January is National Thyroid Awareness Month

Thyroid disorders can wreak havoc on your health, but are treatable.

Thyroid disorders can wreak havoc on your health, but are treatable.

By far, the most common New Year’s resolution in America and perhaps worldwide is to lose weight. But if you’ve had trouble reaching your weight loss goals year after year, it may be something other than your will power that’s to blame. January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, and a top related issue just happens to be hypothyroidism-related weight gain.

Your thyroid is a large, ductless gland in the neck that secretes hormones responsible for regulating growth and development via your metabolism rate. Two primary thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, both of which can affect your overall health.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to make enough thyroid hormones, upsetting the normal balance of chemical reactions in your body. Symptoms can take years to appear and most notably include weight gain that cannot otherwise be explained. Despite cutting calories and exercising, the pounds just keep piling on. This can further compound other symptoms including depression, fatigue, constipation, hair loss, constantly feeling cold and irregular menstrual cycles in women.

The flip side of this coin is hyperthyroidism, caused by the thyroid gland producing more thyroid hormones than the body needs. Common symptoms include otherwise unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, palpitations, feeling anxious or jittery, trouble sleeping, excessive sweating, feeling hot and, as with hypothyroidism, irregular periods in women.

“Thyroid disorders are sometimes hard to diagnose, because symptoms of over-active and under-active thyroid may be similar to those associated with aging, depression or other life changing events,” said Zeeshan S. Aziz, MD, a thyroid specialist with St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat. He noted that women are up to five times more likely than men to have a thyroid condition.

The good news is that multiple treatment options exist for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, including anti-thyroid medication, radioactive iodine and or surgery. If you’re experiencing symptoms that you suspect may be the result of a thyroid condition, call 904-461-6060 and schedule a consultation with St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat today.

SAENT Warns Parents of Hearing Loss Dangers

Teens love their music - and they love it loud. Make your your kids know the risks of hearing loss associated with earbuds and high volumes.

Teens love their music – and they love it loud. Make your your kids know the risks of hearing loss associated with earbuds and high volumes.

Christmas is just around the corner and if you’re the parent of a teenager, it’s practically a given that his or her gift wish list includes a mobile phone, music player or other listening device. Before you head to the electronics aisle, St. Augustine Ear, Nose and Throat founder Dr. Kalpana DePasquale offers advice that could make a major difference in your teen’s auditory health.

“When it comes to listening, having a teenager can be similar to having a two year old,” Dr. DePasquale said, echoing the frustrations of many a parent. “However, it’s often unclear if they are just not listening or if they can’t hear you.”

In her practice, Dr. DePasquale sees a growing number of teenage, pre-teen and youth patients suffering some degree of hearing loss. She places much of the blame squarely on the increasing use of high-volume listening devices.

“Many communications devices that function as phones, music players, cameras, are now increasingly affordable and accessible to more children and teens,” she said. “Youth clothing is even designed to be fitted with electronic devices and headphones.”

While these devices certainly have a cool factor that makes them popular with young people, they also pose the risk of potentially irreversible damage. Statistics show that one in five American teens will experience hearing loss – a rate that’s 30 percent higher than in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Parents need to inform their teens about noise exposure and how it’s linked to hearing loss,” Dr. DePasquale said. “Young people must understand that noise-induced hearing loss can be prevented. However, once the young person is diagnosed with hearing loss, it is irreversible. Hearing can be
amplified with a hearing aid, but there is no cure.”

If you plan to place a smartphone, music player or other listening device under the tree this Christmas, make sure your teen understands and adheres to the 60/60 rule: “There is a helpful 60/60 rule that states the maximum duration of volume that is greater than 60 percent of the maximum volume should be 60 minutes,” said Dr. DePasquale explains. “Volumes higher than 85 decibels can cause hearing damage and high-pitched sounds can cause damage more easily than lower pitched sounds.”

Some devices like the ever-popular iPod have a setting for volume limits that can be adjusted to 60 percent. Check for this feature before making a purchase. Rather than earbuds that sit precariously at the entrance of the ear canal, go retro and choose the older-style headphones that are placed over the ears instead. And, make sure that teens don’t wear earbuds or headphones while sleeping.

Red-flag indications that your child or teen already has suffered hearing loss include complaints of muffled sounds or of ringing, roaring, hissing or buzzing sounds in the ear; listening to the TV or radio at higher volumes; and difficulty understanding speech. If your child experiences any of these, it’s critical that he or she sees an Otolaryngologist or ear, nose and throat physician for a hearing evaluation. Call 904-461-6060 to schedule an appointment with St. Augustine Ear, Nose and Throat.

Five Most Common Allergy Triggers

Owning a pet offers multiple health benefits, but may also trigger allergies.

Owning a pet offers multiple health benefits, but may also trigger allergies.

Statistics show that some 20 percent of people develop allergies of some sort. Allergic reactions develop when the immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless antigen, resulting in a range of symptoms from sneezing to hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis. While potential allergens are innumerable, there are a few common culprits.

  1. Pollen: Multiple varieties of trees, grasses, weeds and flowers produce pollen that can trigger hay fever or seasonal allergies. Most result in irritating, but non-life-threatening reactions like sneezing, runny nose and watery or itchy eyes.
  2. Pet dander: The physical and emotional health benefits of owning a pet are countless. But life with Fido and Fluffy can be tough if you suffer allergies. That’s because of pet dander, a protein mix secreted in an animal’s skin and saliva that can trigger allergic reactions.
  3. Dust Mites: You can’t see them, but you sure can feel the effects of their presence if you’re prone to allergies. These microscopic buggers live in house dust and feed on pollen, fungi, bacteria and dead skin that naturally falls from humans and animals daily.
  4. Insect stings and bites: Stings and bites by honeybees, yellow jackets, hornets, wasps and fire ants can cause mild to severe allergic reactions including swelling of the face, mouth, tongue and throat, as well as difficulty breathing and low blood pressure, itching and hives.
  5. Molds: Multiple types of molds can grow in persistently damp or wet areas like bathrooms and basements that lack adequate ventilation.

Other common allergens include certain foods and medications, latex, fragrances and – believe it or not – cockroaches. Many allergic reactions can be avoided by keeping your home clean and dust-free, using a home air filtration system, changing your air conditioning filters regularly, clearing your home of dust collectors like stuffed animals and certain types of carpet and bathing your pet regularly. If you suffer from allergies or hay fever, contact St. Augustine Ear, Nose &Throat at 904-461-6060 and schedule a consultation with an allergy specialist.

When a Cold isn’t Just a Cold – Sinusitis Symptoms & Risks

If the sinus congestion just won't go away or is accompanied by pain or pressure in the face, you may have sinusitis.

If the sinus congestion just won’t go away or is accompanied by pain or pressure in the face, you may have sinusitis.

The 2014-2015 cold and flu season is well underway. So, no one’s surprised to experience watery eyes, a stuffy nose and sneezing. Chalk it up the common cold, manage your symptoms and let the virus run its course. But if you’re still waiting for relief after about 10 days, that’s a sign that your common cold has led to something more serious – sinusitis.

Sinuses essentially are air spaces in your head that are connected to your nose and lined with mucous membranes and tiny hair-like structures called cilia, which help to move mucus across the sinus membranes and toward the nearest exit. Most people have four sets of nasal sinuses located in the forehead above the eyes; inside the cheekbones; behind the bridge of the nose; and behind the nose, just beneath the brain. But everyone’s sinuses are as different as a set of fingerprints.

In any case, sinusitis happens when an infection or allergy makes the tissues inside your sinuses inflamed, red and swollen. Symptoms include stuffy nose; nasal discharge; cough; sore throat; fever; headache and pain or pressure in the face or teeth, especially when bending forward; and a decreased sense of smell or taste. Like colds, sinusitis cases typically resolve themselves within a few weeks. But there are signs that should prompt a visit to the doctor’s office.

  • Nasal discharge that’s green or yellow in color: This can be a sign of a bacterial infection.
  • Sinusitis symptoms that last more than a few months: When symptoms persist past the three-month mark, you have chronic sinusitis. This may indicate more serious underlying causes including allergies, polyps, immune deficiencies or dental diseases.
  • Nasal polyps: When sinuses remain inflamed for extended periods of time, the membranes may thicken and swell, creating grape-like masses called polyps. These polyps can swell large enough to block the nasal airway, making it difficult or even impossible to breathe through your nose. While many can be treated with medication, some nasal polyps will require surgery.

If you have persistent symptoms of sinusitis, it’s critical that you get medical treatment. That’s because your sinuses and your brain are separated by only a thin layer of bone. If a sinus infection makes its way through the bone, it can infect the lining of your brain, causing meningitis, or even infect the brain itself – two potentially life-threatening issues. Infections also can make their way into your eye sockets threatening permanent blindness. Call 904-461-6060 to schedule an appointment with a specialist at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat.

Dr. Kalpana DePasquale Donates Time, Funds to Provide Kenyan Children with Clean Personal Hygiene Facilities

Dr. Kalpana DePasquale donated funds and helped plant trees at the site of Kenya's Ikumari School.

Dr. Kalpana DePasquale donated funds and helped plant trees at the site of Kenya’s Ikumari School.

As founder and lead physician of St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat and Avanti Medical Spa, Dr. Kalpana DePasquale certainly understands the importance of personal hygiene to one’s overall health. But in some places around the globe, access to that most basic need is severely limited.

One such place is the Nyeri district in the central province of Africa’s Kenya, home to the Ikumari School. Most of the hundreds of boys and girls attending this school belong to the Kikuyu tribe and are responsible for agricultural work in the region. Yet, they have limited or no access to personal hygiene facilities. Thanks to a generous donation of time and funds by Dr. DePasquale and other supporters, that soon will change. Along with family and a group of international friends, she recently travelled to the Nyeri district with a financial gift that will allow the Ikumari School to build an ablution block, a public restroom and washing facility.

Facilitated by Pack for a Purpose, a Raleigh, NC-based nonprofit dedicated to positively impacting communities worldwide by assisting travelers who want to make meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit, Dr. DePasquale’s trip took the group into the Aberdare National Park in the central highlands west of Mount Kenya where the school is located. There, they were greeted by dozens of children who had traveled long distances to read poems and perform traditional dances in appreciation of the contributions.

“We experienced a life-changing travel safari in the region with visits to the village and students at the school who live in the wild with giraffes, impalas, warthogs, buffalo, elephants, exotic birds and more,” said Dr. DePasquale. “As an American physician, I wanted to contribute more to the children than the typical school, sports and medical supplies provided.”

On behalf of her family and her St. Augustine practice, Dr. DePasquale contributed $500 towards the new bathroom and hygiene facilities to replace the outdoor plumbing currently in use. Plus, the Pack for a Purpose group donated close to 300 pounds of school supplies, clothing, shoes and recreational balls for sports. Dr. DePasquale, her family and travel companions also planted trees on the grounds of the school and plan to add to their donations, plus make a second visit to see how the children flourish.

Dr. DePasquale added that most of the students with whom her group visited had torn clothes and lived under impoverished circumstances. Some walk 15 kilometers to and from school each day.

“It was touching to see the dedication of the teachers and students toward their education. They were appreciative for the ability to be able to learn despite the less than ideal circumstances they were presented with,” she said. “We left there with a feeling of gratitude for the simple things we take for granted like clean water, a clean environment, and the ability to receive an education.”

 

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism

If you've experienced unexplained weight gain, your thyroid could be to blame.

If you’ve experienced unexplained weight gain, your thyroid could be to blame.

Known as the “great regulator of mind and body,” the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that produces hormones credited with controlling metabolism, the system that helps the body use energy. But when your thyroid goes into overdrive, producing too little or too much hormone, it can wreak havoc on your body and health.

When your thyroid gland produces too much hormone, it’s called hyperthyroidism, while a low level of the same hormone is referred to as hypothyroidism. Symptoms of each include…

Hyperthyroidism:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Sped-up heart rate
  • Feelings of anxiety, irritability, restlessness or trouble sleeping
  • Excessive sweating or an aversion to heat
  • Muscle weakness or trembling hands
  • Vision problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular menstrual periods

Hypothyroidism:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Fatigue or feelings of depression
  • Feeling cold
  • Dry skin and brittle nails
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands
  • Constipation
  • Abnormal menstrual periods

Additionally, hair loss or swelling in the neck can be caused by either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Both issues tend to affect women more than men, and hypothyroidism is particularly common among women over 60. Other risk factors include a family history or personal history of either issue, or any autoimmune disease.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, treatment is critical. Contact St. Augustine Ear, Nose and Throat at 904-461-6060 to schedule an appointment with our Thyroid Specialist, Dr. Zeeshan Aziz.

Driving While Allergic – It’s Almost as Bad as Drunk Driving, Study Shows

A new study shows that driving while suffering allergies is akin to driving while drinking.

A new study shows that driving while suffering allergies is akin to driving while drinking.

As any longtime allergy sufferer knows, it’s no joke when allergies hit. The sniffling, the sneezing, the itchy, watery eyes – These and other symptoms can significantly affect not only the way you feel, but your ability to work productively throughout the day. But that’s not all. According to a new study, allergies also can affect your ability to safely operate a vehicle.

In fact, researchers say that driving while suffering a seasonal allergy (also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever) episode can be much like driving while drinking alcohol. Conducted in the Netherlands during the off-season, the study analyzed the driving abilities of 19 patients, all of whom were in their 30s and had grass or tree pollen allergies, after being exposed to pollen. Each participant then was administered either a nasal spray medication, an antihistamine or a placebo and let loose on a 60-minute driving course. Driving tests were conducted four times over a period of several days. In the last 15 minutes of each session, participants were given verbal memory tests to see how many words presented via the car’s audio system they could recall.

The results are unnerving. Patients treated with steroid-based nasal sprays fared well on the test, followed by those treated with antihistamine medications. But for patients who took placebos, driving performance and memory took a serious hit. Results showed that while driving with watery eyes, runny nose and fatigue, these participants’ driving skills were comparable to that of someone operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.03 percent. That’s just below the legal limit of 0.05-percent BAC in most countries.

Though the legal limit here in the United States is 0.08-percent BAC, it’s important to note that judgment and coordination can be affected with a BAC as low as 0.02 percent. That’s of significant concern considering that a full 30 percent of American adults suffer allergies. What’s more, study participants were tested in easy driving conditions in clear weather without distractions of cell phones, radios and the like. Add inclement weather, cell phone calls or texts and just one chatty passenger and you can imagine how much worse results may have been for the placebo-administered patients. While seasonal allergies have been anecdotally linked to automobile accidents, the actual related effects on a driver’s performance were unknown prior to this study.

If you suffer seasonal or other allergies and are a licensed driver, don’t take chances on the road. Call 904-461-6060 today to schedule a consultation with an allergy specialist at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat.

New Study Finds Sleep Apnea May Cause Hearing Loss

Daytime drowsiness is a known sign of sleep apnea. But new research suggests the condition also could be to blame for hearing loss.

Daytime drowsiness is a known sign of sleep apnea. But new research suggests the condition also could be to blame for hearing loss.

The known effects of sleep apnea are many, including a diminished sleep quality, headaches, memory and concentration problems, mood swings, dry mouth, sore throat, inflammation, and cardiovascular and endocrine problems. But results of a new study may add another ailment to the list of sleep apnea symptoms – hearing loss.

Researchers conducting the study found that sleep apnea was associated with hearing impairment in study participants at both high and low frequencies. Results also suggest that the connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss may involve a combination of factors that cause inflammation and abnormal functioning in the blood vessels may play a role.

Upward of 18 million American have sleep apnea, according to statistics from the National Sleep Foundation. It’s primarily marked by loud snoring with periods of gasping or snorting noises, and disrupted sleep that can leave you fatigued throughout the day and make day-to-day tasks difficult or even dangerous. For instance, car crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel result in a higher number of fatalities than do accident attributed to other causes.

Researchers reviewed data from nearly 14,000 US participants who completed in-home sleep studies and audiometric (hearing) testing and found that sleep apnea was associated with:

  • A 31-percent increase in high frequency hearing impairment;
  • A 90-percent increase in low frequency hearing impairment;
  • A38-percent increase in both high and low frequency hearing loss.

The researchers’ findings lend support to the premises that sleep apnea likely does not occur in isolation, but instead may be a cumulative result of multiple underlying health conditions and lifestyle choices. Risk factors can include excessive weight, advanced age, smoking, use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers and even race.

“Sleep apnea is more of a systemic and chronic disease than just something that happens when you’re sleeping,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Neomi Shah, an associate director of the pulmonary sleep lab at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

If you believe you or someone you love may have sleep apnea, understand that it is indeed a chronic condition that may require lifelong management. But with proper and consistent treatment, you (and your spouse) can finally enjoy the kind of solid, restorative sleep that’s critical to your overall health, safety and quality of life.

That Smell! Common Reasons for Olfactory Loss

Our sense of smell is an underestimated boost to our quality of life. So when it's lost, medical treatment is critical.

Our sense of smell is an underestimated boost to our quality of life. So when it’s lost, medical treatment is critical.

Breakfast on the griddle, jasmine in the garden, your lover’s favorite perfume – No doubt each of these conjure a particular pleasing emotion. After all, our sense of smell, more than any other of the senses, is psychologically linked with memory and can have a profound effect on the ways in which we connect with the world around us.

So, imagine for a moment, that you’ve lost your sense of smell. Scary, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common occurrence. Among the top direct or indirect contributing factors to a partial or full loss of the ability to smell are:

  • Nasal obstructions (nasal polyps)
  • Degenerative nerve disease
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents
  • Head and neck cancers and related radiation treatments
  • Chronic respiratory infections
  • Oral disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s
  • Traumatic head injuries
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Certain medications or drug abuse
  • Advanced age

Any of these conditions can negatively affect the functionality of not only your olfactory nerve cells (those responsible for your sense of smell) but also your gustatory nerve cells (those responsible for taste). And that loss of functionality can affect not only your quality of life, but your safety and perhaps your very life as well. For example, the smell of certain gasses, smoke or spoiled foods can alert us to danger, allowing us to act before it’s too late. And, research on the psychology of smell shows that body odor, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, can help us subconsciously choose our life partners.

While most people would report a loss of sight or hearing as a top worry, it’s clear that the loss of smell is a far underestimated misfortune. Fortunately, however, help is available.

If you suspect you’re beginning to lose your sense of smell, a highly trained otolaryngologist can perform a thorough examination of your head and neck to pinpoint signs of infections, inflammation or physical obstruction that may be affecting your sense of smell or taste. Treatment options may include prescription or over-the-counter medications including decongestants or antibiotics, or surgery to remove nasal polyps or other obstructions. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, including nixing your smoking habit.

To find out which treatment option may best address your loss of smell, contact St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat at 904-461-6060 or via our online email form.

Ear Wax – Why it’s a Good Thing

Put down that Q-Tip! Ear wax can be a protective health benefit.

Put down that Q-Tip! Ear wax can be a protective health benefit.

Ear wax isn’t exactly the most pleasant of conversational topics. Yet it’s one of the body’s most amazing self-protection mechanisms. Yes – as “gross” as it may seem, ear wax is highly beneficial to your auditory health.

Much like eyelashes and nose hair, ear wax helps protect your body from would-be invaders. It bars dust, bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms from entering your body via your ear canal. Otherwise, these intruders could irritate or inflame skin, or even cause an infection. But it does more than just block intruders. There’s evidence that cerumen (ear wax’s technical name) also contains lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme that can destroy bacterial cell walls.

Earwax also acts as a lubricant that keeps you’re the inside of your ears from drying out and itching. And, it’s largely self-cleaning. Movement of the jaw while chewing or talking helps to keep earwax on the move, gradually traveling from the eardrum to the ear’s opening. There, it can dry up and flake off or fall out all on its own – no Q-Tip is ever necessary.

Of course, there are times that wax can prove harmful if it builds up and impacts inside the ear. Results can include earaches, dizziness, vertigo, swelling of the ear canal, perforation of the tympanic membrane (commonly known as the eardrum) and even hearing loss.

If you’re suffering from a buildup of excessive earwax, do not to remove it on your own. Medications can be prescribed, or earwax can be safely removed by a specialist at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat. Call 904-461-6060 to schedule an appointment.