Ear News You’ve Got to Hear

Ear buds may be clutch while you’re on the elliptical or the treadmill, but they’re also dangerous as far as the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is concerned: A public education campaign is in the works to warn New Yorkers about the risks of listening to personal music players at excessive volumes.

About 15 percent of Americans ages 20 to 69 have high-frequency hearing loss that may be a result of exposure to loud sounds, either on the job or during leisure activities, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Noise exposure can wear down the hair cells of your ear’s cochlea, eventually causing hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ear). Some people are more susceptible than others—research suggests that genetic and medical factors play a part—but experts say that anything louder than 85 decibels can cause damage after prolonged exposure.

Here’s the thing: Even sounds made by household objects like hair dryers and kitchen blenders can tip past 85 decibels. “Anything that makes you raise your voice to be able talk to somebody an arm’s length away is probably above 85 decibels,” says Deanna Meinke, PhD, an audiologist and associate professor of audiology at the University of Northern Colorado. So when you regularly listen to your headphones at a high volume, spend time in loud clubs and bars, or attend concerts (which can average 110 decibels), you risk doing permanent damage.

The good news? You can take steps now to prevent noise-induced hearing loss down the road:

Get tested
“A baseline hearing test can identify early damage even in someone who hears normally,” says Hannah Shonfield, an audiologist and supervisor of audiology at the Weill Cornell Medical College Hearing and Speech Center. Visit an audiologist for the test, and then schedule follow-up visits about every three years (presuming everything’s normal at the appointment and you don’t notice any changes in the meantime).

Do the “silent room” check
Since different music players have different output levels, experts can’t say, for example, that your MP3 player volume should never exceed a certain percentage of what your device can produce. To find a good limit for your volume, try this trick: Sit in a quiet room, put your headphones in, and find the maximum volume that’s still comfortable to listen to. Then never turn the music up past that level, no matter how hard it may be to hear your music on a busy street, at a train station, or in the mall. “The misconception is, ‘If I can’t hear my music, I can turn it up over the noise,” says Shonfield. “But the end result is the same. If you were to play that loudness level in your quiet bedroom, you would yank the headphones out of your ears and scream. It would be painful because it was so loud.”

Get ear-friendly gear
Noise-cancelling headphones and noise-isolating ear buds don’t run cheap, but if you can swing it, consider making the purchase. The less your music is competing with the noise around you, the lower you’ll set the volume level, and the better it is for your ears. Also, if you’re heading to a concert or know you’ll be around a construction site, definitely pick up some earplugs from the drug store—they’re super cheap. Shonfield even recommends giving them a try at a packed club or bar. “Girls with long hair can wear them and no one will know,” she says. Not thrilled about accessorizing with neon pieces of foam? Custom-made earplugs made by an audiologist are much more discreet. They’re expensive, but if you’re a musician or you’re regularly in a noisy environment, they might be worth the investment.

Take a cue from your surroundings
Even heavy traffic noise can reach unsafe decibel levels. “A fire truck siren, a subway train barreling through the station, a bus letting air out of its tires to let a passenger on—that can all be additive,” says Shonfield. If you live in a city, you might want to wear earplugs for your commute (noise-isolating ear buds or headphones won’t cut it—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they’re not appropriate hearing protection devices). If nothing else, be sure to plug your ears when you’re passing a jackhammer or you see a train approaching the platform.

photo: Hemera/Thinkstock

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Frightening News About Breast Cancer

If you’re too young for regular mammograms, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear when it comes to breast cancer:  The number of women ages 25 to 39 diagnosed with advanced breast cancer tripled over the last three decades, according to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed data collected by Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER), run by the National Cancer Institute, between 1976 and 2009. Based on their data, which was pulled from a sample of the U.S. population, they estimated that 250 women under 40 were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in the mid-1970s, compared to more than 800 who received the same diagnosis in 2009. More research is needed to determine why the increase happened, says Rebecca Johnson, MD, lead study author and medical director of the adolescent and young adult oncology program at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Don’t freak out. While these results are alarming, the rate is still pretty small: Only 2.9 young women in every 100,000 were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in 2009, according to the findings. Plus, to truly confirm that a spike occurred (and ensure these results weren’t a fluke), more research is necessary, says Laura Kruper, MD, co-director of the Breast Oncology Program at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, CA.

Still, the findings are a wake-up call to be more proactive about your breast health. “I think the really big point to take away from this study is that younger women can be diagnosed with breast cancer,” Kruper says.

Use these tips to keep your breasts as healthy as possible:

Get handsy once a month
You’ve heard it before, but you’ve got to do self-exams. Here’s the thing: The key isn’t just doing them—you have to really get to know your breasts first. Once you have a good grasp on what’s normal for you (some women’s breasts are naturally denser), use your monthly self-exam as an opportunity to look for any deviations. Take the Touch-Yourself Challenge. If you notice anything unusual, get to your gyno, stat.

Check out your rack
Red flags you should be keeping an eye out for include new lumps, skin changes (such as redness or an orange peel-like texture), nipple discharge (especially if it’s bloody), and major size changes (like if one is suddenly way bigger than the other). “Basically, a woman should ask, ‘Is this normal?’” Kruper says. Notice any of these symptoms? Again, hightail it to your gyno.

Be a nag
If something seems off about your boobs but a doctor dismisses your concerns, don’t let it go. “As a breast cancer specialist, I see women who had a breast mass during breastfeeding and kept calling attention to it,” Kruper says. “Every doctor they saw kept saying, ‘It’s just because you’re breastfeeding. You’re too young to have breast cancer.’ Or, ‘Oh, you’re too young to have breast cancer. It’s just a cyst.’” Remember, it never hurts to get a second opinion—especially since you know your girls better than anyone else.

For more information on breast cancer, give some of these stories a read:

7 Ways to Keep Your Breasts Healthy

Mammograms: What’s Best for Your Breasts? 

How to Help a Friend With Cancer

“I Am a Breast Cancer Survivor”


photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Scary News About STDs

In terrifying sex news, a recent CDC report estimates that there are more than 19.7 million new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. each year. While many of these infections are treatable and even curable, they commonly go undetected because they often have no signs or symptoms.

Case in point: The most common infection, HPV, often presents without any symptoms at all. “About 70% of all new infections are HPV infections,” says study author Catherine Lindsey Satterwhite, Ph.D., epidemiologist with the CDC. Most of those cases will go away on their own, but few can lead to genital warts or even cervical cancer.

Before you swear off sex altogether, remember that there are plenty of preventative measures you can—and should!—take. Here, the tips you need to stay safe:

Be smart about condoms
They may not be foolproof, but condoms are your best line of defense (other than abstinence) against STDs. “The big thing to remember with HPV is that it’s transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so even when using condoms you’re not going to have full protection, because there is plenty of genital skin that doesn’t get covered,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., author of V is for Vagina. The same goes for the herpes virus. But don’t let that deter you from using protection. It still offers significant protection against infections such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and others.
RELATED: When Is It OK To Go Without a Condom?

Get tested regularly
For women aged 21-30, doctors suggest getting a pap smear once every three years, as well as a screening for common STDs and HIV annually. Women over 30 should also expect an HPV test along with their pap smear every five years. “If you’re with a new partner, anticipating being with a partner, or if you have multiple partners, you should get tested,” says Dweck.
RELATED: Types of STDS: Trouble Down Below

Ask your doctor about any irregularities
Even if your next screening isn’t for two years, you should always see your doctor if symptoms pop up. “Any weird bumps, abnormal bleeding after sex, or signs of an infection may be concerning,” says Dweck. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, call up your gyno.
RELATED: 7 Surprising STD Facts

photo: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

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Scary News Alert: Your Diet Can Give You Alzheimer’s

alzheimers: neuronsStep away from the doughnuts in the office kitchen—if not for your body, then for your brain.

You likely know that an unhealthy diet can lead to obesity and related conditions like type 2 diabetes, but there’s growing evidence to suggest that eating sugary, processed foods can trigger what some experts are calling Type 3 Diabetes: brain-altering Alzheimer’s Disease.

While the concept of Alzheimer’s as brain diabetes is not new to some researchers, it recently gained attention after prominent food writer Mark Bittman covered the topic in a New York Times column. A food writer discussing Alzheimer’s? Believe it.

Suzanne de La Monte, M.D., M.P.H., is a neuropathologist at Brown University whose team coined the term type 3 diabetes. Her research over the past decade suggests that consuming too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance in the brain—a very bad thing. “We found that by making the brains of rats insulin resistant, the rats developed an Alzheimer-like disease pattern, including neurodegeneration,” she says.

How Insulin Resistance Leads to Dementia
A biology refresher: Our cells need glucose from food for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, helps cells take in glucose from the bloodstream, which the cells then metabolize for energy. If there’s an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, say, from eating too much sugary food, your pancreas will produce more insulin to keep up. Your cells, however, can become resistant to the increased insulin.

If cells in your brain become insulin-resistant, they don’t get enough energy and they deteriorate. Starved brain cells can result in memory loss and confusion—the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.

The Scope of the Problem
As obesity rates climb, so too, researchers expect, will cases of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. While having diabetes doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, the two diseases are linked: In 2011, Japanese researchers concluded that having diabetes doubles your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

That’s a scary stat when you consider that nearly 105 million Americans (almost a third of the population) have diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Almost 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and more than 115 million new cases of are projected worldwide in the next 40 years, according to Rhode Island Hospital.

“The obesity epidemic leading to soaring rates of diabetes is killing us earlier and producing a crippling state of chronic disease,” de la Monte says. “These problems are stressing our healthcare systems and shortening lifespan.”

How To Avoid It
“This problem is all about prevention,” de la Monte says. “The public health answer is to stop obesity at the youngest possible age by impressing upon parents the need to not over-feed children or feed them fast or processed foods.”

But it’s not too late for adults to safeguard their health. De La Monte recommends the following:

1. Keep Tabs on Your Weight
“It takes years to reach disease levels of obesity,” de la Monte says. If you regularly weigh yourself and measure your waist, you’ll know when you’re gaining weight and you can act earlier to lose it.

2. Eat Less Meat
De la Monte suggests moving toward plant-based foods and cutting down on meat. “I am not advocating vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, just changing proportions to follow the U.S. government’s MyPlate guidelines.” Those guidelines suggest that half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables; the other half grains and protein. (Learn more about the benefits of eating less meat.)

3. Cut Back On Sugar
Sugar is implicated in type 2 and 3 diabetes, so it’s best to keep sugar consumption to a minimum. But don’t think that reducing your sugar intake gives you license to overeat other unhealthy foods instead. “The false impression that cutting sugar in one aspect of the meal frees you up to eat four slices of pizza is completely wrong,” she says.

4. Cook More
Learning to cook (with fresh, non-processed foods) is a good idea—and it also saves money. (Need some ideas? The Women’s Health Recipe Finder lets you search dishes by cook time, main ingredient, and more!)

5. Avoid Nitrates
Research suggests that there is a link between Alzheimer’s and consuming foods containing nitrosamines. Protect yourself by avoiding foods that list sodium nitrite on label, de la Monte writes on doctoroz.com. Common culprits are processed foods including cheese, hot dogs, ground beef, and smoked meats like bacon.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Major Breast Cancer News: What You Need to Know

Amazing research alert: There are four genetically distinct classes of breast cancers, according to an article published in the journal Nature. These findings will impact how doctors approach cancer treatment going forward.

“Knowing about the different classes of tumors means doctors can tailor a patient’s therapy so that it’s more individualized,” says Alyssa Gillego, M.D., breast surgeon at Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City. That means better targeted—read: more accurate, less risky—approaches, depending on your tumor type. (One harmless way to stay on top of your breast health? Take the Touch Yourself Challenge.)

For instance, one class of cancer cells is called Basal-like, or triple-negative. The researchers determined that it genetically resembles a certain type of ovarian cancer. Currently, it’s commonly treated with a class of chemotherapy drugs called Anthracyclines, which are associated with increased risk of heart disease. But knowing that Basal-like cells resemble ovarian cancer cells, which aren’t typically treated with Anthracyclines, researchers can begin to study whether there are alternative ways (with fewer side effects) to treat basal-type cancers.

All that being said, the four genetic differences between breast cancer tumors aren’t exactly breaking news to most cancer specialists. “Women are treated based on these four categories already,” says Gillego.

What makes this study newsworthy, then, isn’t so much the nitty-gritty findings, but that it serves as further evidence to support the need for personalized medicine, an increasingly popular philosophy in patient care. While many doctors now support this philosophy, some still exist who aren’t as up-to-date and prefer to treat patients wholesale, rather than as individuals.

For example, traditionally tumor size has dictated whether a patient receives chemotherapy, says Gillego. “If the tumor was a centimeter in diameter, you automatically got chemotherapy, regardless of genetics. There are people in other parts of the world, and even some parts of this country, who still practice like that.” The problem with this approach, as supported by the study findings, is that chemotherapy doesn’t actually work on all tumors. Some need hormone therapy. Some just need surgery. Some need a combination of all or some of the above. The bottom line, though, is that one size does not fit all when it comes to cancer treatments. And ultimately, the more research that exists that supports the need for genetics-based, individualized treatments, the better for the future of cancer care.

In the meantime, if you find yourself facing a breast cancer diagnosis, Gillego recommends seeking treatment from a breast cancer specialist at a cancer center. Cancer centers tend to have integrated teams, where oncologists, radiologist, surgeons, and other specialists all work together closely. “Integrated teams are better set up to provide patient-centered therapy,” she says. Just what the doctor ordered.

photo: Hemera/Thinkstock

More from WH:
7 Ways to Keep Your Breasts Healthy
Should You Get a Mammogram?
18 Self Checks Every Woman Should Do

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