NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for August, 2017

Common Contact Lens Mistakes to Avoid

Common Contact Lens Mistakes to AvoidMillions of Americans wear contact lenses, yet proper safety precautions are not often discussed. Monday marked the beginning of Contact Lens Health Week, which is organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to promote healthy contact lens wear.

We asked Dr. Deepinder K. Dhaliwal, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of refractive surgery and cornea service at the UPMC Eye Center, about safety precautions when using contact lenses.

Why shouldn’t you sleep in contact lenses?

A. Wearing contact lenses to bed is extremely hazardous because it limits oxygen from getting to the eyes. Research has showed that sleeping in contacts increases infection rate by six to eight times, and in extreme cases, can result in vision loss. Those who wish to wake up and see right away may wish to consider LASIK surgery as a safer alternative to sleeping in contact lenses.

Are there any lenses we should avoid?

A. Daily disposable contacts are the safest type of lenses. Avoid cosmetic lenses as they aren’t regulated and can be harmful to the eyes. If you are interested in colored contacts, consult a doctor for a proper prescription. Always refrain from over the counter contact lenses, and never share contact lenses with someone else.

How do you properly take care of contact lenses?

A. You should never swim or shower in contact lenses. Additionally, never clean contact lenses with saliva or tap water – always use a proper lens cleaning solution. Although its purified, tap water is not sterile and contains microbles that are harmful to the eye and can cause infection. I recommend storing contact cases away from the sink to reduce risk of tap water contamination.

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Researchers Explore Role of Zinc in How the Brain Processes Sound

Researchers Explore Role of Zinc in How the Brain Processes SoundResearchers at the University of Pittsburgh have received a $1.24 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study a previously unknown link between the metal zinc and the brain circuits that process sound. The findings could provide insight into how the brain dampens its responses to constant background noise or repetitive loud sounds.

Pitt School of Medicine faculty Dr. Elias Aizenman, professor of neurobiology, and Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos, endowed professor and vice chair of research in the department of otoralyngology, will embark on a project that will advance understanding about how the brain adapts to different sounds. Overall, the project is designed to create a new framework for approaching and interpreting the role of the auditory system in the processing of sound.

An Israeli arm of the study, headed by Dr. Michal Hershfinkel of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is funded by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF). Aizenman and Hershfinkel have previously collaborated on BSF-funded studies on how neurons use zinc as a signaling molecule.

Previous joint studies by the three investigators began to reveal clues about how zinc modulates sound processing and adaptation to sound. They determined that changes in sound rapidly altered proteins that regulate zinc levels in the auditory cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound.

“We showed that once zinc is released in a sound-dependent manner, it changes the response of neurons in the brain that process sound,” said Tzounopoulos, an expert on zinc neurobiology and auditory processing.

With the help of the NSF-BSF partnership grant, the team is going further to analyze neuronal zinc and its effects on the auditory system. By revealing the basic roles of zinc in nerve cells, the investigators may begin to understand how the brain discriminates between frequency or level of sound.

Beyond research, the current NSF-BSF project will also establish a U.S.-Israel student exchange program, as well as target underserved student populations both in countries. The students will be trained in problem-solving at behavioral, neural and molecular levels of analysis.

“We are delighted that the ongoing collaboration among the three laboratories has significantly enhanced the training opportunities of our students and postdoctoral research scholars,” Aizeman said. “We are making new discoveries, and at the same time, we are training the next generation who will make their own discoveries.”

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Exercise Program Combats Poor Mobility in Older Adults

Exercise Program Combats Poor Mobility in Older AdultsTo combat the issue of poor mobility in older adults, Dr. Jennifer Brach, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, conducted a study to help find an effective way to improve walking in those aged 65 years and older.

Her study, published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine, compared a traditional seated group exercise program with a new program called On the Move, which is conducted while standing. The seated exercise program focused on strength, endurance and flexibility. On the Move focused on the timing and coordination of movements that “tend to be more challenging for participants” and are critical for walking, Brach said.

“As adults age, walking can become more difficult, leading to impaired mobility and difficulty performing everyday tasks,” Brach said. “Incorporating a program like this into an older adult’s regular exercise routine has the potential to increase their mobility and their overall quality of life.”

Both groups met twice a week for 12 weeks in the independent living facilities, senior apartment buildings and senior community centers where participants attend exercise classes. The study looked for changes in gait speed, a strong indicator and predictor of disability, morbidity and mortality. At the conclusion of the study, participants in On the Move had a significantly greater improvement in gait speed than their counterparts who participated in the traditional program.

The average age of participants was 80 years old, and many had chronic conditions and impaired mobility. One-third of the participants had a fear of falling or a history of falls. Additional research is needed to determine program’s long-term effects on disability outcomes.

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How to Safely Watch the Solar Eclipse

The United States will experience a partial – and in some places total – solar eclipse on Aug. 21. This is a rare natural phenomenon that many Americans consider the must-watch event of the year. However, without proper eye protection, looking at a partial solar eclipse could cause permanent eye damage.

In most of the U.S., the eclipse will only be partial, meaning the entire sun won’t be blocked out by the moon. According to Dr. Deepinder Dhaliwal, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of refractive surgery and cornea service at the UPMC Eye Center, looking at a partial eclipse with the naked eye can be very dangerous.

”When looking at the sun, the eye takes in light through a lens that focuses it onto a delicate structure in the back of the eye known as the retina,” Dhaliwal said. “When sunlight becomes concentrated on the retina, it can result in a painless burn.”

This burn can result in irreversible blind spots in the vision that patients can’t receive treatment for.

“Picture the sun’s rays going through a magnifying glass and burning a hole through a leaf,” Dhaliwal said. “The same thing would be happening to your retina if you looked at the solar eclipse with a naked eye.”

To avoid retinal damage, Dhaliwal recommends solar eclipse viewers invest in official solar eclipse glasses. To avoid purchasing fake or low-quality glasses, the American Astronomical Society has compiled a list of reputable brands.

“They should have ‘ISO 12312-2’ printed somewhere on them,” Dhaliwal said.

Even after purchasing the glasses, proper use and caution is necessary to ensure eye safety. One common misperception is being able to look through a camera or a pair of binoculars with the glasses on.

“If you’re wearing your eclipse glasses, do not look through a pair of binoculars,” Dhaliwal said. “You need to have eclipse filters in the front of the binoculars. Just wearing the glasses is not enough.”

Any household object with holes in it, such as a colander, can also be used to cast a shadow of the sun to view the eclipse indirectly for no cost to the viewer. When the light is projected through the object’s holes, the shadow will morph into crescents once the eclipse occurs.

Those traveling to a location within the path of totality, where the sun will be completely covered by the moon, are safe to view the eclipse without any eye protection during those few minutes. In the rest of the country, however, eye protection needs to be worn.

“The eclipse is a spectacle to behold, but it isn’t worth losing your vision,” Dhaliwal said.

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Lactation Center of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC Designed to Help New Mothers

Lactation Center of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC Designed to Help New MothersAugust is National Breastfeeding Month, an annual celebration to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and improve the health of babies.

We asked Deborah Perl, lactation consultant at the Lactation Center of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, about some benefits of breastfeeding. The lactation center is a fully equipped resource to all new mothers and infants, and they are currently working toward gaining accreditation from Keystone 10, a quality improvement initiative that aims to protect, promote and support to all Pennsylvania infants and mothers.

What is a lactation consultant?

A. Lactation consultants are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and are breastfeeding specialists trained to teach mothers how to feed their baby. For some women, breastfeeding comes very naturally and for others it takes time, patience and a little extra support. Our trained lactation staff sees all new mothers during their postpartum hospital stay upon request or referral to ensure they are comfortable with breastfeeding. We teach moms breastfeeding techniques, we discuss feeding schedules and talk to moms about their fears and frustrations.  We also help mothers who want to breastfeed but may need to, or choose to, supplement. We strongly feel that all new moms should supported and encouraged, regardless of their feeding decision.

What are some common challenges and available resources for breastfeeding mothers?

A. Some common challenges include uncomfortable or sore breasts and concern about the baby getting enough food. The Magee Lactation Center has plenty of available resources for mothers experiencing challenges including postpartum consultations for mothers with ongoing breastfeeding problems and a 24-hour service line to assist with any questions. The center also has recently expanded to a full-service retail center offering breast pump rentals, nursing and maternity bras, nursing pillows and a complete line of breastfeeding aids and accessories.

How does Magee support breastfeeding mothers?

A. We provide education and support to mothers before birth and throughout their breastfeeding journey. From prenatal classes to bedside consultations, we support a mother’s decision to breastfeed. In addition to providing resources for new mothers, the Magee Lactation Center provides support and education to hospital staff. We train registered nurses to properly assist new mothers with their babies.

For more information, call the Lactation Center at Magee at 412-641-1121 or visit their website.

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