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DEAR DOCTOR K: I was just diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. My doctor wants me to try CPAP. Can you tell me more about my condition and the proposed treatment? DEAR READER: We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so if anything unhealthy happens while we’re asleep, that’s not good news. Unfortunately, obstructive sleep apnea is unhealthy. About one in 10 adults have this condition, and many don’t know they have it.
DEAR DOCTOR K: After years of smoking I’ve developed chronic bronchitis. Every morning I cough up lots of mucus. What can I do to control this cough? DEAR READER: Chronic bronchitis is a common form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD refers to a group of disorders that damage the lungs and make breathing increasingly difficult over time. Most cases of COPD are related to cigarette smoking.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a woman in my late 20s, and I’ve developed dark patches of skin on my face. Why did this happen? What can I do about it?
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a Baker’s cyst in my right knee. It has been drained twice and recurred. Are there any other treatments for it? DEAR READER: I discussed your question with my colleague, Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson, a bone and joint expert who is the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. A Baker’s cyst (also called a popliteal cyst) is a fluid-filled sac. It forms in the popliteal space, the hollow at the back of the knee joint.
DEAR DOCTOR K: What could be causing my chronic laryngitis? And what can I do about it? DEAR READER: Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx – the “voice box” that contains the vocal cords. The condition is called chronic laryngitis when hoarseness, the most common symptom, lasts for at least two weeks.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My best friend was just diagnosed with Graves’ disease. I’d like to understand the condition and what her treatment will entail.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a vaginal yeast infection. The itching and burning are unbearable. How should I treat it? And how did I get it in the first place? DEAR READER: Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus that is usually present in small amounts on our skin, particularly moist areas such as under the breasts and in the groin. They also are present in small numbers in the vagina. Sometimes the amount of fungus increases, causing a yeast infection.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I recently read that fiber doesn’t prevent colorectal cancer. So is a high-fiber diet good for you or not? DEAR READER: Fiber was once thought to play an important role in preventing colon cancer. As you’ve read, that turned out not to be the case.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I’ve heard that scientists have discovered genes that cause autism. Could this lead to a cure? DEAR READER: Three studies were recently published in the scientific journal Nature. Cell samples from 549 families were included. In each family, one child was autistic, but the parents and siblings were not.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a heart arrhythmia. My doctor wants me to get an ICD. What do I need to know before agreeing to get one? DEAR READER: ICD stands for “implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.” It is a small device that is surgically placed in your body. An ICD can save your life – but it can also complicate your life.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I am a 34-year-old woman married to a man more than 20 years my senior. Our first child, a son born four years ago, is autistic. I have heard that older fathers are more likely to have autistic children. Is this true? DEAR READER: I am not an expert on autism. I have learned what I know from experts here at Harvard Medical School. No one knows the causes of autism, but today the apparent consensus is that they are biological – something a child is born with.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My sister-in-law has a bee-sting allergy. What happens if she gets stung? Can it be life-threatening?
DEAR DOCTOR K: It seems to be commonly accepted that women who live together or who are close friends get their periods at the same time. I’ve had the same experience. Is this a real biological phenomenon or just a coincidence?
DEAR DOCTOR K: I’ve heard it may one day be possible to slow or stop the aging process. Is there any truth to this? DEAR READER: In the past, most experts believed that aging was inevitable. Recent research indicates that may not be true.
DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend recently revealed that she is allergic to sunshine. I was so surprised – what does this mean, exactly? DEAR READER: I agree that it’s a strange-sounding concept, but sun allergy is a real phenomenon. A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight.
DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife and I don’t want any more children, so I’ve scheduled a vasectomy. What will happen during the procedure?
DEAR DOCTOR K: I’ve heard it said that we use only 10 percent of our brains, but I’m skeptical. Could it be true that we use only this small percentage of our brain capacity?
DEAR DOCTOR K: My 4-year-old daughter wets her bed at night. I know this happens to a lot of kids, but I wonder if I should be worried. How should I handle it, and what can I do to make it stop?
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have a painful ingrown toenail. Can I treat it at home, or should I leave it to a professional?
DEAR DOCTOR K: My elderly father lives with my family. But I have my own health issues and don’t think I’ll be able to care for him much longer. What are my options for long-term care?