Keep Your Eyes Open at Mirror Lake Tonight!

We know that Mirror Lake Jump-In is a fun and exciting tradition for a lot of students, but it can be a risky proposition.  The combination of cold weather, alcohol, wet clothing and the slippery lake bottom can lead to lots of bad things: hypothermia, frostbite, upper respiratory infections, sprains and broken bones among others.    

And just so we can be a total buzzkill, we thought we’d tell you about another risk of jumping into Mirror Lake that you probably hadn’t thought about – an eye infection known as Acanthamoeba Keratitis.  The bug that causes this disease is commonly found in fresh water sources, such as tap water and our very own Mirror Lake.

This infection can be dangerous because the human immune system is not capable of fighting it off without the aid of specialized and intensive treatment.  The infection isn’t that common but if it goes untreated, it could lead to permanent vision loss.

Signs that you may have the infection include eye pain, blurry vision, light sensitivity or a sensation that something is stuck in your eye.  If you have any of these symptoms – regardless of whether or not you jumped into Mirror Lake – be sure to see your eye doctor or make an appointment with the optometrists at the Student Health Center as soon as possible. 

About 85% of all cases occur in people who wear contact lenses, so the best way to avoid catching this nasty bug is to not wear contacts while swimming or wading in any water source, especially lakes and hot tubs.  And you should never clean or store your contacts in regular tap water.

If we can’t talk you out of jumping into Mirror Lake tonight, at least bring blankets and dry clothes, don’t drink too much, do NOT dive or run when you jump in, and be sure to leave your contact lenses at home before you take the freezing plunge.

For more information on how to stay safe during Mirror Lake Jump-In, check out this great information from our friends at the Student Wellness Center.

Patrick Milleson, Leah Steele
College of Optometry
The Ohio State University

Julia Geldis, OD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

15 Things No Dorm Room Should Be Without!

It's a blanket!  That you can wear!

Shower caddie?  Check.  Combination iPod, laptop, cell phone charger?  Check.  Officially Licensed Ohio State Snuggie?  Check. 

Now that you have your door room decked out with all of the comforts of home, you should stock it with stuff to keep you healthy on campus this year.  Here are the 15 health care items that no dorm room should be without:

1. Thermometer

2. Pain and fever medication: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or Naproxen (Aleve)

3. Ice pack and/or heating pad

4. Band-Aids

5. Antibiotic ointment

6. ACE wrap

7. Antihistamine medication for allergies or itchy rashes: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Loratadine (Claritin), Cetirizine (Zyrtec)

8. Cough and cold medication

9. Anti-diarrhea medication: Loperamide (Imodium AD)

10. Antacid medication: TUMS, Pepto-Bismol, Ranitidine (Zantac), Famotidine (Pepcid), Cimetidine (Tagamet), Omeprazole (Prilosec)

11. Sore throat lozenges

12. Hydrocortisone cream for itchy rashes

13. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer to prevent spread of germs

14. Lotion for dry skin

15. And last but not least, our phone number: 614-292-4321

You can pick up all of these things at our pharmacy.  They’re cheap, they don’t take up a lot of space, and they’re much more useful than that Hermione Granger pillow you snuck in on Move-In Day.  Don’t lie… we saw it.  

Welcome to Ohio State!  Have a great year!

Sheila K. Westendorf, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite!

Here's what they look like

Here's where they hide

Another hiding spot

The rash from bedbug bites

Just reading about bedbugs may make you start itching, but they’re working their way across the country – they’ve already hit Columbus – so at the risk of totally grossing you out, here’s everything you need to know about these creepy little critters.

What are they?

Bed bugs (Cimex Lectularius) are external parasites that feed on blood.  Adults are reddish-brown, oval-shaped and about the size of an apple seed.  They prefer human blood, but can feed off of rodents, bats, birds, and pets in a pinch.  They can live 12-18 months and can survive up to a year without a meal.  They can’t fly.  They feed at night and hide during the day.

Where do they hide?

Bedbugs rarely hang out on the surfaces of beds or chairs. They like cracks and crevices in mattresses, cushions, bed frames, and floor boards.  Female bed bugs deposit 1-12 eggs per day in these areas, which hatch in 4-10 days.

Can they hurt me?

Not really.  The bites themselves are usually painless, but can cause itchy, red, bumps about the size of a pencil eraser.  In rare cases, the bites can get infected or cause a severe allergic reaction, but usually they go away on their own. 

Even though they feed on blood, as far as we know bed bugs do not transmit disease.  There have been no reported cases of a bed bug feeding off of one person with HIV or Hepatitis (or any other infectious blood-borne disease) and passing it to another person by feeding on them.  Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is, but they’re trying to figure it out.

How can I tell if they’re on me or in my room?

The itchy red bumps caused by bed bugs are usually in a line because the bug walks and feeds at the same time.  You will also often see blood stains from crushed bugs on sheets or clothing, and little black spots of bedbug poop on mattresses, pajamas and along floorboards. 

If you find a bug, the Ohio Department of Health offers an insect identification service.  The Ohio State University Extension Office also has a Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic that can identify it for you.

What do I do if I think I have them in my room or apartment?

Do NOT try to get rid of them yourself.  Bug bombs only drive them further into their hiding areas and may make them spread to other rooms.  Baits, traps and other insecticides don’t work.  It wouldn’t hurt to vacuum your place really well, but if you do, spread a little talcum powder on the floor first – it suffocates the bugs in the vacuum bag so they don’t spread elsewhere.  Washing your sheets and clothes on hot (120 °F) and drying them for 15 minutes is sufficient to kill them.

If you live in a dorm, contact your RA or hall director who can contact Facilities Management to assess the situation and coordinate pest control contractors.  If you live in off-campus housing, contact your landlord to have the situation evaluated.

What can I do to avoid getting them? 

  • Never buy used mattresses
  • Remove clutter as much as possible, especially under the bed. Using plastic, under-bed storage containers with lids is a good idea
  • Put mattress and box springs in bed bug resistant encasements
  • Vacuum regularly
  • When you move into a new apartment or dorm, checking the mattress seams and baseboards isn’t too paranoid. Some people even keep their luggage in the bathroom when they stay in hotels

For more information, the extension office has a great fact sheet on bed bugs, and you can check out:

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

Do cell phones really cause brain cancer?

In honor of July being National Cell Phone Etiquette Awareness Month – and with San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently approving a law requiring cell phone retailers to post the amount of radiation emitted by each phone they sell – we thought it would be a good time to re-run one of our post’s from last year addressing the question of whether or not cell phones cause brain cancer.

Q: I heard that cell phones might cause brain cancer. Is that true?

A: Cell phones work by emitting radio frequency (RF) waves, a form of electromagnetic radiation between FM radio and microwaves. Unlike x-rays or ultraviolet (UV) light, this form of radiation is non-ionizing, meaning that it lacks the ability to damage DNA molecules.

But because cell phones are constantly used in such close proximity to our brains, many people are worried that they might be associated with an increased risk of brain tumors.  There have been around 30 research studies over the past decade that have looked at this issue and most have found that:

  • People with brain tumors do not report using cell phones any more than people who don’t have tumors
  • People who use cell phones more than other people do not have an increased risk of developing a brain tumor
  • In people who had brain tumors AND who used cell phones, there was no correlation between the side of the head that they held their cell phone next to and the side of the brain that the tumor was on

These studies, however, do have limitations. Cell phones have only been around for about 20 years, so the studies haven’t been able to follow people over a really long period of time.  Also, there haven’t been any good studies looking at the effect of cell phones on the developing brains of children. 

For now, it’s safe to say that there is no evidence that cell phones increase your chance of getting a brain tumor.  Further studies will surely be conducted in the coming years but at this point, you’re safe to use all the free night and weekend minutes that you want.

Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (OSU COM)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Sneezing!

I know spring is finally sprung when I walk outside, anxious to soak up some warmth and sunshine, then sneeze and rub my itchy eyes.  Behold the heavenly aroma of the hyacinth… and the cough and wheeze which follow.  I gravitate, lighter than air (if you knew me, that’s saying something) towards the crab apple tree in full bloom… and quickly thereafter start the steroids and applying cold compresses to my hives.   Allergy season is here, my friends.   Let the sneezing begin!

Environmental allergies can manifest themselves in a variety of ways and if you’re unlucky enough to have them, you may experience any and all of the following: itchy, watery eyes; serial sneezing; runny nose; popping ears; itchy skin; wheezing and sputtering.

Avoidance of the pollens and other allergens is a very effective way of dealing with allergies – possibly as effective as medication – so you can:

  • Stay inside when pollen counts are highest, generally in the early- and mid-morning.
  • Stay inside when the air quality is especially bad.
  • Keep your windows closed and the air conditioning on.
  • Stay inside when you hear the sound of lawnmowers.
  • Take a shower, change and wash your pollen-covered clothes as soon as possible after playing in the great outdoors.

But can your allergies be controlled without forcing you to live in a bubble?  Fortunately, yes.  There are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medications called “antihistamines” that are pretty effective at controlling allergy symptoms.  They’re all fine to use now and then if you can tolerate a little (or possibly a lot) of drowsiness and fatigue.  The older antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are more sedating while newer ones like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin, Alavert) are less sedating.  

For the floodgate that noses can sometimes be, occasional use of a decongestant like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can be helpful.  Pseudoephedrine usually has the opposite effect of antihistamines and acts a stimulant so it can keep you awake at night, and raise your blood pressure.  Try to avoid OTC nasal sprays and definitely avoid the OTC asthma medications.

When OTC medications just aren’t enough, ask your health care provider for some help. We have a variety of very useful drugs in our tool belts, and when necessary can refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and possibly desensitization therapy.

So by all means, get out there for a hike, a run, a picnic, to study, or whatever is your pleasure.  But if the great outdoors leave you gasping for breath or struggling for a Kleenex, give us a call.

Victoria Rentel, MD

Kiss Me Deadly!

click to enlarge

Q: Can someone who is allergic to a food die from kissing someone who just ate that food?

A:  A few years ago, there was a big story in the news about a woman with a peanut allergy who supposedly died after kissing her boyfriend who had just eaten a food with peanuts in it.  It turns out that this was more of an urban myth – the woman actually died of another cause, but I guess the idea of a “deadly kiss” was too good of a story to pass up.

We just heard a presentation from the allergy experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and they did tell us stories of moms who just ate a Reese’s Peanut butter Cup giving their child a big hive on their cheek after kissing them, and people walking into a restaurant with peanut shells on the floor (like 5 Guys Burgers and Fries) and just the peanut dust in the air causing them to have a wheezing reaction.  The key factor is the amount of protein you’re exposed to.  So theoretically if you’re boyfriend just ate a whole handful of peanuts and you guys immediately start playing some serious tonsil hockey, you could be in trouble.  But to date no one has been kissed to death.

However, food allergies – especially to peanuts and shellfish – can be life threatening so it is absolutely (and literally) vital for you to be careful.  If you’re allergic to peanuts or other tree nuts, you should:

  • Avoid bakeries, ice cream parlors and Asian restaurants
  • ALWAYS ask about food ingredients and read labels when eating food you didn’t prepare
  • Wear a bracelet or necklace that identifies the type of allergy you have
  • Have an EpiPen with you at all times and make sure you know how to use it! (I’ve taken care of more than one person who in the heat of the moment held the pen backwards and injected their thumbs, and since epinephrine makes blood vessels constrict that makes for a nervous 20 minutes waiting to see if the blood flow returns to the digit).

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a great website with more information about food allergies.  In addition, allergy testing services are available through the Wilce Student Health Center.  If you have any questions or concerns, call us at 614-292-4321 to schedule an appointment. 

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)


Medical Mythbusters – Poisonous Poinsettas!

True or False: Poinsettias are poisonous to kids and pets.


This is one of those holiday myths that just refuses to die. It supposedly began back in 1919 when a 2-year-old boy was found dead after eating a poinsettia leaf – it was just assumed that the plant had killed him. However, since that time, many studies have shown that kids (and pets) that are exposed to poinsettia plants do just fine.

The sap of the plant is mildly irritating but according to POISINDEX (the resource used by Poison Control Centers) a 50-pound kiddo would have to eat about 500 leaves to have any toxic effects.  And while I myself have never dined on a poinsettia salad, the leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even hyperactive pets would be willing to eat that many! The most common side effects that have been reported from poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting, and some people with serious latex allergies have had a skin reaction after touching the leaves.

If you or any of your relatives happen to nibble on a poinsettia (or any other plant for that matter) and you are concerned, you can always call your Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 to speak with an expert.  But in the mean time, go ahead and get decorating for the holidays – with your crazy Uncle Louie coming over to celebrate with his famous High Octane Egg Nog, the plants are the least of your worries!   

Angela Walker, Med IV (OSU COM)

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

Gettin’ a little dirty may actually be good for you


Bing Images

Science has done it again. Dirty pigs are healthier pigs. It has been proven. Don’t ask how, because it involved a lot of fetal pigs (which makes my undergraduate pig dissecting PTSD flare up), poop and blood.  But it also involved a lot of wallowing and I am ALL about science that proves that wallowing is good for you.

Sure, the title – Environmentally-acquired bacteria influence microbial diversity and natural innate immune responses at gut surfaces – scintillating as it is, might not immediately strike you as a defense of all that is good about being dirty. But pull up a chair and consider the dirty details.

Gut immunologists took baby pigs and sent them outside, inside or into a kind of antibiotic-laced biologic bubble. The guts of the outdoor, mud-wallowing pigs were full of healthier bacteria than the indoor pig guts. Not only was there more of the good stuff in outdoor beasts, there was also less harmful bacteria in the chute. Most cool and interesting, though, is that the bacterial composition of the piggies’ guts influenced the expression of immunologic genes: pristine, white-glove pork expressed more inflammatory genes and other icky inflammatory stuff.

I know what you’re thinking. Pigs aren’t human, Dr. Rentel. True. Based on this study I’m not going to build a heated pigsty with a giant HDTV for me and my kids in the backyard. There is, however, a growing, stinking, microbial-filled gooey heap of evidence that human interaction with bacteria is good. Why does the prevalence of autoimmune diseases and allergies keep going up? This study gives some very direct, powerful evidence as to how the cascade of autoimmune badness gets started. Okay, yes, in pigs, but pigs are a whole lot like us.

As my favorite infectious disease specialist in the whole wide world (Dr. George Gianakopoulos) used to say, “Nature abhors a vacuum. Kill the good bacteria and welcome in the bad.”  I’m not saying you should order dirt for take-out tonight.  But skipping the whole-body antimicrobial gel bath every day might not be a bad idea. 

Victoria Rentel, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)

BMC Biology 2009, 7:79

Feeling SAD? Lighten up at CCS!


Sleeping More… low energy… hibernating… feeling down or blue… finding it harder to Study… craving carbs…         

Sound familiar? If so, you may be dealing with the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Both are caused by gray skies and low sunlight, which is as much a part of winter at Ohio State as bowl games and Uggs.  So unless you plan to transfer to USC or Florida before next quarter, read on to see what you can do to stay healthy. 

Winter Blues affect 10-30% of the population – regardless of race, gender or culture – and can negatively impact your grades, job, athletic performance or your social life.  There are a lot of useful things you can do to manage the Winter Blues:

  • Increase your exposure to daylight, even on cloudy days
  • Stress reduction
  • Eat and sleep well
  • Exercise, especially outside
  • Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant
  • Socialize
  • Don’t waste your money on tanning beds

If these measures don’t work, or if you are experiencing more severe changes in your mood, appetite, sleep, concentration or energy levels, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a more serious form of depression characterized by a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness and even suicidal feelings.  As with any depression, suicide is a serious risk. SAD affects 5-10% of the population in all races or cultures and may run in families. If you are having signs and symptoms of SAD, you need to get help – and luckily you can find it right here on campus!

In addition to counseling and stress management strategies, SAD is usually treated with antidepressant medication and/or bright light therapy with a 10,000-lux light box.  All of these therapies are available at Counseling and Consultation Service.

Since light boxes can cause side effects like hypomania (episodes of abnormally elevated, unrestrained or irritable mood), CCS requires you to be evaluated and followed by one of our psychiatrists during therapy.  Once we know that the treatment is effective and safe, many students purchase their own light box to avoid the hassle of having to come to the Younkin Success Center every morning.   

Light boxes typically run in the neighborhood of $250-$300.  The bulbs last 2-3 years with normal use and can be replaced for $40 or so.  While that’s a lot of money up front, compared to the cost of medications it can actually be a bargain in the long run.  Some insurance plans even cover the box with a written prescription, so the out-of-pocket cost may even be less. 

If you do decide to purchase your own light box, be sure to watch out for advertisements touting “full spectrum” light boxes.  That sounds really cool, but it isn’t actually relevant and those boxes are less than the recommended 10,000 lux strength.  They may work, but they’ll require a lot more time to be effective which usually ends up being counterproductive.

We never want anyone at Ohio State to “Go Blue” (man, it hurt us to even type those words…)  If you start to feel that way, be sure to contact Student Health or CCS – we are here to help!

Denise Deschenes, M.D.  Richard A. Mitsak, M.D. (Ohio State Counseling and Consultation Service)

John A. Vaughn, M.D. (Ohio State Student Health Services)

What’s a normal reaction to a bee sting?

This little guy...

caused this in 27 minutes!

Q: I got stung by a bee or wasp about 6 days ago on my index finger and I was just wondering if it was normal for the finger to still be itchy, swollen, and red and blotchy?

A: Your symptoms are very typical for a local reaction to a venomous insect sting.  This is the most common type of reaction and usually resolves on its own in less than a day.  Sounds like you have a “large local” reaction, which can last up to a week and even cause some nausea and fatigue. 

The good news is that even though this is lasting longer than usual, it rarely indicates the type of allergic reaction that can be life threatening.

The best thing to do for this type of reaction is to clean the sting site carefully, apply some ice and be sure that the stinger isn’t sill stuck in there; this would cause venom to be continuously injected into the area. 

The itching, swelling and blotchiness is best treated with over the counter antihistamines:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Loratadine (Claritin or Alavert)

Diphenhydramine can make you very drowsy, which makes it good for night time use.  You can also apply over the counter hydrocortisone cream (generic, Cortaid) to the area to help with the irritation.

Obviously, the best thing to do for any reaction that lasts close to a week is to come in to the student health center so we can check it out.  Stings can sometimes become infected or cause other serious problems that require professional attention.

John Vaughn, MD (Student Health Services)