The human body is so complex that we can't come close to understanding everything that goes on inside of us. Emergency room physician Billy Goldberg, MD, answered some of the medical questions many people wonder about but often are embarrassed to ask. Here, be answers more of those types of questions...

  • Why are men more likely to snore than women?

'Women's airways are wider and less prone to collapse than men's airways-which allows for freer breathing. Also, men are more likely than women to gain fat around the neck, where it can squeeze the airway closed, causing snoring. And men are more likely to smoke or drink to excess, either of which can contribute to snoring.

Women are considerably more prone to snoring when they're pregnant. Blood flow to the nasal area can increase during pregnancy, causing the lining of the nose and throat to swell.

To reduce snoring: Adhesive nasal strips, marketed to athletes as a way to increase oxygen intake, have been shown to reduce snoring for some people by opening nasal passages and making breathing easier. The Breathe Right brand is available at most drugstores. Also, consider losing weight and cutting down on smoking or drinking if these issues apply to you.

  • Why do we lose our sense of taste when our noses are stuffed up?

Our sense of taste is quite limited. Human taste buds essentially are able to identify only sweet, salty, sour and bitter. All other information about a food's flavor reaches our brains through our sense of smell. A stuffed-up nose can't pick up odor molecules from food, so food tastes bland.

  • Why do men fall asleep after sex?

Endorphins, gamma-aminobutyric acid and the hormones oxytocin and prolactin are released into a man's body after he has an orgasm. All of these hormones and chemicals have been found to contribute to sleepiness. Interestingly, these same chemicals are also released into women's bodies after orgasm. The difference might be that women are less likely to have orgasms when they have sex.

  • Why do wintergreen LifeSavers spark when we bite them?

Put a wintergreen LifeSaver in your mouth, face a mirror, turn out the lights and bite into it with your lips open. You'll create tiny electrical fields and a small amount of ultraviolet light. The light is produced by molecules crashing together as your teeth fracture the sugar crystals in the mint. The scientific name for the process is triboluminescence. All hard candies will create some light, but the wintergreen flavoring, methyl salicylate, is fluorescent and adds the more visible, bright blue light.

  • Does the black stuff that athletes wear under their eyes really help them?

An article in Archives of Ophthalmology confirms that eye-black grease does help. The color black applied to the cheeks slightly below the eyes absorbs sunlight that otherwise might reflect off the cheeks and interfere with the athlete's vision.

  • Why do doctors tell men to "turn your head and cough" when they check for a hernia?

A hernia is a protrusion of an organ or other bodily structure through the body wall that normally contains it. The most common type of hernia is the inguinal hernia, which occurs in the groin area. Coughing increases abdominal pressure, so if there is an inguinal hernia, a section of the intestine will be forced through to where the doctor can feel it. This type of hernia is more common in men than in women.

'Why turn the head? Because doctors don't like to be coughed on!

  • Do bees die after they sting us?

Honeybees do. A honeybee's stinger is barbed and attached to its abdomen. When we're stung, the stinger lodges in our flesh and rips free from the bee's body, taking much of the bee's belly with it-a fatal wound. However this does not apply to bumblebees. Their stingers do not typically remain in our skin when we're stung, so they can survive to sting again.

  • Does hair grow back thicker after it is shaved off?

No. Shaving affects only the portion of the hair that's outside the skin, which is nothing but dead protein cells. It does not affect the hair follicles located deep within the skin, so there's no way that shaving could alter our hair growth rates or density.

  • Why does breathing into a paper bag help us when we're hyperventilating?

It forces us to rebreathe the carbon dioxide that we just exhaled. This increases the carbon dioxide levels in our blood, which in turn slows our breathing rate.

The breathe-into-a-bag technique is a reasonable home remedy when rapid deep breathing is caused by anxiety or panic. However, hyperventilation occasionally is a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a heart attack, collapsed lung, blood clot in the lung or an aspirin overdose-and paper-bag breathing will not help.

Important: Seek medical help immediately if you have any reason to believe that you are experiencing anything more than simple anxiety or if the hyperventilation persists after five minutes of bag breathing.

  • Why do we get goose bumps?

Goose bumps are caused by very tiny muscles at the base of each hair on our bodies, which contract and pull the hair erect. This is a mammalian response to cold-erect hair creates a layer of insulation-although this doesn't work well for people anymore, since we've lost most of our body hair. Goose bumps also can be a sympathetic nerve reflex that's related to the flight-or-fight response. A frightened animal's erect hairs might make it appear larger and thus more intimidating to an enemy.

Why does inhaling helium make our voices sound funny?

Helium is less dense than air, so our vocal cords vibrate faster when they're in a helium rich environment. Faster vibration produces a higher pitch.

Why do some people sneeze when they look at the sun?

Between 10% and 25% of the population tends to sneeze, often repeatedly, when they look in the general direction of the sun. This is known as the photic sneeze reflex. (Don't test yourself by looking directly at the sun-that could damage your eyes)

The unexpected response to excessive stimulation of the optic nerve is believed to be caused by an accidental crossing of nerve signals in the fifth cranial nerve nucleus. This trait seems to be genetic, so if you are a sun sneeze! others in your family are likely to be as well. It is considered a serious risk factor for combat pilots, but it doesn't affect the rest of us very much.

  • If our natural body temperature is 98.6 F why do 90 days feel hot to us?

Our bodies must work to maintain the proper temperature through a process called thermoregulation. When the temperature outside is cool, it's easy for us to release any excess heat, but as outside temperatures get closer to our body temperature, our bodies must work harder to keep us at 98.6'F. The extra effort we expend to maintain our normal temperature is what makes us feel uncomfortable.

What You Must Know Before Having Surgery

Each year, more than 80 million Americans f{ undergo some type of surgery. Over the

I-l last 35 years,I have advised thousands of surgical patients on the information they should give their doctors and the questions that must be asked to ensure the best possible odds for a successful operation and recovery. Here are the areas that are most often overlooked or cause confusion among patients…

  • Medications and,/or supplements before surgery. If you take a blood thinner, such as warfarin (Coumadin), you will likely need to stop taking it three or more days before any major surgery such as a coronary bypass or a hysterectomy, to prevent excessive bleeding. You will probably need to modify your medication schedule even for less invasive surgery such as knee surgery or removal of a growth.

Caution: Do not assume that your surgeon knows the drugs and/or supplements you are taking. In fact, he/she probably doesn't. Give him a list of all your prescription and nonprescription drugs, such as aspirin or antacids, as well as all vitamins and other supplements that you take.

Self-defense: When your surgery is scheduled, ask your surgeon to write down the specific drugs and/or supplements you should stop taking before surgery and exactly how many days prior to the operation you should discontinue them. Also, be sure to mention any chronic conditions you have, such as diabetes, heart disease or allergies, which may affect the outcome of your surgery.

  • New drugs before surgery. It's not uncommon that the surgeon will ask you to take an antibiotic (to prevent infection) or an anticoagulant drug (to prevent blood clots) several days before surgery.

Self-defense: Don't wait for the surgeon to tell you this. As soon as your operation is planned, ask about presurgery medications. Get this in writing as well.

  • Fasting. Many types of surgeries require that you fast or go on a liquid-only diet the day prior to the procedure. Among other reasons, fasting is necessary to prevent the patient from vomiting and possibly choking. You also may need to take a laxative to empty your bowels before the operation.

Self-defense: When surgery is scheduled, ask your surgeon for a written schedule of when you should stop eating solid foods...when you should take a laxative (if necessary). ..and when you must stop ingesting anything, including liquids.

  • Medical tests. Presurgical tests may be required a few days before the operation to rule out any reasons to delay, alter or cancel the surgery. However, often, those same tests were performed only a week or two earlier to diagnose your condition.

Self-defense: Ask the surgeon or his staff to check whether you need to repeat a recently performed test. You have enough to do prior to surgery without going for unnecessary tests.

  • Conflicting instructions. Your surgeon may tell you that it's okay to take a certain drug prior to surgery while one of your other doctors says to stop it.

Self-defense: When your surgeon gives you instructions that differ from what one of your other doctors has told you, ask that the doctors speak with each other and give you their joint recommendation.

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