Prescription opioids are medications used for treating acute pain due to surgery, serious injury or illness. When used correctly, opioids can effectively control severe types of pain. However, they’re also powerfully addictive and taking them can lead to fatal overdoses. With the United States in the midst of an opioid crisis, it’s important to understand how these painkillers work and what to do to prevent overdosing and addiction.
Opioid drugs are chemically similar to endorphins, which block pain by binding to receptors in your nervous system. Opioids imitate endorphins but cause a much stronger pain-blocking signal. Commonly prescribed opioid drugs include morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl.
When taking these drugs, over time your brain starts to crave the high caused by the release of dopamine following a dose of opioids, which can lead to addiction. What’s more, since opioid receptors regulate your breathing, abusing opioid drugs can cause you to stop breathing altogether, possibly resulting in death.
If you’re prescribed an opioid, you should take the following precautions:
• Discuss possible risks and alternate treatments with your doctor
• Take the medication exactly as prescribed, at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time possible
• Avoid giving your prescription drugs to others and store them away from children, adolescents and individuals with a history of substance abuse
• Never mix opioids with alcohol
• Dispose of leftover pills through a prescription take-back program
If you or someone you know experiences extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing or disorientation while taking opioids, call 911 immediately.
In 2016 and 2017, more than 135,000 people died from an opioid-related drug overdose. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.
Naloxone: the opioid overdose drug
Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the nervous system to prevent other drugs from attaching to them and thereby flooding the brain with dopamine.
When correctly administered, naloxone will restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped after overdosing on heroin or prescription opioids.
Naloxone can be given through either an injection or a nasal spray. Although injecting naloxone liquid requires professional training, the brand of naloxone called EVZIO is available as a prefilled auto-injection device that makes it easy for family members, friends and emergency personnel to inject naloxone quickly into the outer thigh of the person overdosing.
The potentially life-saving drug is also available as the pre-packaged nasal spray, NARCAN, a pre-filled device that requires no assembly. It’s administered by spraying it into one nostril while the patient lies on their back. If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 for emergency services and immediately administer the naloxone.
Given the current , it’s important to inform yourself about how to procure and administer naloxone. If you know someone who is at risk of overdosing, you may be able to obtain a naloxone kit to have on hand in case of an emergency.
In some states, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor to obtain naloxone. In other states, pharmacies are allowed to distribute naloxone without requiring a prescription. Check your local laws to find out more about getting naloxone in your area.
4 common eye conditions and their symptoms
Here is an important reminder for people across the country to guard their eye health. According to the 2016 National Health Interview Survey, 25.5 million Americans age 18 and older report experiencing some form of vision loss.
Over the course of a lifetime, vision changes dramatically. Early detection is critical to prevent problems from getting worse. Here are the warning signs of four common eye conditions that can cause vision impairment.
1. Astigmatism occurs when the front surface of the eye (the cornea) is slightly irregular in shape and therefore causes a refractive error in your vision. It can be present at birth or occur due to disease or injury. Common symptoms of astigmatism include blurriness and double vision.
2. Glaucoma is the name of a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, seeing rainbow halos around lights, red eyes, throbbing eye pain and nausea. Some forms of glaucoma show no symptoms, so it’s important to visit your optometrist regularly.
3. Macular degeneration involves the deterioration of your retina and could severely impair your capacity to see. Your vision may become fuzzy, straight lines could appear crooked and you may start to notice blind spots in your field of vision.
4. Retinal detachment happens when your retina becomes disconnected from the tissue around it. You may notice floaters in your eye, flashes of light and darkened or blurred peripheral vision.
Left untreated, these diseases can worsen and lead to blindness. They may also indicate other underlying health conditions. Make sure to have your eyes examined by an optometrist every one to two years and to contact your doctor if you start experiencing eye pain or notice redness, irritation or discharge.
Lip reading: a valuable skill for those with hearing loss
If you’re hard of hearing, you can greatly facilitate your aural comprehension by learning to read lips. But how do you develop this ability?
The first step in learning to read lips is to sign up for a course on the subject given by an audiologist or a speech pathologist. This course will teach you to interpret other people’s speech by paying close attention to non-verbal cues such as lip and jaw movement, facial expressions, posture, and gestures.
Afterwards, you’ll need to practice. Every time you take part in a conversation, you’ll further hone your abilities.
To get more information about hearing loss, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website at asha.org.
Skin Cancer 101
For decades, we’ve passed on the baby oil in favor of slathering on sunblock. The public health campaigns that warned of the dangers of skin cancer were effective, though some questions still remain.
How does one develop skin cancer and why is it so serious?
According to skincancer.org, most skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and tanning beds, with UV damage causing DNA damage to skin cells. This triggers mutations or genetic defects that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
However, certain skin cancers are caused by other factors like genetics or other environmental influences and may even occur on parts of the body that are rarely exposed to the sun. Darker-skinned people are more susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), an especially virulent form of melanoma that typically appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, according to the site.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined, with about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers associated with exposure to UV from the sun. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer (4.3 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year), with squamous cell carcinoma second (more than 1 million cases).
The website says an estimated 192,310 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019.
Melanoma is particularly dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body if not caught early.
The good news is that all types of skin cancer are quite treatable if caught early, so prevention and detection are key. In addition to checking your body for signs of abnormalities, most health professionals advise the use of a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher and to limit your exposure to direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Elder abuse: it happens more than you think
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and is an important time for making sure the seniors in your life are being cared for properly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around one in six people over the age of 60 have experienced some kind of abuse in the last year. What’s more, this statistic is thought to under-represent the situation, as those who experience abuse often don’t report it.
Most commonly, elder abuse occurs in medical institutions such as care homes and hospitals. Abuse in such cases can be defined as any instance in which the care worker deprives the patient of dignity and care, such as leaving them in soiled clothes, neglecting their emotional needs or intentionally withholding necessary care.
According to the WHO, two in three workers in long-term care facilities admitted to committing some form of elder abuse in the past year.
Elder abuse also happens in community settings, such as when an elderly person lives alone or with a family member. In these cases, elders have an increased risk of social isolation and mistreatment from the people around them as they lose their health and mobility. Financial abuse is also common, as friends, relatives and community members are more likely than strangers to take property or money from seniors.
Elder abuse is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s important to report what you see to authorities and family members. Be sure to know the risks and to check in with your elderly relatives, friends and neighbors regularly to ensure that they’re getting the care and respect they deserve.
When a snore is more than an annoyance
If you’ve ever slept next to someone who snores, you know the routine. Perhaps you’ve learned to live with it, or maybe you’re the partner who’s throwing elbows throughout the night to stem the noise.
Many a joke has been made at the snorer’s expense. But sometimes a snore is a warning of something serious.
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some warning signs to indicate whether that snoring is simply an annoyance or indicative of a deeper medical issue like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
- When there is a pause in the snoring and breathing, followed by a gasp for air and a loud snort.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Gasping or choking at night
- Sore throat upon awakening
- Snoring so loud that it disrupts your partner’s sleep
OSA is often characterized by loud snoring followed by periods of silence when breathing stops or nearly stops, according to Mayo. Those with OSA may sleep lightly because of disrupted sleep, with this pattern of breathing repeated many times during the night.
Snoring has a number of causes, including excess weight, the anatomy of your mouth, seasonal allergies, and alcohol consumption. When you progress from light sleep to deep sleep, the muscles in the roof of your mouth, tongue and throat relax, and the tissues can relax enough that they partially block your airway and vibrate.
The more narrow the airway, the more the tissue vibrates — and the louder the snoring. So if you or your partner are sawing wood enough to rattle the roof, it’s probably time to visit a doctor.