A yellow road sign that says "Allergy Season Ahead." Sublingual immunotherapy may help allergy sufferers get the relief they need.

Is Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT) Right for You?

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If you have allergies but you dislike having your allergy medicine injected intravenously, there is another solution – sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). If you’re surprised this solution even exists, you aren’t alone.  There is a general lack of information available regarding this topic. With this in mind, we’ve decided discuss sublingual immunotherapy so you can decide whether it can benefit you.

What Is Sublingual Immunotherapy?

With many preventative medicines, they expose your body to a small amount of the disease or illness in order to build your immunity. For example, your seasonal flu vaccine works the same way – you’re given a small amount of the virus and this allows the body to recognize the virus and then build an immunity. For some, they’ll experience a light cold for a couple of days after but the idea is that it prevents a heavier illness later in the season.

With sublingual immunotherapy, an allergist (or you, but we’ll discuss this later) will give you tiny amounts of the allergen underneath the tongue. In the same way we’ve seen, this allows the body to build a tolerance to the illness and prevent symptoms from occurring. At this time, many different allergens are actually being tested within the United States.  However, not all of these solutions are ready for administration or even available just yet. New tests are constantly being performed by the FDA, hopefully leading to more allergy solutions in the future.

Will You Benefit From Sublingual Immunotherapy?

Currently, if your body has an overreaction to allergens within the immune system, you could benefit. Available for both adults and children, sublingual immunotherapy is designed for those who suffer from this overreaction (allergic rhinitis) more than once a year. Furthermore, you may also benefit if your existing treatments aren’t sufficiently addressing your allergy concerns. Sometimes, the traditional treatments can become ineffective and this is where SLIT gets to work.

If you have mild allergies or you only experience an illness every so often, SLIT may not be recommended. Elsewhere, you might also be dissuaded from this treatment if your mild allergies can be contained with traditional medicine. Until the procedure becomes more common and accessible, only the most severe cases will be considered for this treatment

A woman with a tissue to her nose is suffering from allergies and may benefit from sublingual immunotherapy.

Talk to your allergy doctor to see if sublingual immunotherapy is right for you.

Is It Safe and Effective?

Whenever the topic of SLIT arises, the questions of safety and effectiveness aren’t far behind. First and foremost, there has been several clinical trials and surveys over the past two decades alone that show SLIT is safe for all patients. Furthermore, it’s also effective for those that suffer with allergies for cat dander, tree pollens, dust mites, ragweed, and even grass.

As time goes on, we’re also getting more evidence to suggest its use in the treatment of the itchy red eyes that often comes with pollen during the worst time of year for sufferers; hay fever season. Also, we should note an ongoing study investigating the relationship between SLIT and children with eczema as well as treating certain food allergies. With these studies and the general excitement surrounding the topic, it’s fair to say there is potential in SLIT and the coming years could be very important.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Sublingual Immunotherapy?

Compared to other treatment methods, the risks aren’t exactly severe but many worry about the fact it’s normally administered at home without any supervision from a professional. If you’re considering this treatment, we highly recommend discussing the option with an allergist because they can provide you with advice while informing you of how to manage adverse reactions. Additionally, you’ll learn what is and isn’t normal in the time after the treatment.

SLIT Facts

To finish, we have some extra information you should know about sublingual immunotherapy including the fact it’s used within the gold standard of care throughout much of Europe. However, it remains as an ‘off-label’ solution in the US by the FDA despite the support it’s received from many professional bodies including the American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy (AAOA). This being said, more products are now being approved and the growing number of studies/evidence falling in the ’positive’ column could certainly change this.
For now, you’ll have to pay out of pocket since it isn’t covered on most insurance policies. After the treatment has been administered, you should start to see results after six months so it isn’t an instant solution. On a positive note, the effects can last up to five years with symptom improvement continuing even after this.

Ultimately, a conversation with your doctor and allergist is always advised as they can tell you whether or not you would benefit from sublingual immunotherapy. If they advise against it, they may just suggest a more effective medicine you haven’t yet tried for your allergies!

Dry coughs can be indicative of more serious health issues. This image depicts a woman in a blanket, suffering from a dry cough.

What Causes a Dry Cough?

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Have you had a dry cough nagging away at you for the past few weeks? At first, we attribute it to the flu or just a cough that will ‘go away soon’. As time goes on, we start to ignore it and actually grow accustomed to the cough but this is incredibly dangerous for a number of reasons. Today, we’re going to uncover these reasons and see what your cough could mean (and why you should seek medical attention).

What Is a Dry Cough?

In case you were unaware, a dry cough is any type of cough that produces no mucus or phlegm. Otherwise known as a ‘non-productive’ cough, they quickly become irritating and cause frustration. Often, they get worse at night as you lie down and this prevents a good nights’ sleep and leads to further issues – trouble concentrating at work, constant daytime fatigue, and even impacts on your personal and professional relationships.

Normal Duration of a Cough

With this in mind, how long does a “typical” cough actually last? According to most experts, a cold or flu-related cough should disappear within two weeks. Though some will be shorter and some may extend to three weeks, this is the average duration a cough lasts.

If the cough lasts for more than eight weeks, this is treated as a chronic cough and for children this lasts around four weeks. If you’ve had a dry cough that has lasted for more than eight weeks, now is the time to see the doctor – especially if it’s affecting work/school, sleep, personal life, or produces bloody phlegm.

Diagnosis

When you first visit the doctor, they’ll look into your medical history before beginning a medical examination. In this testing phase, they may take an x-ray as well as a computerized tomography (CT) scan. With a CT scan, they’ll be able to see the condition of your lungs as well as any issues that would produce a cough or issues within the sinus cavities. After this, they could also go for lung function tests, scope tests, and lab tests.

A woman in front of a white background suffering from a dry cough.

Have a dry cough that has persisted for a while? It’s best to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible – dry coughs can be indicative of more serious health issues.

Possible Issues

Possible diagnoses could include the following, some of which produce a dry cough:

  • Asthma – First and foremost, a cough relating to asthma may come as the seasons change or after an upper respiratory tract infection. With asthma, it means there is an issue within the lungs and this leads to regular coughs, difficulty breathing, and many other side-effects. If this is the cause, you may be given an inhaler to aid with your breathing, help your lungs, and clear up the cough.
  • Postnasal Drip – As the nose produces excess amounts of mucus, it can actually drip down into the throat and trigger the cough reflex. Also known as upper airway cough syndrome (UACS), it can continue for some time without treatment.
  • Infections – After a bad case of the flu or an infection in the upper respiratory tract, whooping cough can form which is a bacterial infection within the airways and lungs.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – With this issue, stomach acid can back up into the esophagus (which connects your throat and stomach). This can cause both a wet and dry cough, which causes GERD, causing further coughing, etc.
  • Bronchitis – Finally, this inflammation within the bronchial tubes (airways) can cause dry coughing. Although most sufferers are or were heavy smokers, it can occur in anyone and it falls into the spectrum for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Other causes – Ultimately, these are the most common underlying problems for a dry cough but you could also be experiencing a side-effect from blood pressure drugs, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, laryngopharyngeal reflux, and sarcoidosis.

Treatment

Ultimately, the treatment required will depend entirely on the issue found. For example, antihistamines and decongestants are common for allergies and postnasal drip while antibiotics will be the best solution for infections. Furthermore, acid blockers would be advised for acid reflux although surgery is an option for the more severe cases.

Elsewhere, cough suppressants might be issued if the doctor cannot find the reason for the cough. If the cough is preventing you from sleeping and severely affecting your life, this solution should see you through until test results are returned and the doctor can work towards a proper treatment to get you back on your feet.

If you have a dry cough that doesn’t seem to be disappearing or if you’re coughing up blood, get in contact with your doctor today and you can have the problem treated rather than living with a potentially dangerous health condition.

An alarm clock with sheep (counting sheep) to denote the consequences of hypersomnia.

Hypersomnia: Causes and Treatment

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Characterized as either excessive amounts of time spent tired or asleep during the day, hypersomnia affects around 0.5% of Americans each and every year. Although this doesn’t sound like a huge amount, it accounts for 1.6 million people and this is only the number that seek treatment (the amount who don’t seek medical treatment is thought to be significant). In fact, the National Sleep Foundation believes 40% of us to experience the symptoms of hypersomnia to some degree.

In terms of the health condition itself, the sufferers have trouble staying awake through the day whether it’s at work, at home, or even while driving. While the problem is purely related to sleep, it has all sorts of side-effects such as a lack of energy and trouble concentrating on even simple tasks.

Causes of Hypersomnia

When looking for causes, it’s hard to look past two other sleep conditions; narcolepsy and sleep apnea. While the former is related to daytime sleepiness once again, the latter deals with interruptions within the normal breathing patterns as you sleep. Both of these issues lead to hypersomnia and make it hard to stay awake during daylight.

After this, we could also point to the following:

  • Being Overweight
  • Alcohol or Drug Abuse
  • Lack of Sleep (Night)
  • Prescription Drugs (Antihistamines or Tranquilizers)
  • Neurological Diseases (Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis)
  • Depression
  • Genetics

With so many different causes, it’s important to see a medical professional who can assess the issue and ask the right questions. While the internet and fantastic guides like this can give you an overview, we can’t provide you with personalized advice. In truth, your hypersomnia could be a combination of these causes.

A sleeping man on an orange background, to suggest hypersomnia in the daytime hours.

Hypersomnia can be caused by many different issues so it’s important for a healthcare professional to assess what they are and provide you with the treatment you need.

Treatment

When you first spot the pattern of drowsiness throughout the day, this is where your doctor should come in. Initially, they’ll discuss your personal life, including your sleeping habits, to get a better idea of why this might be happening. In addition to your sleep, they might also ask whether you’ve been through a stressful situation recently or whether you’re currently taking any drugs (prescription or otherwise).

If they can pinpoint the issue immediately, they’ll start working towards a solution as soon as possible. If not, they may take blood tests, a CT scan, and even a polysomnography; this is a sleep test where your brain waves are measured alongside your heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels within the blood. If necessary, an EEG (electroencephalogram) could examine your electrical brain activity.

Depending on the cause, the doctor will take appropriate steps as a solution and this could involve stimulants, Provigil, Xyrem, or antidepressants. As mentioned, the applicable treatment will entirely depend on the issue.  Sleep apnea, for example, may require a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). With this treatment, you’ll wear a small mask over your face and this goes directly into a machine. Through the night, you’ll be provided with a flow of air to the nostrils which counteracts the condition. As the air flows into the nostrils, it keeps the airways open and you shouldn’t wake up in the night.

If you’ve been offered medication in the past and this didn’t work, don’t worry because they can switch your dosage or try a different solution. Sometimes, people need a heavier dose or a slightly different drug if the first didn’t have the intended reaction within the body. Often, people try medication once, feel disappointed with the results, and then forget the doctor altogether but this doesn’t have to be the case.

As we’ve seen, hypersomnia can also be caused by weight issues and a lack of sleep at night; sometimes, we get into the habit of staying up until 2am before the alarm then goes off for work at 6am. Although we all need different levels of sleep to operate, a sleep pattern of this nature won’t do any good at all. If your issue is one of these two causes, your doctor will recommend an adjustment to your lifestyle. Once again, it all depends on the cause but your solution might be a reduction in caffeine, more sleep at night, a diet to lose weight, less alcohol, etc.

If you’re currently suffering from hypersomnia, be sure to get medical attention because you don’t want to self-diagnose and then choose the wrong treatment. Instead, get assessed and have yourself back up to full health as soon as possible!

A young woman experiences throat pain while at the doctor's office, perhaps from various swallowing disorders.

Swallowing Disorders and How to Treat Them

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If you’re currently having trouble swallowing, this is known as ‘dysphagia’ and it’s actually more common than most think. Normally, the issue will come from your throat or the esophagus (this takes food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach). Furthermore, swallowing disorders can happen to people of all ages but they’re more commonly found in older generations, people with nervous system issues, and babies.

Causes of Swallowing Disorders

When it comes to the problems themselves, there are a number of different issues ranging from minor problems to serious health concerns. If it only happens once or twice, this normally suggests something small while medical attention should be sought if it happens frequently.
As a natural process, our throat muscles will actually contract as we swallow and this helps the food to be pushed down into the stomach. If there’s a problem, food and liquid will struggle to pass through the esophagus and there are two main reasons as to why you could be experiencing this failure.

Blockages

Trouble swallowing might be because of something blocking the esophagus and this is preventing anything from passing through. Swallowing disorders might stem from any of the following types of blockages:

  • Esophagitis – This is where the esophagus becomes inflamed after an infection or perhaps even a pill getting stuck. For some, they also experience some form of reaction to a substance in the air or food they consume.
  • Gastroesophegeal Reflux Disease (GERD) – If stomach acid manages to back right up into the esophagus, ulcers can form and this can actually lead to scars; in turn, this narrows the esophagus.
  • Other Issues – Although these are the two main issues, you could also have cancerous or benign tumors within the esophagus or small sacs that form on the walls of your throat (diverticula). Finally, lymph nodes can appear on the vertebrae and push into the esophagus from the outside.

Damaged Muscles/Nerves

Secondly, the muscles and/or nerves might not be working correctly and this may come from brain injuries, stroke, orsome other health concerns.

  • Nervous System – With muscular dystrophy, post-polio syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, these can affect the muscles and nerves.
    Esophageal Spasm – At random intervals, the muscles will squeeze together and this prevents food from reaching the stomach.
  • Scleroderma – With the esophagus tissue, this can become hard as well as narrow. In some cases, it can also weaken the lower esophageal muscles which, in turn, causes a backup of stomach acid in the throat.
  • Immune System – Finally, an issue in the immune system can cause weakness and swelling in the area.
A man is at the doctor's office, receiving treatment for swallowing disorders.

Since swallowing disorders greatly impact your everyday life, it’s important to seek treatment for them.

Treatment

Now we know the issues that exist, how do professionals treat these swallowing disorders so you can return to your normal self? Firstly, they’ll try to locate the problem using an x-ray and various other procedures they have. If necessary, they’ll use a small camera to see the extent of the damage or even a small pressure gauge to measure your ability to swallow. Once they’ve found the cause, they can get to work on treatment and there are many different solutions depending on the cause.

  • Dilation – If your esophagus has narrowed, this treatment will see a small device expand the area; this may require several sessions.
  • Diet – If your diet is causing the problem, your doctor will recommend changing the foods you eat to identify the problematic ingredient.
  • Exercise – As strange as It sounds, you can actually complete swallowing exercises to strengthen the muscles and allow for better swallowing.
  • Endoscopy – In some situations, a blockage might cause the problem and an endoscopy can be used to remove any objects.
  • Medicines – If the issue is related to heartburn, GERD, or esophagitis, some prescription medicines might be able to prevent stomach acid from getting into the esophagus. With infections, antibiotic medicines will also help the problem.
  • Surgery – Finally, and this will only be done if completely necessary, surgery can remove blockages or anything else affecting the lower esophageal muscle.

Summary

There we have it, the causes and treatments for swallowing disorders. If you’ve experienced anything we’ve discussed today, we highly recommend talking to an expert as soon as possible because, left untreated, your condition will only get worse. In some rare cases, patients are left needing a feeding tube so contact an expert today and get yourself back to full fitness!
Leukoplakia (cutaneous disease) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.

Leukoplakia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Leukoplakia (cutaneous disease) diagnosis medical concept on tablet screen with stethoscope.

Look out for signs of Leukoplakia and talk to a doctor about your condition.

With smoking as the most common cause in today’s society, leukoplakia will see the recipient experience white patches all over the tongue. In addition to the tongue, some also experience these thick patches in the lining of their mouth. If the issue isn’t too serious, it should go away within just a few days but it should also be noted that it can be a sign of something more worrisome such as oral cancer. With this in mind, it’s important to get in contact with a doctor if the problem doesn’t clear after a few days.

Today, we’re going to look into the main causes of leukoplakia as well as the symptoms (so you know what to look for) and how it gets treated!

Causes of Leukoplakia

Despite all the advancements we’ve seen in technology in recent years, we still don’t know exactly why these white spots appear. However, we do know that tobacco exacerbates the problem; this can be both chewing and smoking.

After this, it could be caused by chewing on the insides of our mouth, an inflammatory condition within the body, uneven teeth catching on our cheeks, and perhaps even dentures when they aren’t fitted as they should be. Furthermore, recent research suggests there could be a link between this and the human papilloma virus which is important to note.

The Diseases’ Symptoms

For those who have suffered from the issue, they note ‘strange-looking’ patches inside the mouth. Since most of us look into the mirror when brushing teeth and our tongue is constantly surveying the area, it doesn’t take long to notice something abnormal. Although the most common appearance will be white, we should also say that you might experience spots that are gray, hairy (we’ll discuss this in more detail in just a moment), red, and rough.

To pick up on a few points in the way the appearance can vary, redness is the most common sign of cancer. We recommend contacting a doctor if you see red spots inside your mouth. Furthermore, there is such a thing called ‘hairy leukoplakia’ and the main cause of this will be the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Once you have this virus, it will be with you for life even though it doesn’t often cause any problems for the body. With hairy leukoplakia, this is one of the few times it does make itself known.

Receiving a Diagnosis

Typically, leukoplakia can be diagnosed almost instantly with a simple oral exam. As well as your doctor, your dentist should also know the signs and professional help can be important because the majority of us will misdiagnose the issue as oral thrush. With the latter, the patches tend to be softer which causes them to bleed more frequently and this is how you tell the difference.

If the professional can’t advise on the issue immediately, they may request a couple of small tests just to be sure. By knowing exactly what the problem is, they can move forward to the treatment phase with confidence.

If cancer is suspected, a biopsy will be recommended and this is where the professional will remove some tissue from the affected area before sending it to a laboratory for further testing.

Treatment for the Disease

Once they’ve found the issue, how do they treat it? As mentioned previously, a standard case of leukoplakia won’t worry the doctor too much and they’ll suggest keeping an eye on the spots to make sure they disappear. If you smoke or chew tobacco, it’s important to avoid this trigger. If they fade away, you then know this was the cause and your doctor can provide suggestions for future prevention of the issue.

If your doctor suspected something a little more serious, they’ll wait for the biopsy results. If there are any signs of oral cancer, the patch will have to be removed to prevent the cancer from spreading. Ultimately, this procedure will be similar to a biopsy in that they’ll take the small patch with a scalpel or perhaps even laser treatment. If the patches are extensive and these two methods won’t help, full oral surgery will be required.

With hairy leukoplakia, they might be removed but it depends on the circumstances. For example, some retinoic acid antiviral medications can prevent the patches from growing.

Although the majority of cases are harmless, we recommend contacting a doctor if the spots are red in appearance or if they don’t fade away as they should after a few days!

Girl holds hand on her ear because of her tinnitus, which is becoming worse due to an increase in her serotonin.

Tinnitus Symptoms Affected by Serotonin

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Girl holds hand on her ear because of her tinnitus, which is becoming worse due to an increase in her serotonin.

Serotonin in anti-depressants is affecting tinnitus patients.

Imagine hearing a buzzing, clicking, or ringing sound that isn’t actually there. This nonexistent sound comes and goes as it pleases. This is tinnitus, a condition where a sound is only perceived by the affected individual. For millions of Americans, tinnitus is a pressing issue and an irritation. Tinnitus symptoms can be hard to live with and now it seems that the serotonin in a common antidepressant medication is making it worse.

How Tinnitus Symptoms Occurs

There are actually two different types of tinnitus – subjective and objective. If a person is hearing sounds that nobody else can, that is classified as subjective tinnitus. This is both an auditory and neurological issue caused by hearing loss and it accounts for 99 percent of all reported tinnitus cases.

Objective tinnitus is a bit different and much rarer than subjective tinnitus. This form of the condition is when a patient hears sound generated by the body’s internal structures and circulatory system. This type of sound can be heard by another who is close enough to the affected individual.

How Serotonin Affects Tinnitus

The constant irritation caused by tinnitus can take its toll. In fact, the hearing condition has a close association to psychiatric disorders. Scientists have found that depression and anxiety are connected to the severity of tinnitus. With this link being so apparent, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University decided to see how a common anti-depressant affect the condition.

The anti-depressant is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It is used to treat depression, anxiety, and social phobia. This drug prevents a neurotransmitter called serotonin from breaking down in the body. Serotonin is a known to boost mood and happiness.

Through the examination of brain tissue in mice, the researchers were able to find out that high serotonin levels make tinnitus worse. The dorsal cochlear nucleus (the part of the brain that the scientist examined) is responsible for sensory integration. It is also the area of the brain where tinnitus develops. As serotonin levels increased, the brain’s neurons become hyperactive and hypersensitive.

What Researchers Had to Say About the Study

“We saw that the activity of those neurons went through the roof,” said senior author Laurence Trussell, Ph.D., a professor of otolaryngology at the OHSU School of Medicine and scientist at the OHSU Vollum Institute.

While tinnitus may be the cause of depression, the medication for the mental disorder only seems to make it worse. This can lead to the mental illness becoming even more of a recurring condition.

“If you’re a physician treating a patient for depression who also has hearing loss or tinnitus, you may want to be careful about prescribing a drug that compounds their feelings of anxiety,” said Trussell. “The SSRI may be enhancing the thing you’re trying to fix.”

Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus symptoms. New technologies are being developed every day and researchers are looking into other options. Dr. Trussell’s team hopes to find a way to develop an antidepressant that does not affect the severity of the condition.

Preventing Tinnitus

Tinnitus stems from hearing loss, obstructions in the middle ear, head and neck trauma, and other conditions. If you want to prevent tinnitus, the simplest way is to avoid situations that may harm your hearing. Loud noises can cause severe trauma that leads to hearing loss. You’ll also want to keep your ears clean and clear of foreign objects. See a qualified otolaryngologist if you want to evaluate your hearing.

Patient lying in bed with postoperative pain in hospital room talking to doctor.

The Cure to Postoperative Pain: Sleep and Caffeine

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Patient lying in bed with postoperative pain in hospital room talking to doctor.

A good amount of sleep before surgery can reduce postoperative pain.

While surgery is necessary to prevent a condition, illness, or injury from getting worse, it still doesn’t make it any easier dealing with the pain that comes afterward. Postoperative pain can sometimes feel unbearable. Medications are able to reduce the pain but you’ll need all the help you can get to make the recovery process less stressful.

You’re probably wondering what other options are available. Well, if the University of Michigan’s Department of Anesthesiology is to be believed, a good night’s sleep and caffeine can make the pain go away. Sleep is always a major factor when it comes to how your body recovers. Let’s find out what how postoperative pain is affected by your sleep quality.

Looking Into Postoperative Pain

“Postoperative pain control is challenging,” says Giancarlo Vanini, M.D., a research assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Michigan Medicine. “There is a general long-standing interest in the relationship between sleep and pain, and we know that both are reciprocally related.”

“Several studies demonstrate that pre- and postoperative sleep disturbances worsen pain and, more importantly, predict the onset of long-term postoperative pain. However, while the relationship between sleep and pain is well-known, its underlying mechanisms remain unclear.”

“Based on previous studies published by our group and others, we predicted that a brief sleep disturbance prior to surgery would worsen postoperative pain,” Vanini says. “But, we wanted to examine if there were any treatments or interventions that could aid to minimize the effect of sleep loss by reducing the severity of pain experienced after surgery.”

The Impact of Sleep Loss

To understand the dangers of sleep loss, let’s look at the impact it can have on your body. A lack of sleep, over a long period of time, can lead to a series of health problems. Sleep deprivation has long been associated with heart conditions like heart disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure and more. Many sleep disorders are also known to put you at risk for stroke and diabetes.

Another part of the body that sleep loss can target is the mind. Sleep conditions like insomnia can put a tremendous amount of stress on the brain. Depression, anxiety, and stress are not uncommon among patients dealing with this condition. Sleep is also critical to your brain’s ability to process information. When people sleep normally, the mind is able to process our experiences into memories. The less sleep one receives, the harder it is for them to think, learn, and recall crucial information.

Using Caffeine as a Substitute for Sleep

While drinking caffeinated beverages is not the same as going to sleep, it can mimic its effects on our body. When we receive proper sleep, the body feels energize and no longer crave more sleep. The same effect happens with caffeine. A sleep inducer known as adenosine has no effect when the body has caffeine in its system. The body feels awake and focused, which is why many people choose to drink coffee in the morning.

Dr. Vanini and his team wanted to know how effective caffeine is at mimicking the effects of sleep. More specifically, they wanted to know if drinking caffeine could reduce postoperative pain like sleep does. “Insufficient sleep enhances pain perception, so we reasoned that caffeine might also be useful for reversing the increase in pain caused by sleep loss,” says Dr. Vanini. “We liked the potential of this intervention because it is simple and virtually everyone is familiar with caffeine.”

Results of the Study

Using test rats, the team sought to see the effects of sleep deprivation before surgery on postoperative pain, and how caffeine affects postoperative pain. Their hypothesis was right. The rats who didn’t receive enough sleep experienced more pain after surgery. Even worse, their recovery times took longer than it should have. However, the results were completely different for the rats that had caffeine in their system after surgery.

“The effect of sleep deprivation on pain sensitivity in operated and intact rats was virtually eliminated by pharmacologically blocking the action of adenosine in a brain region in the anterior hypothalamus known to regulate sleep, which is connected to major pain-related areas,” Dr. Vanini says.

“Caffeine blocked the increase in surgical pain caused by previous sleep loss,” Vanini says. “Surprisingly, the data showed that this is not due to caffeine’s analgesic properties.

“Furthermore, it looks like caffeine was effective only in those rats that underwent sleep deprivation before surgery. We think that caffeine might prevent the increase in pain sensitivity by blocking part of the neurochemical changes induced by sleep deprivation in specific brain areas that control sleep and wakefulness, and project to pain-related sites.”

Details of cognitive hearing aids and battery in closeup.

Cognitive Hearing Aids: Understanding Speech Better

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Details of cognitive hearing aids and battery in closeup.

The cognitive hearing aids can change how people hear.

Cognitive issues usually accompany hearing loss. That’s because hearing impairment makes it difficult for some to understand what others are saying. As you can imagine, this makes it hard to hold a conversation. During moments where a person with hearing loss is in a crowded or noisy place, understanding speech becomes an increasingly taxing. In order to solve this issue, scientists are developing cognitive hearing aids. The hope is that these devices can filter background noise and enhance voice recognition to make it easier for people to understand speech.

How Hearing Aids Work

Hearing aids are the primary medical devices used to improve hearing. They are used by people who have hearing damage or have developed hearing loss at some point in their lives. Around 48 million Americans report having hearing loss. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of these people actually use hearing aids.

While these devices cannot fully correct hearing loss, they make is easier to understand and process sound. Some hearing aids can cancel noise and the wind, enhance your spatial region, and highlight voice. These devices still have a long way to go. While some hearing aids are capable of suppressing background noise, they have trouble focusing on the speech of a specific person.

Working on Cognitive Hearing Aids

The goal of creating cognitive hearing aids is to focus on hearing one speaker over voices of many others. Hearing aids that can focus on a singular person can make it easier to understand someone in a crowded place. The cognitive hearing aids would have to connect to the brain to understand where to focus. They would also be quite the achievement.

At the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, researchers came together to determine how they can achieve this kind of auditory focus with hearing aids. The scientists looked at deep neural network models, which helped them separate multiple voices and determine which one the brain is focusing on. The speaker is then amplified so the user can hear them better. Ultimately, this improves auditory attention decoding (AAD).

“This work combines the state-of-the-art from two disciplines: speech engineering and auditory attention decoding,” says Nima Mesgarani, associate professor of electrical engineering and lead of the study. “We were able to develop this system once we made the breakthrough in using deep neural network models to separate speech.”

Previous studies helped the research team develop this new method. “Translating these findings to real-world applications poses many challenges,” notes James O’Sullivan, a postdoctoral research scientist working with Mesgarani and lead author of the study.

“Our study takes a significant step towards automatically separating an attended speaker from the mixture,” O’Sullivan continues. “To do so, we built deep neural network models that can automatically separate specific speakers from a mixture. We then compare each of these separated speakers with the neural signals to determine which voice the subject is listening to, and then amplify that specific voice for the listener.”

Final Thoughts on the Study

“Our system demonstrates a significant improvement in both subjective and objective speech quality measures — almost all of our subjects said they wanted to continue to use it,” Mesgarani says. “Our novel framework for AAD bridges the gap between the most recent advancements in speech processing technologies and speech prosthesis research and moves us closer to the development of realistic hearing aid devices that can automatically and dynamically track a user’s direction of attention and amplify an attended speaker.”

Hopefully, the cognitive hearing aids will convince those with hearing loss to use these devices. Hearing impairment can occur around the age of 65 years old. Using these devices can significantly improve their quality of life.

Closeup of a young man in bed looking at the smartphone at night, which affects sleep quality.

Digital Technology and Sleep Quality: Keeping You Awake

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Closeup of a young man in bed looking at the smartphone at night, which affects sleep quality.

Don’t sacrifice sleep quality while using your phone.

It’s not just New York City that never sleeps anymore. With the rise of smartphones and digital devices, it seems the whole world is up 24/7. As a society, we seem to be addicted to the always connected nature of digital technology. But what effect does this behavior have on our sleep? It turns out that using technology right before we go to bed is contributing to the high prevalence of reported sleep dysfunction and poor sleep quality.

A Story All Too Familiar

What’s the last thing you remember doing before you went to bed? There’s a good chance you were up all night, lying in bed, scrolling through your social media feed with the lights off. Sometimes we are a slave to our phones and tablet. Analytics firm Flurry confirms that we spend almost 5 hours a day on our mobile devices. This is a significant increase from the amount of time we spent on our devices a couple of years ago.

Sleep-Wake Cycles and Sleep Quality

The evolution of how we consume media is beginning to show drastic consequences. Researchers at the University of Houston looked into the effect of artificial light generated from smartphones, tablets, and televisions. What they found is that this ‘blue light’ contributes to poor sleep quality and the development of sleep dysfunctions.

Over a period of two weeks, researchers had several participants, ages 17-42, wear short wavelength-blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime. During that time, the subjects were allowed to continue their daily routine as they normally would. Researchers found a 58 percent increase in their night time melatonin levels.

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the brain. It helps control when we go to sleep and when we wake. Melatonin is heavily influenced by the amount of light we are exposed to. When the sun goes down, melatonin goes up. As the sun rises, the level of melatonin produced our brain decreases. This process controls our natural sleep-wake cycle.

“By using blue blocking glasses, we are decreasing input to the photoreceptors, so we can improve sleep and still continue to use our devices. That’s nice because we can still be productive at night,” Ostrin said.

Too Much Artificial Light Works Against Us

The blue light generated by our phones and devices is similar to the light from the sun. So, as we are using our phones or watching television before we sleep, our melatonin levels decrease. Our sleep-wake cycle is completely thrown off.

Exposure to sunlight, or blue light, activates intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). This neuron is found in the retina and suppresses melatonin. Instead of preparing to rest, our body is alert and awake.

“The most important takeaway is that blue light at night time really does decrease sleep quality. Sleep is very important for the regeneration of many functions in our body,” says Dr. Ostrin.

What You Can Do at Home

While some of us feel like we can’t live without our phones, it’s important to spend some time away from them. You’ll find that your ability to fall asleep faster, sleep better, and sleep longer increases dramatically. There are some other methods you can apply if still want to use your phone at night.

Most phones have a neat little feature call night time mode. This decreases the amount of blue light your device produces. You can also apply screen filters that block blue light or use glasses with anti-reflective lenses.

Either way, you should find a way sleep better. Sleep deprivation can lead to a series of fatal diseases. Disorders like sleep apnea can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more. Take control of your sleep health early in order to stay happy and healthy.

Man is snoring in bed due to sleep apnea, which is suspected to lower life expectancy.

How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Your Life Expectancy?

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Man is snoring in bed due to sleep apnea, which is suspected to lower life expectancy.

Can sleep apnea put your life expectancy in jeopardy?

The average life expectancy is 78.8 years, according to the CDC. The advancement of modern medicine and technology has made living this long possible. However, bad habits and diseases continue to fight against the progress we have made. That’s why it’s important to know what diseases and conditions lower your life expectancy.

Even conditions that prove to be a minor inconvenience can have a long-term impact on your health. Sleep apnea, for instance, is a troublesome condition that is often overlooked. Now, scientists are concerned that disorder’s influence on your quality of life can also affect how long you live. (more…)

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