Monthly Archives: March 2017

Why Dangerous Hair Condition After Nuclear Attack

Last week, when North Korea was threatening to send a ballistic missile toward the U.S. territory of Guam, the island’s inhabitants were warned that in the case of a nuclear attack, they should not condition their hair.

Wait, what?

Hair conditioning might seem like the last thing that would be on a person’s mind following a nuclear attack, but this hair care advice has scientific merit: Conditioner can “bind radioactive material to your hair,” according to guidelines posted by Guam’s Office of Civil Defense Friday (Aug. 11). [Doom and Gloom: Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Worlds]

It appears that the people of Guam are safe for the moment, however. North Korea has since de-escalated its threat, saying it would “wait a little more” before moving forward with the missile launchings, according to The New York Times.

Even so, the conditioner recommendations stand. During a nuclear attack, a fireball would pulverize everything in its path, launching the resulting vaporized material upward and mixing it with radioactive byproducts from the bomb to create a radioactive dust, according to NPR. This dust is known as nuclear fallout, and it can contaminate everything it falls on, including human hair.

If people survive the blast, they should take off their outer layer of clothing, which can remove up to 90 percent of radioactive material, according to, a U.S. site on disaster preparedness. If water is available for bathing, survivors should also shower with soap and shampoo to wash off any radioactive dust.

But because hair is made of overlapping scales, it’s a bad idea to condition it in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

“[Hair] can come apart during the day like a pinecone,” Andrew Karam, a radiation safety expert who consults for government response teams, told NPR. “Radiation contamination particles can get between those scales.”

Unlike shampoo, conditioner has certain compounds — mainly cationic surfactants (such as cetrimonium chloride), silicone (like dimethicone) and cationic polymers (such as guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride) — that pull down these scales to smooth a person’s hair, Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist who hosts The Beauty Brains podcast,told Racked.

If nuclear fallout gets under these scales, when the scales are smoothed down, radioactive particles can be trapped underneath and remain there, Karam told NPR.

In addition, conditioner has sticky, oily compounds that stay in hair, even after it’s rinsed. These compounds could make it easier for nuclear fallout to stick to the hair, which could, in turn, increase a person’s risk of radioactive exposure, Romanowski told NPR.

In fact, people should avoid applying to their body any oily or sticky cosmetic product, such as skin lotion or color cosmetics, if they’re in a nuclear fallout zone, as these products would also amass radioactive dust, Romanowski said.

However, most injuries from a nuclear bomb are caused by pressure from the explosion, as well as fires, collapsed buildings, flying shrapnel and acute radiation poisoning (the kind that happens from the initial explosion rather than long-term exposure like that coming from your hair), Live Science reported previously.

Causes, Symptoms & Treatment, Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms in one or both kidneys from minerals in the urine, and if large enough, can cause severe pain. In the United States, kidney stones send more than 500,000 people to the emergency room each year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Kidney stones form when there is not enough liquid in the urine to dilute out waste chemicals, such ascalcium, oxalate and phosphorous. These waste chemicals become concentrated, and crystals begin to form, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The most common type of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones.

Kidney stones can vary in size, with some as small as a grain of sand, and others as large as a pea or even a golf ball, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Small stones may pass down the urinary tract and be excreted without causing symptoms. Larger stones may get stuck in the urinary tract and block the flow of urine, which can cause severe pain or bleeding, the NIH says.

People with kidney stones often seek medical care because they have severe pain in their flank (the area between the mid-back and the ribs) on one side of the body, and this pain can extend to the lower abdomen, said Dr. Michael F. Michelis, director of the division of nephrology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Stone pain is very profound,” Michelis said.

Other symptoms of kidney stones can include pain while urinating, blood in the urine, and nausea and vomiting, according to the NIH. People who think they have a kidney stone, or who have serious symptoms such as extreme pain that won’t go away, fever, chills and vomiting, should see their doctor, the NIH says.

Men are more likely to develop kidney stones than women. People are also at increased risk for kidney stones if they’ve had a stone in the past, or a member of their family has had a stone.

Other risk factors include not drinking enough water, eating a diet high in protein, sodium and sugar, being obese, or undergoing gastric bypass surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The most common time to develop kidney stones is between ages 20 and 60, according to information from The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Kidney stones can be diagnosed from a patient’s symptoms and a CT scan (that combines X-rays to create a 3D image), which is usually performed in the emergency room, Michelis said.

Small kidney stones don’t usually need treatment, but an individual may need to take pain medication, according to the NIH. Patients with kidney stones should also drink lots of fluids, which can help the stone to pass. Most kidney stones do not require invasive treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Large kidney stones, or stones blocking the urinary tract, may need other treatments. One treatment is called shock wave lithotripsy, during which a doctor uses a machine that produces strong vibrations known as shock waves to break the stone into small pieces so it can pass through the urinary tract.

Another treatment, called ureteroscopy, uses a special tool called a ureteroscope to view the kidney stone in the ureter — the tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder. A doctor can then remove the stone or use laser energy to break it up.

Very large stones may need surgery to remove them, Michelis said.

Many issues of kidney stones “can be avoided by moderation of the diet and a high fluid intake,” Michelis said. The NIH recommends drinking about 2 to 3 liters, or 2 to 3 quarts, of fluid each day.

Determining the type of stone a person had — by catching the stone as it passes and having it analyzed by a lab — can help doctors understand what caused the stone, and make recommendations to prevent the condition. If a patient is not able to catch the kidney stone, doctors can still perform urine testing (by asking a patient to collect his or her urine for a 24-hour period), and take a diet history, to determine what might be causing the stone, Michelis said.

For people who’ve had stones made of calcium oxalate, doctors may recommend that they avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, rhubarb, nuts and wheat bran, the NIH says.

To prevent stones made of uric acid, doctors may ask patients to reduce their protein intake, because protein is associated with the formation of uric acid in the body, Michelis said.

Reducing salt intake may also lower a person’s risk of several types of kidney stones, including calcium stones. Eating too much sodium can increase the amount of calcium in the urine, Michelis said. Patients should also eat the recommended daily amount of calcium, but not an excessive amount, Michelis said.

Some drugs can help prevent kidney stones, but these drugs are typically used only if a change in diet is not effective, Michelis said. These include diuretic drugs to prevent calcium stones and drugs to reduce the production of uric acid to prevent uric acid stones, Michelis said. Some drugs can also reduce the acidity of the urine, Michelis said, because too much acid in the urine is a risk factor for stones made of uric acid.

Death Overdose of Adult Drugs Rises 19%

Drug overdose deaths among U.S. teens edged upward in 2015, after declining for several years prior, according a new report.

The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at drug overdose deaths among Americans ages 15 to 19 over a 16-year period, from 1999 to 2015.

The report showed that from 1999 to the mid-2000s drug overdose deaths in this age group more than doubled, from 1.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 4.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007. This increase coincided with a rise in drug overdose deaths among the U.S. population as a whole, an increase that’s been partly attributed to the opioid epidemic.

However, after 2007, drug overdose deaths among teens declined, reaching 3.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, the report said. (This drop was driven by a decrease in drug overdose deaths among males in this age group.)

But in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, drug overdose deaths among teens increased again, to 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people, which is a 19 percent increase compared to 2014, the report said. In total, there were 772 drug overdose deaths in this age group in 2015. [America’s Opioid-Use Epidemic: 5 Startling Facts]

This recent rise “certainly is a red flag,” said Dr. Bradley Stein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, who was not involved in the report. However, Stein noted, because the overall number of drug overdose deaths among teens in this age group is relatively small, it’s possible that the recent rise is just statistical “noise” rather than a true increase. In other words, more data will be needed to determine if this marks a new upward trend.

Still, “any uptick at all [in drug overdose deaths] is certainly something that has to get our attention,” Stein said.

The majority of overdose deaths in this age group, 80 percent, were unintentional. However, the rate of suicides resulting from overdose was higher among females (22 percent) than males (13.5 percent), the study found.

The report analyzed the types of drugs involved in teen overdose deaths, finding that opioids had the highest death rate, followed by benzodiazepines (which are also known as “tranquilizers” and include drugs such as Valium and Xanax).

Stein noted that while people often focus on opioids as the biggest culprit in drug overdose deaths, it’s often a combination of drugs that leads to overdose, and the mixture of opioids with benzodiazepines can be particularly deadly.

The study also found that there has been a spike in teen overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) in recent years, while there has been a decrease in deaths involving semisynthetic opioids, which include prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. This mirrors a trend seen in adults and suggests that while efforts to reduce prescribing of opioid painkillers may be working, they are “not a silver bullet” for solving the opioid crisis, Stein said.

Stein said it’s unclear why teen drug overdose deaths decreased from 2007 to 2014 while overdose deaths increased in other age groups during this time. But Stein speculated that efforts to prevent opioid use or educate people about the risks of these drugs might have a bigger impact in teens and might prevent them from starting in the first place. More research is needed to understand which interventions work best for which demographic groups, he said.

Still, even with prevention efforts, teens may become addicted to opioids, and there is still a need to push for better opioid addiction treatments for this age group, Stein said.

Can the solar eclipse harm the eyes?

Many watchers of today’s solar eclipse may have glanced at the sun without proper eye protection, if only for a brief moment. This can be dangerous, as looking directly at the sun can cause eye damage. But how do you know if you’ve hurt your eyes?

The solar eclipse wowed viewers across the United States today (Aug. 21) as it passed from the West Coast to the East Coast. As millions tried to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon, many may have taken a peek without proper eye protection, either intentionally or by accident. Even President Donald Trump was photographed apparently looking sunward at the eclipse without eye protection.

Experts stress that you should not look directly at the sun without proper eye protection, which includes special eclipse glasses or solar viewers. That’s because looking directly at the sun, even for a short period, can cause damage to the eyes’ retina — a condition known assolar retinopathy. The damage occurs in the fovea, a spot in the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

There’s no amount of time that’s considered “safe” to look at the sun without proper eye protection, said Dr. Neil Bressler, a professor of ophthalmology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Even looking for a few seconds could cause damage, and the longer you stare, the higher your chances of experiencing damage, Bressler said. [Photos: 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse]

Symptoms of solar retinopathy can occur within hours of looking at the sun. According to a paper published in 2001 by The Royal College of Ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom, symptoms typically show up about 12 hours after the viewing event.

These symptoms can include the following:

  1. Blurry vision
  2. A central blind spot in one or both eyes
  3. Increased sensitivity to light
  4. Distorted vision
  5. Changes in the way you see color, known as “chromatopsia”

People who experience discomfort or vision problems after an eclipse should visit an eye doctor for an eye exam, according to the American Optometric Association.

Fortunately, many people with solar retinopathy recover from their symptoms, but some have lasting vision problems. For example, in a2002 study, 13 out of 15 patients in England with solar retinopathy resulting from viewing an eclipse in 1999 had normal vision in an eye exam eight to 12 months later. Still, even some patients with normal vision in an eye test had subtle eye symptoms, such as a small blind spot in their vision.