- 7 Reasons You Can’t Stop Coughing
- How IBM Watson May Help Solve Cancer Drug Resistance
- If You Do This Before Bed, Your Sleep Will Seriously Suffer
- 15 Foods That Don’t Expire For Years
- Paralyzed Monkeys Able to Walk Again With Wireless Brain Device
- Why the Latest Cancer Drugs May Not Be as Successful as They Seem
Posted: 10 Nov 2016 09:57 AM PST
Everybody coughs—it’s the number one illness-related reason people go to the doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases of cough are temporary, says Peter Dicpinigaitis, MD, director of the Montefiore Cough Center and professor of clinical medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. But even a short-term cough can be a sign of a bigger health issue that needs to be addressed by a doctor. Here’s how to narrow down the possible culprits—from asthma to pneumonia to whooping cough—so you can get better, fast.
A cold virus
A cough you’ve had for three weeks or less is most likely due to the common cold. Unfortunately, this cough—which is mainly a dry cough, with some clear mucus—can persist for a month or more after the rest of your symptoms are gone. “The virus irritates nerve endings in your air passages, and they can stay sensitive for quite some time,” says Dr. Dicpinigaitis.
How to treat a cold virus cough: There’s no cure for viral infections, so you’ll have to wait this one out. If your barking is serious and over-the-counter cough suppressants don’t provide relief, your doc may prescribe medicine to calm your cough reflex, says Gerard W. Frank, MD, clinical professor of medicine in pulmonary disease at UCLA. Over-the-counter decongestants or expectorants can also help thin out mucus so you can cough up more of it.
If you’ve got a cough (wet or dry) that has lasted eight weeks or longer, you could be suffering from chronic postnasal drip—mucus that accumulates in the sinuses and drips down the back of the throat, creating a tickling sensation that triggers a cough. There’s no test for postnasal drip, says Dr. Frank, but you may also have a runny nose or congestion (from allergies or lingering cold symptoms, for example). Other signs include frequent throat clearing and a sore throat. Because it’s so common, doctors will often try treating it even if they’re not sure of a diagnosis, says Dr. Frank.
How to treat a postnasal drip cough: A nasal saline rinse may help clear up the problem, or your MD may recommend steroids or antihistamines to reduce inflammation. Pay attention to the color of your mucus: “Coughing up yellow or green mucus means your immune system has really kicked in, which could suggest a bacterial infection, like sinusitis,” says Dr. Frank. In that case, you’ll need antibiotics.
Asthma usually shows up as wheezing and shortness of breath. But in people with cough-variant asthma, a dry, persistent cough may be the only sign. It’s often worse at night, during or shortly after exercise, when you’re breathing cold air or when you’re around an allergen, like pet dander or pollen.
How to treat an asthma cough: Your doctor may give you breathing tests to diagnose asthma or recommend using an inhaler twice a day for a few weeks to see if your cough subsides. Antihistamines or allergy shots may also help.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is linked to an estimated 25% of chronic cough cases. When acid flows back up into the esophagus, it can irritate nerve endings, triggering a persistent cough. But it can be hard to diagnose. “Not everyone with GERD gets heartburn,” says Dr. Dicpinigaitus. “If you’re coughing after a meal, when you lie down at night, or upon arising in the morning, or if you have an intermittently hoarse voice along with the cough, these are hints it might be reflux.”
How to treat a chronic cough due to GERD: Most cases of GERD are relatively easy to remedy with antacid medications, but cough-prevalent GERD can be more stubborn, and you’ll need to get checked out by your MD, says Dr. Dicpinigaitis. You might require larger doses of Rx medicine, and it may take six to eight weeks for you to feel better. Overweight? Slimming down sometimes helps with GERD. Try elevating the head of your bed when you sleep, too.
Sometimes a cough may signal a more severe illness. Pneumonia can develop when a respiratory infection spreads to the lungs, causing the lungs’ air sacs to fill with pus. This makes it hard to breathe and produces a wet-sounding, sometimes painful cough. Your condition can become life-threatening in a matter of days. If you’re coughing up lots of green phlegm or blood, are short of breath and/or have chest discomfort, go to your doctor—or an ER if you can’t be seen right away. Fever and chills are other warning signs.
How to treat pneumonia: A chest X-ray is the only way to know for sure whether you have pneumonia, but some doctors will diagnose it by listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, says Dr. Frank. Most serious cases in adults are bacterial and treated with antibiotics.
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This highly contagious disease is making a comeback, with more than 18,000 cases in the U.S. reported in 2015. The name comes from the “whoop” sounds some people make as they gasp for breath after a long, intense fit of coughing. You can get whooping cough, aka pertussis, even if you’ve been vaccinated (because the shot’s protection weakens over time).
How to treat whooping cough: If you start them within three weeks of infection, antibiotics may lessen symptoms. They can also keep you from spreading the bacteria to other people—which is crucial because an infection can lead to serious illness, even death, in babies.
For coughs that don’t respond to the treatments above, your doctor may order a chest X-ray or a CT scan of your lungs or sinuses. This can help rule out serious conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer.
If your hacking appears only at certain times or places, consider allergies or sensitivity to irritants like mold, pollution, or smoke. Think about your meds, too: Up to 20% of people who take ACE inhibitors (for conditions such as high blood pressure) develop a dry cough.
Finally, some chronic cough can be explained by cough hypersensitivity syndrome. This means you may develop a cough as a result of triggers that don’t cause coughing in most people, says Dr. Dicpinigaitis. Women tend to have a more sensitive cough reflex than men. But in most cases, the culprit (and the cure) is there; you just need some trial and error to find it.
Homemade remedies for coughing
Need short-term relief while you’re riding out a cold or the flu? A few treatments that are worth trying:
Honey: “Thick, sweet liquids, even without medication, can soothe and diminish cough,” says Dr. Dicipinigaitis.
Cough drops: “Menthol, found in many over-the-counter lozenges, creates a cooling sensation and has been shown to help suppress coughing. Other cough drops may coat your throat and alleviate soreness, but there’s little evidence to suggest they prevent hacking any better than hard candy.
Steamy showers: Taking a hot shower or inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water (be careful not to burn your face!) may help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up, says Dr. Frank.
Coffee: Caffeine is a bronchodilator, meaning it can help open airways, and has been studied (with inconclusive results) as a potential asthma remedy—but it should never take the place of an inhaler for someone who needs one, warns Dr. Frank. It may help ease a cough, though: In one study, coughers got more relief from drinking a imxture of instant coffee and honey than mixtures containing a common expectorant or a steroid.
Posted: 10 Nov 2016 08:02 AM PST
A recent spate of potent anti-tumor drugs, from ones that target cancers like smart bombs to ones that work with the body’s immune system, have excited cancer doctors. But one fact has tempered their enthusiasm; given enough time, most cancers find a way to become resistant to the drugs, rendering them powerless and causing patients to relapse. The danger is that these doctors will have nothing more to throw at the disease.
Researchers at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT are hoping to solve that problem by teaming up with IBM Watson Health to find answers that only reams of data can provide. The mission is to sequence the genomes of tumors from thousands of patients who have different kinds of cancer—first when they are diagnosed, then again when they stop responding to drugs that initially worked in controlling their disease. The data will allow scientists to find patterns of genetic changes in the tumors that might signal resistance and help them identify people who are at higher risk of developing resistance early on. That would allow them to prescribe different combinations of drugs that would bypass the resistance and give patients a better chance at remission.
The data will also help researchers figure out why some people fail to respond to certain drugs in the first place, and guide them to better-tailored treatments.
“This is a genetic chess game with cancer,” says Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute. “We make a move by applying a drug. Cancer makes a counter move. We need to know what that counter move is in order to think about what our second response might be. Eventually, we’re going to know all of its moves.”
The data will be made available publicly for the research community so cancer scientists can study it and contribute new insights in fighting cancer drug resistance. In order to generate as much genetic data as possible, the project will use the latest way of accessing a tumor’s genome: through the fragments of DNA it sheds into the blood. While still new, Broad’s Todd Golub says the “performance of blood biopsies is quite similar to that of biopsy material.” It has the added advantage of not requiring an invasive procedure in an hospital. For the study, participants don’t have to be located near one of the collaborating centers to provide genetic material.
“The long-term vision is that a patient will come to the doctor, have the tumor analyzed and based on that analysis, know what caused the cancer,” says Golub. “The doctor will know what drug to use and anticipate what mechanisms that tumor will likely use to become resistant. So rather than wait for it to become resistant, the doctor can treat with a combination for drugs that cuts off that resistance at the pass. This project is laying the foundation for what those paths are.”
Posted: 10 Nov 2016 07:33 AM PST
How glued are you to the main screen in your life? Very, if you’re like most of us; survey data suggests that Americans collectively check their phones 8 billion times each day.
All of that smartphone screen time is likely taking a toll on our sleep, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. People who used their phones more, especially around bedtime, got less and worse sleep than their peers.
That’s concerning, says Dr. Gregory Marcus, one of the study’s authors and director of clinical research for the division of cardiology at University of California, San Francisco. “There’s growing evidence that poor sleep quality is not simply associated with difficulty concentrating and being in a bad mood the next day,” he says, “but may be a really important risk factor to multiple diseases.”
For the 30-day study, 653 adults all across the country downloaded an app that ran in the background of their phones and monitored screen time. The people in the study recorded how long and how well they slept, following standardized sleep scales.
People interacted with their phones about 3.7 minutes per hour, and longer screen activation seemed to come at a detriment. “We found that overall, those who had more smartphone use tended to have reduced quality sleep,” Marcus says.
The study doesn’t prove that using screens more causes worse sleep. (In fact, it might be the other way around: “We can’t exclude the possibility that people who just can’t get to sleep for some unrelated reason happen to fill that time by using their smartphone,” Marcus says.) But other research supports the idea that screens work against slumber. Some data suggests that the blue light your phone emits suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps the human body maintain healthy circadian rhythms. “We also know that emotional upset, or just being stimulated apart from smartphone use, can adversely affect sleep quality, and that engaging with Twitter or Facebook or email can cause that sort of stimulation,” Marcus says.
Reactions to extended screen time might vary from person to person. But if you have difficulty falling asleep or getting good sleep, look to your smartphone, Marcus says. “Because sleep quality is so important, I think it’s useful for individuals to take these data and at least give avoidance of their smartphones an hour or so before they go to bed a try to see if it helps.”
Posted: 10 Nov 2016 07:20 AM PST
Get this: Up to 40 percent of safe-to-eat food produced in America never makes it to people’s plates. Not only does that equate to 70 million tons of food waste per year, according to nonprofit group Feeding America, that’s tons of money thrown out the window—up to $161 billion by some estimates. And it’s not that we’re all just super wasteful; those “sell by” and “use by” stamps can be downright confusing. I know I’ve thrown away things like old brown sugar or mustard simply to be “on the safe side.” But in many instances, playing it safe is actually totally unnecessary.
Since no one likes to waste their hard-earned cash or make unnecessary grocery runs, we’ve outlined a host of good-for-you kitchen staples (many of which you probably already have in your kitchen) that last for years—yes, we said years—despite what it says on the label. Your wallet will thank you.
Basmati, wild, jasmine and white rice all keep for years, so long as they remain tightly sealed and that the harvested crop didn’t have any bug eggs among them when packaged. (This is more common than you think.) Once you open the box or bag, store in an airtight container or a freezer bag to keep the grains fresh. The only type of rice that these rules don’t apply to is fiber-rich brown rice. It contains oils in it that cause it to go rancid after about six months.
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Unopened mustard can last for up to three years! Once the seal is cracked, you’ve got about a year before it goes bad—although some opened varieties can last for up to two years. Mustard is a major metabolism-booster. In fact, eating a mere teaspoon (about 5 calories) of the condiment can boost metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating it, according to an Oxford Polytechnic Institute study. Researchers say the benefits may be attributed to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor.
3. Dried beans
Beans should be an essential item in any health-conscious person’s pantry. And while the canned version can be loaded with extra sodium and other additives, dried beans have none of that unwanted junk, but all of the fiber and nutrients you need. They also have a lengthy shelf life. According to the U.S. Dried Bean Council, pulses like dried pinto, kidney, black-eyed, lima, and kidney beans can keep up to a year in an airtight container. Just be sure to store them somewhere cool and dry, away from direct sunlight. For delicious ways to cook with all of your favorite beans, check out these 25 Recipes and Ideas for Pulses.
4. Canned tuna
According to the USDA, low-acid canned goods like vegetables, meat, and fish stay fresh for up to five years. That’s because they’re sterile, making it impossible for bacteria to intrude and ruin your grub. Word of warning, though: No matter how fresh the can may be, don’t eat its contents if it’s bulging or leaking. Although botulism is rarely found in commercial canned goods, damaged products have a higher chance of contamination—so in this case, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Have some leftover cans of protein that are on their last leg? Use up the meat with the help of these 15 Creative Ways to Use Canned Fish.
5. White vinegar
White vinegar, which is commonly used in pickling and Thai and Vietnamese cooking, is super acidic. As a result, it’s basically self-preserving and its shelf life is essentially indefinite, according to the Vinegar Institute.
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6. Hard liquor
You know that bottle of fancy tequila your co-worker gifted you three years ago? Well, you can drink it or regift it with confidence because hard liquor doesn’t really ever go bad—so long as it’s stored in a cool, dry place at least. That said, we can’t promise the flavor will be as perfect as when you first cracked open the bottle.
Whether you prefer table salt or sea salt, you can confidently sprinkle it on your food no matter how long it’s been hanging out in your spice cabinet. When stored in a cool, dry place, it remains fresh indefinitely. The only exception to the rule: iodized salt, which only lasts for about five years.
Unopened olives can last for up to three years, so go ahead and stock up on a few jars. They’re sure to come in handy when last minute house guests come by. They can be used for everything from martinis to appetizers and salads.
If you’re like me, you might avoid recipes that include ingredients you don’t regularly use, but if that ingredient happens to be cornstarch, you might as well just buy it. When stored in a cool and dry area, the thickener is safe to eat indefinitely.
If you’re going to eat something sweet and sugary, it’s always best to get the most bang for your caloric buck. That’s why nutrition experts love honey, which carries antiviral and antibacterial properties. Another reason to love the sticky sweetener: its near-infinite shelf life. It may get grainy, hard, or change color, but its antibiotic properties protect the taste and keep it from spoiling. Soften hard containers by placing them in a bowl of warm water and stirring the honey until it melts.
11. Vanilla extract
If you typically opt for imitation vanilla over pure vanilla extract because of the cost, you may want to reconsider your habit. While the fake stuff goes bad in as little as two years, the real stuff has an indefinite shelf life—and it tastes better, too.
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12. Chia seeds
There are loads of reasons to give three cheers for chia seeds. Not only do they contain all nine essential amino acids, they’re also a potent source of fiber and ALAs (a type of omega-3s that can decrease the risk of heart disease). And when stored in an airtight container in the fridge, they remain tasty and safe to eat for up to a year.
13. Instant coffee
Even if you wouldn’t dare dream of sipping the stuff, many cooking and baking enthusiasts keep instant coffee in the kitchen to infuse a coffee flavor into recipes. Since the powder is more concentrated than the freshly brewed stuff, it’s actually a great tactic—and an affordable one at that. Once you spend a buck or two on a container, it should last up to two years if left unopened.
While we aren’t fans of loading up on any type of sugar—white, brown, or powdered—we understand that people like to keep the stuff on hand in case a baking emergency arises. But we do hope, however, that it takes you a few years to go through your bags of the stuff. And considering sugar doesn’t ever go bad, you should really make this a personal goal. To keep the sweet stuff from hardening into chunks or attracting pests, store it in an airtight container or seal it in a plastic bag.
15. Maple syrup
Pure, Grade-A maple syrup is one of the best natural sugars out there. It’s got a relatively low glycemic index and also provides trace amounts of muscle-repairing manganese and anti-inflammatory compounds. It also lasts forever when stored in the refrigerator or freezer—which means you’ll be prepared for pancakes or waffles when a craving hits! Make sure things like your syrup, sugar, and all pantry items are kept clean and tightly closed.
Posted: 10 Nov 2016 05:08 AM PST
Two rhesus monkeys paralyzed by a spinal cord injury were able to walk again after scientists installed a wireless device in their brains to control movement, according to a new study.
Researchers hope that the breakthrough, reported in the journal Nature, can eventually be applied to humans with paraplegia. The device incorporates parts approved for human use and some have suggested the first human trials could take place by 2020.
Normally, the brain coordinates movement by sending electrical signals throughout the body using the spinal cord. People and animals with spinal cord injuries—like the lesions experienced by the monkeys in the study—can be immobilized because of the interruption. The new device sends wireless signals from the brain to “hotspots” that control different motions. In this case, the hotspots were installed on the lower spinal cord.
The idea behind the device has been around since the 1970s but only recently has technology advanced to allow such a development, according to an accompanying article published in Nature. The advance could help the 250,000 to 500,000 people who suffer spinal cord injuries each year, according to World Health Organization data.
Posted: 09 Nov 2016 03:30 PM PST
There’s no denying that cancer treatments keep getting better, thanks in large part to ever more sophisticated and precise drugs that can target tumors exquisitely and eliminate them before they spread and cause serious disease.
The reason has to do with the many ethically questionable practices throughout the drug-development process, says Peter Wise, retired from Charing Cross Hospital and Imperial College School of Medicine in London. These practices range from research by pharmaceutical companies to the way new compounds are tested, how data is interpreted, to the approval process by regulatory agencies and the way that doctors are incentivized to prescribe them. “There are different layers in the whole process and real problems all the way down the line,” he says.
For example, drugs used to be tested in academic centers by faculty researchers who were independent of the companies that developed them, and therefore were more likely to have unbiased perspectives in analyzing the data. But many are now tested by contract research organizations hired by pharmaceutical companies to conduct the trials. Because they are beholden to the companies, these groups may introduce biases in interpretation of their results, says Wise.
More important, the way trials are designed has changed considerably. Traditionally, scientists would evaluate new drugs based on how much they improved the death rate from disease. Now so-called surrogate endpoints — such as how the agent affects tumor growth or levels of certain tumor-related proteins — are used as ways to validate the effectiveness of a new drug. If approved, doctors and patients still don’t know for sure whether the drug will actually lengthen lives and improve their survival.
Regulatory agencies also perpetuate the problem when they accelerate approval for medications, allowing such surrogate endpoints in an effort to telescope the process rather than requiring that studies continue until data on survival can be collected. A Food and Drug Administration analysis in 2010 found that 45% of cancer drugs awarded accelerated approval failed to earn full approval, either because their early results proved untenable or the companies failed to provide the required additional data to support their application.
Even doctors aren’t immune to the bias, because once a drug is approved, pharmaceutical companies launch aggressive campaigns to educate and persuade doctors to prescribe their product.
For the patient, this means that more drugs that offer only marginal benefit, such as a two-to-three-month longer survival, are flooding the market. That’s especially worrisome, since a study found that 75% of people with advanced colon or lung cancers believed that the chemotherapy treatment their doctors offered would cure them, an unrealistic belief not supported by any science. Wise says that patients need to be fully informed of what benefits new cancer drugs can provide, and doctors need to ensure that their patients understand the medications may provide only a marginal improvement over traditional therapies.
What could be more helpful, he argues, is if doctors give patients more opportunities to participate in clinical trials, rather than directing them toward new drugs that might only give them a few more months. Because trials often compare new agents with existing standard therapy, people who enroll will be, at the very least, receiving the standard of care. And the more information such trials generate about the effectiveness of new drugs, the less likely it will be that current unethical practices continue. At the moment, only about 3% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials. “If more patients enrolled in clinical trials, there would be quicker recognition of whether the drug being tested is a good one, and it would save the country money in health care costs,” says Wise.
More consideration also needs to be given to the option of forgoing drugs as well, especially if they will only provide little benefit for people whose cancer is essentially untreatable. It’s a more controversial view, but one that Wise says would allow more people to enjoy their final days with family in their own homes and not in a hospital weakened by an ineffective treatment. “Patients need to be counseled about options and not just given willy-nilly cancer drugs because that’s the knee-jerk reaction,” he says. “That has to stop.”
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