Drop by any beach or swimming pool on a summer day, and you'll probably see people doing something they've heard is bad for them getting a tan. Despite all the warnings of the Israel Cancer Association about the risks of exposure even when using sunscreen, and the fact that many know they are increasing their risk of developing skin cancer, they still do it. But now researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have found evidence that could explain why people continue to sunbathe and patronize tanning salons. Using criteria adapted from those used to screen for alcoholism and drug dependency, they've determined that repetitive tanning behavior may be a kind of addiction. "Dermatologists often talk about people who seem 'addicted' to the sun people who know it's not good for them to be bronzed all the time, but don't seem able to stop tanning," said UTMB Prof. Richard Wagner, lead author of the study published in Archives of Dermatology . "It's interesting that by slightly modifying tools used to identify substance-related disorders, we can see an objective similarity between regular tanning and those disorders." Wagner and Warthan asked 145 Galveston beachgoers a series of questions such as "Do you try to cut down on the time you spend in the sun, but find yourself still suntanning?" and "Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?" The interviews were divided into two parts, with four initial yes-or-no queries derived from those used in a standard four-question survey used to identify alcohol abuse or dependence. Seven others were based on diagnostic criteria for substance-related disorders in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition . Under criteria adapted from the alcoholism-screening questionnaire, 26% of those interviewed were classified as "ultraviolet light (UVL) tanning dependent." The DSM-IV criteria indicated an even greater proportion of beachgoers with UVL tanning dependence 53%. "This is a new idea, and we didn't know how it would turn out, although there has been mixed evidence from other studies suggesting that tanning increases endorphin production, which could be addictive," Wagner said. "Certainly this could explain why educational interventions haven't been more successful." LAUGHING WITH GAS A yellow-orange-and-blue digital machine with two big "eyes" that dispenses "laughing gas" to young patients who need to undergo painful treatments has been installed at Sheba Medical Center's pediatric department. Called Galgatzhok, the device, which has wheels and can be rolled from bed to bed, actually makes kids laugh when they see it. Nitrous oxide is considered the safest anesthetic for reducing anxiety and pain. It is of special benefit for cancer and burn patients undergoing treatments and examinations. The device issues a warning when the gas is about to run out and immediately closes the tanks to prevent leaks. WILD BLUE YONDER Airline pilots have an increased risk of a common type of cataract (called nuclear cataract) associated with aging, compared with non-pilots, and that risk is associated with cumulative exposure to cosmic radiation, according to a study in the August issue of Archives of Ophthalmology. Commercial airline pilots are reported to be at an increased risk for some cancers, but studies on the biological effects of their exposure to cosmic radiation have been limited, according to background information in the article. Previous studies have shown that cataracts can be caused by exposure to radiation, including a recent study of astronauts showing an association of incidence of cataracts with space radiation at exposure levels comparable to those of commercial airline pilots. Dr. Vilhjalmur Rafnsson of the University of Iceland and colleagues conducted a case control study involved 445 men to determine whether employment as a pilot is associated with the lens of the eye turning opaque. The cases included 71 men with nuclear cataract, and the control group were men with different types of lens opacification or without lens opacification. Among the 445 men, 79 were commercial pilots and 366 had never been pilots. All participants in the study were 50 years or older and other factors that contribute to cataract risk, including smoking, age and sunbathing, were controlled for. Among the 71 cases with nuclear cataract, 15 were commercial pilots, whereas among the 374 controls (without nuclear cataract), 64 were pilots. The researchers found an association between the estimated cumulative radiation dose and the risk of nuclear cataract. This, they said, indicates that cosmic radiation may be a causative factor in nuclear cataracts among commercial pilots. SILENT NIGHTS Nurses at the Rabin Medical Center-Hasharon Campus don't actually tuck their patients into bed at night, but the hospital has introduced a "Good Night" project to help them sleep better. A mask and earplugs are handed out every evening to help patients ignore the noise and bright lights of the hospital wards. Besides distributing the accessories, they also reduce the volume of telephone rings, give instructions not to drag objects at night, and halt the use of the intercom at 9 p.m. Staffers have also been asked to have only quiet conversations when patients are asleep, says Henya Pri-Mizra, the hospital's chief of nursing and director of the project. They have even fixed the entrance doors to minimize the noise when they open and close. The project has been launched first in four departments: internal medicine B, orthopedics, surgery A and surgery B. Meanwhile, Clalit Health Services, which owns and operates the Rabin Medical Center's two campuses (Hasharon and Beilinson), has made it possible for its community clinic staff to send virtual get-well cards to patients hospitalized there. The medical center's Web site at www.rmc.org.il makes it possible for all patients to get e-mail messages from their doctors, as well as from anyone else in the world; once dispatched to the Web site, they are printed and brought to the patients' bedsides. A variety of graphic designs in Hebrew and English are available. So far, recipients have reacted with surprise and enthusiasm.