Kansas health professionals harness new technologies to fight old issues

Whether it be hearing loss, skin damage or debilitating dry eyes, the Kansas climate and culture puts its population at higher risk for certain health issues. Fortunately for Topekans, local doctors and specialists are staying on top of new technologies that can better treat common issues in hearing, vision and dermatology.

 

Clearer sound with less fuss

Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition in older adults, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Fortunately, the latest hearing aid technology is allowing those with hearing loss to experience better sound quality with less hassle.

Belinda Gonzales, a hearing instrument specialist and owner of NuSound in Topeka, said her patients struggled with older hearing aid technologies.

“Many patients would take off hearing aids in a restaurant because the background noise would become unbearable,” Gonzales said. “Those issues have been negated with new technology.”

Gonzales said new Bluetooth hearing aids are a giant step toward improving the quality of life for those with hearing loss. The devices can be synched to an iPhone, allowing users to easily adjust the bass and treble. They’re also more sensitive to their environment, helping to diminish the background noise problem posed by older devices.

This technology also is being used to protect the hearing of hunters, allowing them to hear a gunshot and the low activity of a deer in the distance.

“They look good, they’re comfortable, and there’s less manual adjustments,” she said.

Looking ahead, Gonzales said hearing aid technology will become even more advanced and could possibly resemble hearable devices that are on the market now, which can act as headphones, language translators and fitness trackers.

“I believe in five to 10 years no one will wear a Fitbit,” she said. “It will be in your ears.”

Fighting skin cancer with earlier detection

In the past 15 months, Cotton O’Neil Dermatology has diagnosed more than 90 cases of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

“All skin cancers are on the rise due to people living longer, tanning bed exposure and our beautiful Kansas sun,” said Grant Ghahramani, a physician and member of the medical team at Cotton O’Neil Dermatology.

Ghahramani and his team are combatting the troubling trend with new technologies like dermoscopy. Using polarized and non-polarized light with magnification that allows them to see features that can’t be seen with the naked eye, dermoscopy helps doctors like Ghahramani detect and treat skin cancer earlier.

Matthew Ricks, a physician and medical director and founder of Ricks Advanced Dermatology in Topeka, also sees many skin cancer patients, including soldiers from Fort Riley, farmers and landscapers.

“I think skin cancer will continue to rise,” Ricks said. “It’s not leveling off.”

However, using advanced blue-light technology in a procedure called Blue U, Ricks is helping to more effectively treat precancerous regions, thus potentially reducing the amount of full-fledged skin cancers. Blue U uses a light-sensitizing chemical solution that is applied to the skin area, which is then exposed to blue light. The chemicals react with the blue light to generate reactive oxygen radicals that destroy the precancerous or cancerous skin cells.

While effective, Ricks said, Blue U is expensive and only makes sense for patients with a large area of skin damage, rather than two or three isolated spots.

Lasting solution to chronic dry eye

Thanks to high winds, generally temperate weather and a high pollen count, Kansans can be more susceptible to chronic dry eye than other Americans.

If dry eyes don’t seem like a significant burden, Babak Marefat, an ophthalmologist at Stormont Vail Health, would venture to say you’ve never experienced it. Chronic dry eye is uncomfortable and can impede vision.

“Imagine you have nothing but hangnails in your eye,” he said.

Until recently, Marefat could only treat chronic dry eye with artificial tears and one type of prescription drops. But since amniotic membrane graphs emerged 18 months ago, things have started to look brighter.

The procedure involves gluing or sewing fragments of the patient’s own plasma onto a contact lens, which helps keep corneas healthy and effectively treats dry eyes without a trip to the operating room.

“It’s been really exciting, because something that has been either ignored or untreatable has really changed,” Marefat explained. “We no longer treat the symptoms with drops. We’re now treating the root of the problem.”

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RELATED LINKS

Read more about the Capital-Journal special section, State of Health Care in Kansas, at http://cjonline.com/state-health-care-kansas.

See the 24-page Capital-Journal digital magazine of the special section here.

 

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