DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My sweetheart snores so loudly that it upsets both his and my sleep. How do you help someone with this terrible problem? — F.F.
ANSWER: Snoring results from the vibration of loose and redundant tissues at the back of the mouth and in the throat. It’s the same mechanism by which the reed of a wind instrument produces music, except that snoring isn’t music.
If your sweetheart is overweight, weight loss will produce a marked improvement in his nighttime serenade. He shouldn’t drink alcohol before going to bed. Alcohol relaxes those throat and mouth tissues. Sleeping on the side opens a passageway for air on its way to the lungs. You can help him stay on his side by making a pocket on the back of his pajamas and putting a tennis ball in it. Or you can use a golf ball. Either will keep him off his back. A soft neck collar, obtainable in drugstores, keeps the jaw propped up and stops throat tissue sagging. His dentist can obtain a device that pushes his jaw forward to open up the airspace in the throat. Such devices also can be found in many drugstores. A variety of surgical and laser procedures exists to pare away the redundant tissues in the back of the mouth and throat.
Observe what happens when he’s asleep. Snoring often is a sign of sleep apnea. “Apnea” means “no breathing.” People with sleep apnea have spells of 10 or more seconds during which there is silence. The silence is broken by a gasp, and then the snoring resumes. The silence comes from not breathing.
Sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems. It can elevate blood pressure. The fragmented sleep that patients experience makes them groggy during the day and apt to cause an auto accident. Apnea also increases the chances of having a heart attack. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP, pronounced “sea PAP”) consists of a machine with a face mask. The machine drives pressurized air into the nose so it can push through the lax throat tissues and reach the lungs.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What are the benefits of taking fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids? My father has memory problems. Some people say these tablets improve memory and that they are good for the brain. Other friends say they are good for the heart. Please enlighten me about them. — G.A.
ANSWER: Omega-3 fatty acids are promoted for a variety of maladies. The best evidence of their effectiveness is in the prevention of heart disease, specifically heart attacks. They prevent rupture of the plaque, which occludes heart arteries. When plaque breaks apart, a clot forms that completely stops blood flow to the heart muscle — a heart attack.
Omega-3s also protect the heart from developing deadly heartbeats.
Their effect on memory is on less-solid ground. Don’t expect a radical change in your dad’s memory from taking them. However, they won’t hurt him, and they will do his heart good.
The omega-3 fatty acids are known as EPA, eicosapentenoic acid, and DHA docosahexenoic acid. The recommended daily amount is 1,000 mg, in total — EPA plus DHA.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a female, 75 years old, 120 pounds and 5 feet 3 inches. I have osteoarthritis in my left shoulder. When I move the shoulder, I feel and hear a clicking sound, not grinding. I fear I will wear out my bone cartilage. Is this clicking sound a serious issue? — V.B.
ANSWER: If you have no pain when you move the shoulder, the sound probably is due to tendons passing over bone. That will not wear out joint cartilage or joint bone.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.