March 2005 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the  Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Ear wax: Leave it alone - it's protecting your ear

The next time you reach for a cotton swab to clean your ears you might want to think twice. The ears are self-cleaning so you shouldn't do anything to them.

"Wax is protective to the ear. It has antibiotic properties and keeps the ear moist," says Dr. Ravi N. Samy, assistant professor of otolaryngology - head and neck surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "No swabs should be used because they increase the risk of eardrum perforation and infection."

Instead, for relief of severe wax buildup, use a few drops of hydrogen peroxide. It will loosen the wax so that it comes out easily and can be wiped away. If your ears itch on the inside, try using baby or mineral oil, administered with a medicine dropper. This is not recommended for those with a hole in their eardrum. In fact, says Dr. Samy, "Make sure to avoid placing anything, including oil or hydrogen peroxide, in the ear of patients with either eardrum perforations or ear infections."

Media Contact: Kara Lenocker

Contrary to popular thought, 'heart failure' does not mean irreversible damage

Heart failure. The words often create shock and fear. But experts say the words don't mean the heart is beyond treatment. And they don't mean the entire heart is damaged; many of the organ's multiple functions may be unaffected, says Dr. Clyde Yancy, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"People need to understand that it's not a death sentence anymore," Dr. Yancy says. "We know a lot more about the condition now. There are new treatments and medications that can allow patients to live long, healthy lives."

Nearly 5 million Americans are living with heart failure - when the heart's pumping power is weaker than normal; not that it's stopped working - and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the American Heart Association. The condition can be caused by such events as heart attack, birth defect, coronary artery disease or high blood pressure.

Media Contact: Katherine Morales

Offering help to the caregiver is a caring, thoughtful gift

Those caring for a loved one who is seriously ill have an incredibly challenging and demanding job, and often friends and family don't know what they should do to help, says Dr. Elizabeth Paulk, assistant professor of internal medicine and medical director of the palliative care team at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Health & Hospital System.

"Caregivers need your help," she says. "If you don't know what to say, just be there and do something - good intentions don't count. Serious illness brings many problems, but it also provides opportunities for closeness and emotional and spiritual growth."

Some of the best gifts for caregivers include: making a meal and leaving it at the door; asking how the caregiver is and being open to hearing the answer; give gifts or make gestures you would feel comfortable receiving from the recipient; and always ask first, "How can I help?" and be as specific as possible in your offer.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

Got the lonesome blues?  Don't let the door hit you on the way outside
The first step to combating loneliness could to be just walking out your front door, says Dr. Alan LaGrone, assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"The biggest single issue I see in my practice - more than depression, substance abuse and other mental disorders - is loneliness," said Dr. LaGrone, medical director of psychiatric emergency services at Parkland Health & Hospital System. "There are a huge number of people out there who are lonely. It's an ongoing theme in today's society - feeling isolated and alone.

"And, if you're waiting for someone to come and knock on your door, it ain't going to happen."

Instead, Dr. LaGrone suggests getting involved in an activity that interests you. And with warmer weather approaching, outside activities can bring interaction with others who have similar interests - whether that includes taking scuba diving or canoeing lessons, joining a bicycle or camping club, getting involved in community outreach or church groups, or any number of creative alternatives.

"Don't wait until summer, or you'll miss the preparing and joining phases," he says. "Do something you like. Make lifestyle changes that will stick, and new and better relationships will follow."

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Don't forgo food and liquids when treating traveling diarrhea

Spring break is almost here, as well as the travel season. And with all the different locations and exotic foods, travelers can suffer from a bout of diarrhea.

Fortunately, most people experience a mild form and respond well to regular fluid intake and anti-diarrhea medication, says Dr. Luis Lara, assistant professor of internal medicine in digestive and liver diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Those with underlying diseases, very young or elderly are at greater risk and may require antibiotics or other medications.

"An estimated 20 percent to 60 percent of travelers to developing countries will come down with diarrhea, making it the No. 1 ailment of travel, and it can manifest up to two weeks after returning home," says Dr. Lara. "Despite common knowledge that travelers diarrhea is acquired by transmission from food and water consumption, many people do not pay attention to what they eat and drink."

Preventing travelers' diarrhea begins with common sense measures to avoid exposure.

"The most important component is rehydration, and an oral solution provided through the World Health Organization is widely available and superior to sports drinks," says Dr. Lara. "Patients should eat as tolerated, as there is no good evidence to support the often-advised restricted diet. High-risk patients or those with concerns about becoming ill and obtaining medical service and products while abroad should make a first aid kit."

Media Contact: Scott Maier


To automatically receive news releases from UT Southwestern via e-mail, subscribe at