Question: At the insistence of my husband (because of my loud snoring), I had a sleep study, which found out I have sleep apnea. I must admit I'm better rested in the morning using a CPAP mask. I always thought sleep apnea was a man's condition. How common is it in women? - R.D., Philadelphia
Answer: Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where one is, in essence, obstructing his or her airway many times during the night, is much more common in women than most folks would think. A recent Swedish study looked at 400 women from a population-based random sampling of 10,000 fe-males between the ages of 20 and 70. Obstructive sleep apnea was found in 50 percent of the women who an-swered a questionnaire and underwent a sleep study. Severe obstructive sleep apnea was found in 31 percent of women ages 50 to 70 who were considered obese. Risk factors for sleep apnea in women are obesity and hypertension. Weight loss clearly reduces the severity of sleep apnea and the risk of developing it.
Why worry? Daytime sleepiness may cause you to nod off behind the wheel. Nodding off at work can't be good for productivity or job security. During those periods of non-breathing, the blood isn't getting oxygen. That can, over time, contribute to permanent and irreversible right and left sided heart failure. Folks with untreated sleep apnea also tend to have more frequent urination at night. There are also links between OSA and coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and strokes. It may also contribute to the changes that lead to diabetes.
Question: Can you explain why certain sounds, such as squealing brakes or a fork scraping a plate are so irritating? - P.Z., Orlando, Fla.
Answer: It so happens British researchers from Newcastle University and Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging investigated this and published their findings in the Oct. 10 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Research subjects listened to a range of sounds and rated them from most unpleasant to most pleasing. The most hated sound universally was the sound of a knife scraping against a glass bottle.
The other nine most unpleasant sounds, in descending order were: a fork scraping glass; chalk scraping on a blackboard; a ruler scraping on a glass bottle; fingernails scraping on a blackboard; female scream; electric disc sanding/grinding tool; squealing brakes; baby crying; and an electric drill.
The four most pleasing sounds were applause; laughing baby; thunder; and water flowing/bubbling.
When we hear these unpleasant sounds, the auditory cortex (part of the brain responsible for processing what our ears detect) and the amygdala (area of the brain that processes emotions such as fear and aggression) interact, with the amygdala taking over to make our perception of a noise even more unpleasant. This annoyance is not due to the loudness of the sound; rather, its particular sound frequency.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," P.O. Box 767787, Atlanta, GA 30076.