What can I do to keep from losing my hair?


I get this question all the time at the student health center, which tells me that it’s time to drop some scalp science on you.  (DISCLAIMER – We are talking about hair loss in men.  Hair loss in women is a little trickier to diagnose and manage, and should be evaluated by a health care provider.)

You’ve basically got two options when it comes to preventing or treating male-pattern baldness:

Minoxidil (Rogaine) is a topical medication that is available without a prescription.  It comes in a 2% solution and a 5% solution or foam.  (I’ve seen a 15% strength advertised online but this is not FDA approved and is probably made in an off-shore pharmacy so best to stay away from it).  The 5% strength works a little better but has a higher incidence of skin irritation and itching.  The foam may be a little less irritating than the solution.

  • Not covered by insurance – costs around $30 per month
  • Must be used twice a day for at least 4 months before you can say whether or not it’s working
  • The maximum benefit plateaus at 12-18 months
  • It’s successful in about 30-40% of men who use it
  • Once you stop using it, all hair that has been maintained or re-grown will be lost

Finasteride (Propecia) is a prescription only oral medication that comes in a 1mg pill.  It works by blocking an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone in the scalp.  A 5mg version is used to treat benign prostate enlargement – side effects at that dose include decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction, but they aren’t seen too often with the 1mg dose.  Although it doesn’t affect testosterone in the body, finasteride has such a high risk of causing birth defects in male fetuses that pregnant women are advised to not even touch the medication.    

  • Also not covered by insurance – costs a little over $60 per month.
  • It’s successful in about two-thirds of men who use it
  • Positive effect continues to increase after 2 years of use
  • Improves not only hair count, but also length and thickness and color
  • Once you stop using it, all hair that has been maintained or re-grown will be lost

So they both work, but not always and only for as long as you are using them.  Finasteride works better than minoxidil and is easier to use, but it’s more expensive and has potentially worse side effects.  They’re both pretty expensive – we’re talking $360 to $720 a year – and you pick up the tab completely.

Like all medicines, you have to weigh the benefits and risks of taking it.  And you don’t need to take anything for your hair.  I mean, sure I’d love to have the flowing mane of Troy Polamalu, but paying 60 bucks a month for a pill that pregnant women can’t even touch!?  I’ll buy a hat, thanks.

But if you feel otherwise, you’re always welcome to come in to the Student Health Center and talk it over with us.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Winter Safety Alert! Being a couch potato really could kill you!


It’s winter.  It’s cold.  We’re all staying inside.  You wouldn’t think that spending an afternoon on the couch could be a life-threatening activity, but if you don’t have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector, it could be just that.  There have already been several deaths by CO poisoning in Ohio this year, so we thought it was a good time to review what CO is and why it’s so important to have a CO detector in your home!

What is CO and how do poisonings happen?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas produced by devices using gas, oil, kerosene, or wood.  Room space heaters, furnaces, charcoal grills, fireplaces, water heaters, and automobiles all produce CO.  Older appliances (such as old furnaces or water heaters) can produce dangerously high levels if they haven’t been checked and serviced in a while.  Winter is an especially risky time for CO poisoning because homes are usually closed up tight to keep out the cold.  And because CO is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating, dangerously high levels can accumulate in homes without any warning signs. 

What are the signs and symptoms of CO poisoning? How will I know if I have it?

The initial symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to the flu: dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, confusion, shortness of breath and feeling faint.  However, death can occur without any of these warning symptoms being experienced

If you’re experiencing symptoms that you think could be related to CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately and go to the emergency room.  A blood test called an arterial blood gas (ABG) can confirm CO poisoning if it’s done soon after an exposure.  (We can’t do ABG’s in the Student Health Center – you have to go to the ER). 

The ONLY sure way to make sure that your house is safe is to have a working CO detector so please make sure you have one in your house.  And if you already have one, be sure to test it – replacing those batteries could be the best ten dollars you ever spent!

To learn more about carbon monoxide and how to prevent poisoning, check out these links. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Pros and cons of going vegetarian


I’m a level 5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow.

                                            Jesse Grass, The Simpsons


There are many versions of a “vegetarian” diet:

Vegan: only plant-based foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans and peas), grains, seeds and nuts 

Lactovegetarian: plant-based foods plus cheese and dairy products

Lacto-ovovegetarian:  plant-based foods plus cheese, dairy and eggs

Pesco-vegetarians: plant-based foods plus cheese, dairy, eggs and fish

Whichever version you choose, the US Dietary Guidelines state that all variations of vegetarian diets can provide adequate nutrients for all stages of the life cycle, including children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and even competitive athletes.

Vegetarians can be at risk of getting inadequate amounts of protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A and B12, Omega-3 fatty acids and iodine, so the keys to maintaining adequate nutrition on a vegetarian diet are to eat a wide variety of foods and to plan ahead for meals.  The Mayo Clinic has a helpful list of foods that are rich in these nutrients and are vegetarian diet friendly.   

Vegetarian diets can be a challenge to follow, especially for a busy – and poor – college, grad or professional student, but if you can make it work for your lifestyle, there are many health benefits!  In general, vegetarian diets contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more fruit, veggies, fiber, and phytochemicals – all good things.  Research has shown that vegetarians tend to have lower rates of obesity, bad cholesterol, heart disease, type II diabetes, and high blood pressure. There is also some evidence that vegetarians may have lower rates of cancer, but the verdict is still out on that one.

The best thing you can do if you are considering a vegetarian diet is to educate yourself – knowledge is power!  The US Department of Agriculture has great information about vegetarian diets.  You can also come in and talk to one of our expert nutritionists.  And if you have any health issues, are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning any type of modified diet. 

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Choose your stud wisely


Ha!  Made ya look.

Not that kind of stud, people – let’s try to keep our minds out of the gutter for at least one post, here. 

No, I’m talking about tongue studs.  Piercings.  Those little metal spikes that some people (of questionable sanity, IMO) actually voluntarily allow someone to poke through their tongue.  Man… just thinking about it makes my tongue hurt.

A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that out of the four most commonly used piercing materials – stainless steel, titanium, polytetrafluoroethylene and polypropylene – stainless steel had significantly more bacteria crawling around on it than the other three materials.  Researchers studied 85 people who randomly received a sterile tongue piercing with one of the four materials. 

To be fair, the researchers found that bacterial counts were pretty low for all of the materials tested and no one in the study got an infection from the piercing, so it’s safe to conclude that getting your tongue pierced under proper sterile conditions doesn’t put you at too much risk for getting a mouth infection.  But it’s probably a good idea to avoid stainless steel studs just in case because when infections do occur, they can get pretty nasty.

Even though the risk of infection wasn’t too bad, there are other problems to think of.  5% of the people in the study had chipped teeth from the piercings and about 29% had lingual recessions, or receding gums.  Both of these situations can lead to more serious problems.

If you do decide to get your tongue pierced, don’t try to do it yourself.  And make sure you go to a place that uses proper sterile procedures.  And if you are having any problems from a piercing – chipped teeth, bleeding, nasty drainage, bad taste in your mouth, swelling or pain – come in and see one of our dentists so they can make sure everything’s OK.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Kapferer I, et al “Tongue piercing: The impact of material on microbiological findings” J Adolesc Health 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.10.008.

Disabled Women Activists are Loud, Proud and Passionate!

Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower people with disabilities around the world to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development.  As part of their 30th anniversary celebration, they created this “Loud, Proud and Passionate!” video.  They filmed it during their 5th International Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD) – here’s how they describe it:

Signing and singing with passion in Arabic, Spanish and English, 54 disabled women activists from 43 countries celebrate the achievements, pride and solidarity of women with disabilities around the world. These leaders are revolutionizing the status of women and girls worldwide.

Their goal is to reach 2,500 views so please check it out.  It may not be as polished as Lady GaGa’s latest concert video, but does Lady GaGa have back-up singers from Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestinian Territories, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, United States of America, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe?  I didn’t think so.

To learn more about MIUSA and how you can contribute to the next WILD program empowering women and girls with disabilities, click here.  And for more information about disability services here at Ohio State, visit our Office for Disability Services and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Coordinator’s Office.   

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Music and English Lyrics by Rich Glauber

Video Produced and Directed by Sky’s the Limit Creative Services

What cats can teach you about staying healthy


Are you stressed out?  Have you ever noticed that when things are the most hectic in your life, darn it if you don’t end up with the sniffles? 

Stress has been tied to a number of health conditions in humans, and now researchers at our very own College of Veterinary Medicine have shown that even cats respond to stress in their lives with an increased incidence of chronic illness.  The less stress the cats in the study had, the less sick they got.  So how do you de-stress a cat?  By providing a comfortable living environment, a consistent daily routine and attention from a caregiver. 

So take it from the kitties.  Try to find a healthy, consistent routine in your life (regular meals, regular sleep and regular exercise), share some TLC with a good friend or partner and always keep your litter box clean.  It’s the best way to stay away out of the vet’s… I mean doctor’s office.

Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Is smoking hookah safer than smoking cigarettes?


The hookah has been around for almost 400 years, but it’s recently become very trendy, especially on college campuses. The American Lung Association even named hookah smoking the first new tobacco trend of the 21st century.

The hookah is also known as a waterpipe because the smoke passes through water then into tubes from which it is inhaled. The tobacco used in hookah is called narghile, shisha, or goza. It is often flavored and has a sweeter taste and aroma than regular tobacco.  Hookah tobacco is not self-igniting so charcoal is placed on top of it to help it burn.

There’s a misconception among many hookah users that it is not as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.  The sweet smell and taste can make people think it’s not “real” tobacco, and the fact that hookah lounges have been allowed to stay open in many cities despite public bans on smoking sends a mixed message that it is somehow safer than other forms of tobacco.  Many people also believe that because the smoke passes through water before being inhaled that all of the toxins and carcinogens are somehow filtered out.

But don’t fall for the hipster hype! Hookah tobacco is still tobacco and it contains nicotine and all of the other harmful substances that cigarettes do.  Not only that, but the burning charcoal placed on the tobacco emits by-products that are inhaled along with the tobacco smoke (you might as well light a cigarette on your grill and keep your face buried in the burgers for 20 minutes).  And when it comes to preventing harmful substances from reaching the lungs, the water in a hookah works just as well as a filter on a cigarette.  In other words, NOT.  AT.  ALL. 

So before you follow all the skinny jeans and vintage hats to the local hookah lounge, consider these facts:

  • Both the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that second-hand smoke has been shown to pose a serious threat to nonsmokers and smoke from waterpipes is no exception.
  • Several studies have shown that hookah smoking increases the probability of developing lung problems, heart problems, cancer and nicotine addiction.
  • There have been reports of users inhaling and exhaling high carbon dioxide levels (as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency) during hookah sessions.  So hanging out in a hookah lounge can expose you to unsafe levels of CO2.

Bottom line? Smoking hookah carries the same health risks as smoking cigarettes. 

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University