Paging Dr. Frischer: Sunglasses

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Summer is here, and with it, even more sun and its ultraviolet radiation.

We’ve gotten pretty good at using sunscreen to protect our bare skin from UV rays, right? What about our naked eyes? Here is what we all need to know about sunglasses.

In a recent survey, less than half of 10,000 Americans recognized the health benefits of sunglasses, and 27% reported never wearing them. Does it make sense to leave our eyes unprotected, when a host of conditions are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation? Some of the eye problems that the sun can cause include:

* Cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens which makes what we see appear darker and blurry. Some 20% of cataracts are triggered by excessive exposure to UV rays, and the World Health Organization reports that approximately 900,000 people worldwide are blind due to cataracts.

*Macular degeneration, a result of damage to the retina that destroys central vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

*Pterygium, also called surfer’s eye, is a growth of tissue over the white part of the eye’s surface. This can alter the curve of the eyeball, leading to astigmatism.

*Skin cancers, which can be found on the eyelid. In fact, they are surprisingly common there, representing about 10% of all skin cancers.

*Photokeratitis, essentially a sunburn of the eye. Fortunately, it is temporary, and typically heals within 48 hours. It can be painful, and cause blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and the sensation of having sand in the eye.

So, this is why it is so important to protect our eyes from the harmful affects of UV rays! Now let’s discuss sunglasses. They are not all the same. They can cost very little, or quite a bit. How do we choose the right pair?

The most important thing to consider is that brand and price matter far less than does selecting a pair that blocks out both UVA and UVB radiation (UVB is actually more harmful than UVA). A pair is acceptable if it offers UV protection of at least 95%. 

Avoid sunglasses that are not labeled at all. Recently I visited a sunglass kiosk where there were no such labels, and was told that they had been removed to make the sunglasses look more attractive. Perhaps that was the truth, but nevertheless, I took my business elsewhere!

Consider that the ideal sunglasses are wraparounds, which protect us from UV rays coming in from the sides. And, note that even if your contact lenses have UV protection, wearing sunglasses is still important. Pay special attention to wearing them at higher altitudes where the UV rays are even more intense, and when you are near water or snow. Some medications can cause even greater sensitivity to light, including certain antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and diuretics.

Please get into the habit of wearing your sunglasses year-round. Cloudy days do not stop UV rays!  Please remember that children’s eyes are even more susceptible to UV rays. While you’re at it, throw in a wide-brimmed hat for extra protection. It can’t hurt!

Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.

Kaiser hospital donates $50K to local non-profits

DOWNEY –  Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center recently announced an investment of more than $250,000 in grants to five local non-profit organizations. 

The grants will help support children and the elderly through organizations that provide access to healthcare services, promote community safety and violence prevention, and increase mental health care. 

“Many of the most vulnerable residents in our surrounding communities -- youth and the elderly -- do not have access to health services, and these grants help organizations provide the services they need,” said Jim Branchick, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center. “We are proud to help support these organizations as we all have one common goal -- to improve health in the community.” 

The following organizations each received grants of $50,000: 

Community Family Guidance will create additional access points for mental health services in the southeast Los Angeles city of Bell. 

Elevate Your GAME will sustain their successful, long-standing one-on-one mentoring program in Compton and help expand the mentoring program to Lynwood High School. 

Pathways Care Navigation Program will keep vulnerable, at-risk seniors stable, safe and independent in their own homes. In collaboration with the Cal State Long Beach Nursing Department, the program engages seniors in Bellflower, Lakewood and Paramount through in-home visits to create personal care plans, which address medication management, monitoring of chronic conditions, and safety assessments. 

St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will launch an online patient portal for patients at their Compton clinic site. This online patient portal will connect physicians with their patients electronically and offer more streamlined care. 

Urban Compass will expand their highly successful one-on-one mentoring program to middle school students in Watts. 

Since 2010, Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center has donated more than $1.2 million to more than 100 community partners. 

Paging Dr. Frischer: Pet allergies

My wife grew up with her beloved Mittens the cat…and a box of tissues always within reach.

Some 10% of us are allergic to dogs, and cat allergies affect about twice that many. Some of us also react to birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, and rodents.

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Why do allergies afflict us? Our immune system produces antibodies to fight off harmful germs. An allergen is a normally harmless substance, but for those with allergies, it triggers the immune system to react. This can lead to symptoms like itching or watery eyes, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, asthma and eczema. Interestingly, allergic reactions can change
over time and even disappear. As we age, some of us leave our hay fever, pet allergies and food allergies behind.

It is actually the proteins found in a dog or cat’s dander (tiny flakes of skin), and not their fur itself, which cause allergic reactions. Dander is also found, in smaller quantities, in an animal’s saliva and urine. Dander can be carried on our clothes, circulate in the air, settle in furniture
and bedding, and stay behind on dust particles. In addition, pet hair or fur can collect pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens.

What can we do to reduce the symptoms of pet allergies? The best treatment is to avoid contact with cats, dogs, and the spaces they live in. Keep pets out of your home or especially your bedroom, and avoid visiting homes with pets. However, if a pet-free household is not an option:

■ Washing a dog weekly can reduce the dust and dander significantly. Regular human shampoos are not the best choice; a dog’s skin might become dry or irritated, leading to more sloughing of dead skin cells.

■ Keep your home clean. Clean furniture covers, carpets, drapes, and pet bedding often. Keep the pet off of your bed, and consider using air purifiers.

■ Medication for the human can help, including over the counter products like Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec.

No pet is 100% hypoallergenic. All dogs produce dander, including hairless ones, but low shedding dogs tend to release less dander. Some of the better dog breeds for allergy sufferers are poodles and many poodle mixes, Portuguese and Spanish water dogs, terriers, bichon frise, Chinese crested, Irish water spaniel, Maltese, standard schnauzer, Italian greyhound, and havanese.

Some of the better cat breeds for allergy sufferers are Siamese, Balinese, Siberian, Bengal, Burmese, colorpoint and Oriental shorthair, Cornish and Devon rex, Javanese, and sphynx.

Pets can be such a wonderful and healthful part of our lives. When seeking a new member of your family, I encourage you to research allergenic potential along with the animal’s size, personality, and other qualities.

Paging Dr. Frischer: Advances in diabetes

More than one in every 10 adults in the United States has diabetes. I repeat: more than one in every 10 adults has diabetes. That comes to 29 million Americans, including some eight million who may be undiagnosed and unaware. 

It can be a devastating disease; monitoring, managing, and treating it is difficult, challenging, and costly. Thankfully, this is an exciting time with new advances in the field.

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How does a healthy, diabetes-free body operate, and why is a properly functioning pancreas so important? Hormone levels (including insulin, glucagon, and others) rise and fall to keep our blood sugar (glucose) in a normal range. Normally, blood sugar levels rise after we eat. Cells in the pancreas then release insulin, enabling the body to absorb glucose from the blood and lowering blood sugar levels back to normal. 

Then, when blood glucose levels are low, the hormone glucagon is released from the pancreas and signals the liver to release glucose back into the blood.

For those with type-2 diabetes, the body builds up resistance to insulin and increasingly greater amounts are necessary in order to bring down blood glucose levels. As the disease advances, the pancreas produces even less insulin. 

With type-1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, and needs additional insulin injections to bring down the blood sugar levels. Type-2 diabetics often use non-insulin oral or injectable medications or, if that is not effective, insulin injections.

In 2016, the FDA approved the first artificial pancreas. This artificial pancreas is initially being used for Type 1 diabetics, with the more common Type 2 diabetics to follow. The device continuously monitors blood sugar levels and supplies insulin automatically when sugar levels get too high. 

There is constant communication between the monitoring and the infusion devices. The goal is to reduce high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) and minimize the incidence of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) with little or no input from the patient, and to allow a diabetic patient the opportunity to live a “normal” life!

Another recent potential advance in diabetes treatment is a digital contact lens. Patented in 2014 by Google, and in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Novartis, it measures blood glucose levels from tears. Microchip sensors are embedded between two layers of lens material, and a tiny hole allows tear fluid to seep into the sensor, which then measures blood sugar levels. 

A thin wireless antenna transmits the data to a phone app. When blood glucose levels approach dangerous levels, the app notifies the user to act by consuming sugar, injecting insulin, or contacting a physician. 

As with the artificial pancreas, it could eliminate the need to take blood samples (usually through a finger poke) several times a day, and could potentially greatly lower the cost of monitoring blood sugar levels.

We live in exciting times. Stay tuned for these and other advances in diabetes management. 

Dr. Alan Frischer is the former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.