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X-Rays in the News

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How far can cameras go to make the personal into the public? Pretty far, considering how many news stories I've seen in the past year illustrated with x-rays, MRIs, and medical tomography. The idea of seeing inside the human body is strange enough, without seeing the weird things that can happen inside the body of someone on the other side of the world. Some of the images in this story may be disturbing to some people.

77-year-old Jin Guangying suffered from lifelong headaches when she was finally x-rayed at Shuyang Leniency Hospital in China. Doctors were stunned to find a bullet in her head! Jin remembered she had been shot during the Japanese invasion in 1943, but had only used herbal treatments for the wound at the time.
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59-year-old Margaret Wegner had a brain scan in Berlin to find the source of her constant headaches. It was a pencil. She had tripped and embedded the pencil in her skull when she was four years old! The bigger part of the pencil was finally removed, but a smaller part was left, as delicate nerves had grown over the 2cm piece.

More curious cases, after the jump.

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A duck with a broken wing in California was x-rayed and found to have an alien from outer space in its gut. The duck did not survive, and an autopsy found the alien was formed by grain in the bird's digestive system. Still, the x-ray was sold via eBay auction to raise money for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, California. Note: this is the only patient in this story who is deceased.
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31-year-old Luo Cuifen went to a hospital in China complaining of blood in her urine. X-rays showed that she had 26 needles embedded in her body, affecting her lungs, kidneys, brain, and other organs. Doctors believe the needles were inserted when Luo was an infant by grandparents who were disappointed that she was born a girl.
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Then there was a curious case reported in The Lancet last summer of a middle-aged man whose braincase was almost completely filled with fluid. His actual brain was reduced 50 to 75% below normal size, but he held a civil servant's job and was not considered mentally impaired or retarded. This scan shows his brain compared with a typical brain on the right.
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Gavin Docherty was hit by a nail gun in a workplace accident. His co-worker immediately drove him to the hospital, but they were stopped by Canada's finest on the way for speeding. After seeing nails sticking out of Docherty's forehead, the officer allowed them to continue to the hospital, but followed them so he could issue the driver a $167 ticket for not wearing a seatbelt!

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This one isn't exactly an x-ray, but it's a 3D medical image showing how a chair leg went through 19-year-old Shafique el-Fahkri's head during a bar brawl. The Melbourne man survived the incident, and medical intervention saved his eyesight.

Although these images are quite sensational, what struck me about this series of stories was the public nature of these cases. All these were news stories I remembered from the past year or two; I didn't have to search for any of them. Excluding the duck, all but one patient are identified by name, and all are from nations other than the US (with the possible exception of the unidentified patient). In the US, privacy laws allow medical images to be shared with medical personnel, insurance companies, lawyers, law enforcement, and others, but not the press. I don't know what the laws governing such images are in other countries; maybe some of you do. Would you consider allowing pictures of the inside of your body to be published by a news outlet? Or does our concept of privacy only apply to our skin?

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Medicine
Scientists Are Working on a Way to Treat Eye Floaters With Lasers
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iStock

Even people with 20/20 eyesight should be familiar with this scenario: You're enjoying a clear view when a faint doodle shape drifts into your peripheral vision like an organism under a microscope. Floaters affect almost everyone, but there's currently no medically accepted, non-invasive way to treat them. Two doctors with Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston are working to change that. As IFLScience reports, the team believes that lasers may be the solution to bothersome eye squiggles.

As Chirag Shah and Jeffrey Heier write in their study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, lasers can be used to safely combat the underlying causes of floaters. Also known as muscae volitantes, Latin for “hovering flies,” the condition comes from physical debris leaking into your eyeball. The front of your eyes is filled with a liquid called vitreous humor, and when drops of that gelatinous substance break off from the whole, the bits cast shadows on your retinas that look like gray blobs. Because floaters literally float inside your eyes, trying to focus on one is almost impossible.

These spots aren't typically a problem for young people, but as you get older your vitreous humor becomes more watery, which increases the chance of it slipping out and clouding your vision. Retinal detachment and retinal tears are also rare but serious causes of symptomatic floaters.

Shah and Heier tested a new method of pinpointing and eliminating floaters with a YAG laser (a type of laser often used in cataract surgery) on 36 patients. An additional 16 test subjects were treated with a sham laser as a placebo. They found that 54 percent of the treated participants saw their floaters decrease over six months, compared to just 9 percent of the control group. So far, the procedure appears be safe and free of side effects, but researchers noted that more follow-up time is needed to determine if those results are long-term.

At the moment, people with symptomatic floaters can choose between surgery or living with the ailment for the rest of their lives. YAG laser treatment may one day offer a safe and easy alternative, but the researchers say they will need to expand the size of future studies before the treatment is ready to go public.

[h/t IFLScience]

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Bite Helper
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technology
New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
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Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]

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