are so important and are pretty much standard. The machine then transmits these impulses as the blips and “squiggly” lines we see on the printouts and readouts. The distance between the high points and low points, the number of “blips” and the space between the “blips” all tell the medical professional reading the machine how well your heart is functioning and what, if anything, may be wrong with it. An EKG can show a heart attack in progress, or if there has been a heart attack in the recent past. It can also sometimes show a problem with one of the heart’s valves, just as a heart “murmur” or leak. The EKG, therefore, can be a vital tool in diagnosing past or potential danger to your heart, and ultimately, to you.
When Bogie looked into Ingrid Bergman’s baby blues and delivered the immortal line, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” the movie Casablanca was never the same. Not only was the line a complete unscripted improvisation on the part of Bogart, but many critics and fans alike say it is one of the best lines in all of movie history. (Frankly, I quite have to happily agree.)
Now, I know you’re wondering what Bogie and Bergman and Casablanca have to do with a health blog, right? Well other than serving as a wonderful hour and half of pure cinematic stress relief, not much. But as a segue into an article on ophthalmology, it’s a grand slam too good for this writer to pass up. You’ll see why in a minute. Have I ever let you down?
Bogie looked into Ingrid’s baby blue eyes with movie passion and power. Your ophthalmologist may have a different type of passion for looking into eyes, but he does so with just as much intensity and power. (Well, all right, maybe not personal power, but all those ophthalmic instruments he’s got in his office sure pack a punch. Ever see what a YAG laser can do to leaky retinal blood vessels, for crying out loud? This guy’s no wimp, let me tell you. Anyway, I digress.) He’s searching for any tell-tale signs of abnormality, illness, or injury. And now we’re going to look at one of the first things he uses to look at you, kid: the corneal topographer.
This nifty little piece of equipment came about slowly, but owes its inception to a Portuguese fellow in 1880. He viewed the reflection of a painted Placido’s disk in a patient’s eye. The concentric rings on the disk showed as contour lines on the patient’s cornea. A few years later, another Portuguese fellow took this idea and added an eye piece for enlarging the viewing, and suggested that photographs or diagrams be used of the images so that they could be further observed and noted. In 1896, a Swedish ophthalmologist pioneer added the disk to his new ophthalmoscope that took pictures of the cornea that could be viewed through a microscope. He realized the potential of the instrument for diagnosing damage to, and tracking changes of, the cornea. In the 1950s, the technology changed again, this time improving imaging by using a curved bowl with the concentric lines, instead of a flat disk. When the computer age came along in the 1980s, the corneal topographer entered the digital age with digitized images and computerized analysis.
Now, why is all this important? Well, corneal topography gives the ophthalmologist a look at the shape and condition of the cornea, which is the eye’s first line of vision. Changes in its shape or condition can lead to diminishing vision. So, the next time the ophthalmologist asks you to look into the crazy contraption with the little black lines on the red or orange background, you can know what he’s looking at. And what he’s looking for.
So, here’s lookin’ at you, kid. And may you continue to keep lookin’ back as time goes by.