Health Updates 7 June 2012

  • Is sunscreen flammable“News that a Massachusetts man suffered severe burns while using a backyard grill — just after applying sunscreen spray — has raised new fears about sunscreen products.  But dermatologists and burn experts called it a freak occurrence caused not by the sunscreen itself, but by the fact that the man was using an aerosol near an open flame.  Sunscreen itself is not usually flammable.  But like hairsprays, spray deodorants, insecticides, paints and other products that can be sprayed out of a can or bottle, sunscreen can become flammable when used in aerosol form, said Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University.  The man, Brett Sigworth, suffered severe burns on his chest, ear and back.  He reportedly had just sprayed himself with layers of aerosolized Banana Boat sunscreen before walking over to his grill.  Dr. Rigel said that in over three decades of practicing, he had never seen or heard of a similar occurrence.  But he called it plausible.  ‘Most of the sunscreen sprays have some kind of alcohol in them,’ he said, ‘and alcohol vapors are probably what caused the fire’.  Other chemicals that are used to make aerosols — things like volatile hydrocarbons, propane and dimethyl ether — are also flammable.  Because alcohol typically evaporates very quickly — within a minute or two — there is usually little risk of a fire hazard.  But Dr. Rigel said it was likely Mr. Sigworth sprayed himself and then immediately got close to the grill.  The bottle Mr. Sigworth used contains a warning label about flammability, similar to those found on hairspray and other aerosol products….The company that makes the spray, Banana Boat, said it was unaware of any similar incidents but was taking the matter seriously.  Mr. Sigworth, for his part, said he has no plans to sue, but wants people to be aware of the risk….’People shouldn’t be worried that if they spray sunscreen on they’re going to explode,’ Dr. Rigel said.  Instead, take precautions, most importantly waiting two minutes after spraying sunscreen before getting anywhere near a grill or open flame, he said, which gives the alcohol enough time to evaporate.” (NY Times)
  • Risk of later cancer small but real for CT scans in kids: “Children who had CT scans of the head had a small but increased risk of later leukemia and brain cancer, researchers reported.  But the risk increase is small and is outweighed by the clinical benefit of the scanning, according to Mark Pearce, PhD, of Newcastle University in Newcastle upon Tyne in England and colleagues.  Nonetheless, CT radiation doses to head need to be kept low and each use should be justified clinically, Pearce and colleagues argued online in The Lancet.  In a media briefing in London, the researchers took pains to emphasize the clinical value of computed tomography (CT) scans.  ‘CT scans save lives,’ said pediatric radiologist Kieran McHugh, FRCR, of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.  He added that modern CT equipment has reduced the dose of radiation by 80% to 90%, compared with machines used before 2002.  The findings, from a large retrospective analysis of more than 178,000 children given CT scans from 1985 to 2002, are the latest entry in a long-running debate.  But, Pearce told reporters, previous studies have used modeling techniques, while the current analysis is ‘the first direct study of cancer risk in patients who have undergone a CT scan’.  The analysis ‘reduced the debates about whether risks from CT scan are real,’ commented Andrew Einstein, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.   ‘Pearce and colleagues confirm that CT scans almost certainly produce a small cancer risk’, Einstein concluded.  ‘Use of CT scans continues to rise, generally with good clinical reasons, so we must redouble our efforts to justify and optimize every CT scan’….Statistical analysis showed that CT radiation was associated with an increased risk of both leukemia and brain cancer.” (Michael Smith, MedPage Today)
  • Medical marijuana dispensaries don’t boost local crime: study “Neighborhoods with medical marijuana dispensaries do not have higher  crime  rates than other neighborhoods, according to researchers who examined 95 different areas of Sacramento, Calif., in 2009.  As more US states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons, some people have expressed concern that outlets  that dispense the drug and their clients will become targets for crime.  But that’s not the case, according to the study in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.  The researchers found no evidence that neighborhoods with a higher density of medical marijuana dispensaries had higher rates of violent crime or property crime than other neighborhoods.  The study authors added, however, that further research is needed because they looked at neighborhoods at only one point in time.  A neighborhood’s crime patterns could change over time as more medical marijuana dispensaries open…..Medical marijuana was legalized for use in patients whose doctors recommend it for relief during treatment for cancer, AIDS, chronic pain and other conditions, according to the California Department of Public Health.” (HealthDay)
  • Health Tip: Signs that you have a hearing problem: “Hearing loss is among the most common conditions in older people, the Cleveland Clinic says, affecting about one-third of people 60 or older andhalf of those older than 85.  Do you have the condition?  Here is the clinic’s list of possible warning signs:
    • Difficulty hearing people on the telephone.
    • Problems hearing when there is background noise.
    • Straining to follow a conversation.
    • Thinking that most people are mumbling, and frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
    • Frequently misunderstanding what others say.
    • Difficulty understanding children and women, or needing to turn the TV volume up very loud.
    • Frequently hearing a hissing, roaring or ringing sound.” (

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