Thirdhand smoke is dangerous, too

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Science has long proved that smoking is bad for you and those around you, with 90 percent of lung cancer cases caused by smoking.

Even secondhand smoke is dangerous enough to warrant banning smoking in public places. The idea of thirdhand smoke premiered in 2009, and scientific evidence shows that it, too, can harm human health.

Thirdhand smoke is the many toxic compounds from tobacco smoke that settle onto surfaces (particularly fabrics) such as carpet, furniture and the inside of a car. Researchers have identified chemicals in thirdhand cigarette smoke called NNA and NNK that can bind to DNA, a person’s genetic information, and cause damage and mutations that could lead to cancer. Continue reading

Practice safety tips to avoid unintentional injuries

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children. About 90 percent of all unintentional injuries in children can be avoided.

The five leading causes of injury death in children younger than 15 years old are motor vehicle injuries, fires and burns, drowning, firearms, poisoning and suffocation.

Practice the following safety tips to protect your child against accidents:


  • Learn CPR;
  • Safety-proof your home;
  • Install and maintain safety devices in your home such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, handrails, safety gates on stairs and covers for electrical outlets;
  • Store medicines, cleaners, chemicals and poisons out of children’s reach;
  • Develop an escape plan in case of fire and make sure that each family member knows what to do in case of fire;
  • If you own a gun, store it unloaded in a locked cabinet and store ammunition separately;
  • Wear seat belts and make sure your child uses an approved car seat;
  • Make a list of emergency phone numbers including local emergency medical services, the number for your child’s doctor, police and fire departments, and your local poison center and keep it in a visible place;
  • Teach your child how to dial 911;
  • Keep a well-stocked first aid kit at home and in your car;
  • Make sure cords on drapes or blinds are out of your child’s reach;
  • Turn pot handles inward when cooking on the stove and use back burners whenever possible;
  • Make sure appliance cords do not dangle so that they cannot be pulled from the counter;
  • Make sure that buckets, tubs or sinks containing water are not left in areas where young children may have access and that toilet lids are kept shut. • Teach your child to swim and supervise children while they swim or play in water;
  • Teach your child not to get near animals he or she does not know;
  • Watch your child at all times when they play on playgrounds. Make sure that they know the playground rules;
  • Have your children wear CPSC-approved helmets and other safety gear when riding bikes, skating, skateboarding or riding scooters;
  • Put babies to sleep on their backs. Make sure their crib sheets fit snugly. Do not put pillows, soft bedding or toys in your baby’s crib; and
  • Do not allow your child to cross the street alone if he or she is younger than 10 and to look both ways before crossing the street. Teach your child to walk on sidewalks.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

I Spy for Heart Disease

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While a shrink ray like the kind used in science fiction is still stuck in the future, miniature devices are not. Tiny devices have been created to perform a variety of tasks, from an implantable telescope to improve vision in those with macular degeneration to the new pacemaker in clinical trials that is about the size of a large vitamin pill. Now, researchers have developed a catheter-based device smaller than the head of a pin that can provide real-time 3-D images of the heart, coronary arteries and other blood vessels. This is an important invention as the casualties of heart disease continue to rise. Statistically, 1 in 4 people will have a heart attack.

Many Americans are at risk for developing coronary artery disease due to the buildup of cholesterol and plaque. If there is a rupture or breakage of the plaque, creating a blood clot, that can result in a heart attack with little to no warning. Traditional diagnostic tests such as stress tests and echocardiograms show how much blood is flowing to the heart. If there are regions of the heart that are not getting as much blood as others, it might be a sign of clogged coronary arteries. However, blood flow can also appear to be normal even with plaque buildup. Continue reading

Toenails play role in your health – take care of them

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

This week, please allow me to address a topic that seldom makes the top ten of health care problems: toenails. Take a moment now, and look at your toenails. Can you say with all honesty that you love and appreciate them? Or do you prefer they remain hidden under glitzy toe polish or buried in a boot or shoe? Are they the nice, symmetrical, pink-white shiny nails of youth or the horny, crusty, yellowed hooves of old age? Are they all the same color, or are some darker, green, yellow, or even black?

My inspiration to write about this came Saturday night when I had to do my bimonthly toenail trimming. Reaching them is harder every year and requires more exotic and garage-worthy equipment. For some older folks, the best bet is to let a family member, doctor, or foot specialist trim your nails. This is especially important for those with diabetes or peripheral vascular disease as a bad nail or nail infection in these folks can result in an amputation or worse.

A patient of mine with diabetes came in very concerned about a black toenail. She was sure it was diabetic gangrene. After an exam, we concluded that the blood flow was good and likely it was a bruise under the nail. Three months later when the “bruise” had not resolved, I sent her to Dermatology for a biopsy. We found that it was a melanoma, a potentially deadly kind of skin cancer growing under the nail. Off with the toe and 12 years later, she is alive and well. Continue reading

Keep children hydrated to avoid heat stroke

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Most people know that the average normal human body temperature is about 98.6 degrees.

This is the temperature at which the body is comfortable and wants to stay.

When the weather gets above 100 degrees, the only way for the body to cool itself and stay at 98.6 degrees is to sweat.

Sweating is effective in keeping the body at its normal temperature, but the body has to have plenty of water to produce sweat. When your body runs out of water, you can overheat quickly.

Your body produces about half a gallon of sweat every hour in a hot environment; unless you are drinking water at the same rate that you are losing it, you will dehydrate and stop sweating. High humidity also can cause the body to overheat because it prevents sweat from evaporating.

If body temperature rises to 106 degrees, a heat stroke can occur. A heat stroke is a life-threatening situation and medical treatment is required to prevent brain damage or even death. Death can occur in as little as 30 minutes.

Symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot dry skin, rapid heart rate, dizziness and confusion. The skin becomes red and hot because the skin blood vessels expand to try to release heat. Dizziness and confusion occur because high body temperature affects the brain. Continue reading

Sponges save a soldier

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began in 2001 and 2004, respectively, more than 1 million people have died in the combat.

By the end of 2013, 5,829 of those casualties were American soldiers. In 76 percent of potentially survivable battlefield wounds, the leading cause of death was hemorrhage. But more soldiers may make it home thanks to a new invention called XStat.

It uses a light, pocket-size injector to send 92 sponges into a wound, stopping arterial bleeding in 15 seconds.

Currently, caring for a wounded soldier on the battlefield is limited to what combat medics carry with them.

Controlling hemorrhage is the first priority when treating a wounded soldier and can involve tourniquets or field dressings, Hemcon, Quickclot, and Fibrin bandages. Hemcon dressings are treated with chitosan, a naturally occurring biocompatible compound from shrimp shells that strongly adheres to blood and reduces blood clotting times. Quickclot gauze and pads are coated with a naturally occurring mineral, kaolin, which initiates the body’s natural coagulation to reduce clotting times. Continue reading

Take inventory of words

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

We create our lives from the inside out. From our thoughts come our ideas, from our ideas our words, our attitudes, our actions, and, ultimately, our outcomes in life.

Cause and effect. For many years, I had this exactly backward. I figured if I got a lucky break, met a powerful, rich friend, the right mentor, stumbled on a good business opportunity, met the right girl, an so on, then life would unfold as I wished it to be.

Except for luckily meeting the right girl, it has not really been that way.

The most common worldview in our day is that outside events shape our destiny.

Note the fluctuations in the stock market based on belief, fear and negative expectations, rather than any significant change in the businesses they invest in.

What is so often underemphasized is the power we have within to shape the map of our lives.

Rather than seeing ourselves as dependent beings awaiting the whims of fate, we need but recall the classic words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson offered us this timeless advice: Continue reading

Pack healthier lunches to send with kids

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent pediatricians some information about school lunches.

While shopping in any grocery store you will notice many neatly compartmentalized prepackaged foods designed to make packing a child’s lunch fast and easy.

With the threat of childhood obesity, these convenience products might help contribute to obesity.

It is important to make sure your children are getting nutritious lunches instead of refined and processed foods like chips, cookies and roll ups.

Processed foods keep well, but the process of making them stable strips the nutrients away and all that remains are sugars and artificial flavors.

The academy recommends that children consume a good balance of foods from the five major groups — vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy. Continue reading

King Richard III rises again via modern DNA

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

William Shakespeare portrayed one of the literary world’s most despicable villains, Richard III, as a clever, ruthless murderer obsessed with ascending to the throne of England.

Historical accounts of this last king of the Plantagenet dynasty are more kind and describe a complex figure who, during his brief reign, instituted reforms beneficial to the common man.

For example, he started the Court of Requests where common people’s petitions could be heard, instituted the practice of bail for citizens and banned restrictions on printing and selling books.

While these historical accounts provide some good information about Richard III, new forensic science reports can give us an even more extensive view of this historical figure.

When King Edward IV died in 1483, his 12-year-old son Edward V inherited the throne, while Edward’s brother Richard was named Lord Protector. Continue reading

Take care of the earth and it will take care of you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The gardening angels visited me again recently. They come as if by magic: one part sweat, two parts dirt, some under the fingernails, a pinch of earthworm.

As I pulled out my drying, dying tomato plants, I thanked each one for the wonderful harvest and delicious salads all summer. Then, the hard work of weeding began.

Because of heat, mosquitoes, and I admit some laziness, my lovely vegetable garden had become overgrown with a variety of weeds: dollar plants, mimosa weeds, Johnson and rye grass, and some I can’t name. A herbalist once said that “a weed is a plant whose virtue has not been discovered yet.”

So as I laboriously pulled weeds overgrowing my little patch of earth, I started communing with the gardening angels. As I peeled away the mantle of weeds, lo and behold my Greek and Italian oregano was thriving underneath, as was thyme, volunteer basil, and sage. The kitchen sweet fragrance of the herbs as they kissed my nostrils made weeding an aromatherapy experience. Continue reading