Easy As 1, 2, 3 …
Protect Your Brain from Hidden Hazards
Some activities carry obvious risks for brain injury — that’s why we wear a helmet for protection when we ride a bike, motorcycle or horse.
But who knew that ordinary activities such as drinking water, taking vitamins or even painting could put our brains at risk?
Marilyn Hallock, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center, explains why these behaviors could be hazardous and provides three tips to help you avoid accidental brain injury.
1. Watch your water intake. Drinking too much water can cause a condition called hyponatremia, which occurs when sodium levels in the blood become diluted. Early signs include confusion, seizures and coma. Hyponatremia can also cause the brain to swell.
Active people such as runners, particularly marathon runners, are at increased risk for hyponatremia because they may think they should be drinking water more often than they actually need to. Most healthy adults can stay hydrated by drinking when they are thirsty.
2. Read vitamin labels. Taking more than the recommended daily allowance of some vitamins can lead to brain damage. Too much vitamin A over time — more than 3,000 International Units (IU) for men or 2,333 IU for women daily — can cause headaches, nerve damage and birth defects, among other side effects. More than 100 milligrams of B6 daily for adults can cause numbness, weakness and paralysis.
A balanced diet supplies all the vitamins most people need. But if you do take a supplement, use only the recommended dosage.
3. Be careful what you inhale. Fumes from many household products — including paint, spray paint, paint thinners, solvents, permanent markers and cooking sprays — can quickly reach high concentrations in the brain. Inhaling these fumes can cause double vision, slurred speech and problems such as numbness and blindness that can be permanent. Some fumes can lead to seizures and death.
Make sure you use these products only in well-ventilated areas.
Marilyn Hallock, MD, is a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians. She is currently developing a series of online lectures for medical residents at Rush, based on patient cases from the emergency department at Rush and other locations.
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