Some are old wives’ tales and others are legitimate modern-day concerns, but these health questions have divided public opinion. So our Docs give us the facts.
Q: Is there a consensus on the effects of holding cellphones to our ears? Some people say it’s dangerous to our brains.
A: Cellphones do emit electromagnetic radiation that penetrates your body, affecting cells in ways that may cause them to turn cancerous. Children’s smaller bodies are even more vulnerable because their tissue absorbs more radiation. The jury is still out on whether cellphones definitely increase the risk of brain tumors, because not every study shows a link. But some research has found a connection, and the results point to a real risk.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, recently put cellphone radiation into “category 2B,” meaning it’s possibly carcinogenic in humans. We call this category 2B avoided. Because the IARC is a respected organization, we’ll err on the side of caution and take its findings seriously. A few work-arounds:
1. TXT more, talk less. Do what young adults do 110 times a day, on average: Text; don’t call. Texting keeps your phone at arm’s length, and inches matter in radiation waves.
2. Use the speaker function or a headset. Again, the farther away, the better. Headsets or ear buds keep exposure lower than wireless ear gadgets, which also emit radiation. Best of all are “air tube” systems, which transmit sound via a hollow tube. Most electronics stores carry them, as does Amazon.com.
3. Don’t pocket your phone. Take the device out of your pocket whenever you can. Otherwise, men, the electromagnetic radiation may zap your fertility.
Q: Popping my knuckles is a stress reliever for me, but I’ve always heard it will lead to arthritis. Is that true?
A: Cracking your knuckles might be painful for people around you to hear, but you’re not doing any harm to your joints or bones or muscles when you crack—unless you’re feeling pain. However, habitual knuckle-crackers have shown signs of soft tissue damage in the joint capsule and a decrease in grip strength. The popping sound is caused by the high-pressure suction of gas being expelled when your joints move apart. If it hurts when your knuckles or knees crack, you should see your doctor to assess what kind of joint damage you may have.
Q: Today we spend nearly all our waking hours staring at illuminated rectangles. What are these computer, smartphone, tablet and TV screens doing to our eyes?
A: Staring at a screen all day won’t harm your vision or make you go blind, but too much screen time might make your eyes irritated and tired. Your eyes have to work a bit harder to read words and numbers on a screen, whether it’s because of glare, a lack of contrast between the words and the background, or another factor.
If you get dry, burning eyes, blurred vision or a headache after sitting in front of your computer, you may have computer vision syndrome—which sounds more serious than it is. Some tips to avoid it:
• Tilt your screen slightly downward so its center is about 4 or 5 inches below eye level. This will keep your eyes from getting too dry, because your eyelids don’t have to open as wide.
• Every 15 minutes, look from side to side. Gaze into the distance. Switching up your sights can help keep your eyes from getting irritated or tired.
• Take a little break at least every couple of hours to walk around and let your eyes idle. Do anything that doesn’t involve intense focus.
• Use preservative-free eye drops as needed. You blink less while you stare at a screen.
• Ask an optometrist about glare-reducing computer glasses. You can also use a filter on your computer screen to reduce glare.
• Get seven to nine hours of sleep as often as possible. Your eyes’ membranes need sleep to revive. Another option: a 10- to 20-minute power nap.
Q: I have trouble falling asleep sometimes, and warm milk and a bath have never worked for me. Is there any surefire way to fall asleep other than taking a sleeping pill?
A: Resorting to pills should be a last resort and only your doctor can determine whether you’d gain any benefit.
Start by prepping your bedroom for slumber. Reserve your bed for sleep… and the only other thing you need to do in a bed! Keep the room dark and cool; research points to cooler temperatures being better for sleep—anywhere between 54 and 75 degrees, depending on your comfort level.
Avoid scary TV shows that get your adrenaline pumping just before bed. You need to clear your mind and eliminate noise, so develop a calming routine, and if you live in a noisy neighborhood, consider ear plugs. You should also eat and drink for a good night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine after lunch and don’t have a fatty dinner. Instead, opt for lean proteins like fish, which are less sensitive to orexin, a hormone that keeps you awake.
Half of all people with sleep problems share a legitimate fear of the dark, which can cut into shut-eye. If that’s the case, find a therapist to help you and use a red nightlight: Red wavelengths don’t suppress your output of melatonin, a natural hormone that brings on sleep.
Q: Is there anything to the idea that sudden changes in temperature—warm one day, cold the next—cause sickness?
A: No—only viruses and bacteria can cause you to get sick. It may seem like people get sick when temperatures warm up suddenly, but only because they are more likely to get out of the house and be in public places sharing germs. Whether temperatures are hot or cold, consistent or fluctuating, viruses and bacteria are always present. So keep up the hand-washing regardless of the weather.
Q: Now that I’m a parent, I’m wondering: Is there anything that remotely proves chicken soup is a cure for a cold? Or is it just tradition and a comfort food?
A: The truth is you can’t cure a cold. You can only speed up its course. That said, your mom (or grandma) was right: Research has found that chicken soup can help you get better faster. Zinc lozenges and vitamin C are also fairly tried-and-true aids. We really don’t know why these things work, but they do.
At the start of your symptoms, and for the next two to three days, dose yourself with any of these: a cup of chicken soup four times a day, 500 milligrams of vitamin C four times each day—with plenty of water—and one zinc lozenge every six hours. You may be able to reduce your cold from five days to three.