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Advice on preventing hospital infections, snoring remedies

Monday, June 17, 2013 - 12:01 am

Q: My husband will be in the hospital for knee replacement surgery, and I'm worried about hospital-borne infections. Any good news on this front? — Sarah F., Newport, R.I.

A: Yes, a tremendous amount. Progress is being made by hospitals to prevent infections from all causes, and specifically from superbugs. You can always ask about a hospital's infection rate, both overall and within each department. You also can ask about the technology used to avoid infections. Here's what's new and tried-and-true:

•There's ever-improving older technology. UltraViolet (UV) germicidal technology continues to be upgraded and is used for sterilizing operating rooms, air ducts, hospital equipment, hallways and patient rooms. And steam/vacuum sterilization (by autoclaving for instruments) and the use of germicides are effective.

•New stuff includes robotlike devices that can clean a room by dispersing hydrogen peroxide into the air and then detoxifying it. Some hospitals say this can reduce a patient's chances of becoming infected with drug-resistant bacterial strains of vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and C. difficile by 80 percent.

•Lastly there's what we call the “all-hands-on-deck” approach, combining the latest technological solutions with standard cleaning.

Dr. Mike's Cleveland Clinic has been a leader in achieving hand hygiene — the single most effective front-line defense against infection in hospitals. The national average for hand-hygiene compliance in hospitals is less than 50 percent. An extensive education campaign and the addition of hand-hygiene monitors improved the compliance rate at the Cleveland Clinic to greater than 98 percent.

•And that brings us to what you and your husband can do to help protect him while he's in the hospital. Insist that everyone wash his or her hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before entering the room — and then before each time there's personal contact. It doesn't help to wash hands, pick up dirty dishes or linens and then touch the patient — gotta wash even between touching your handbag (it is the dirtiest place next to the TV remote and your cellphone) and the patient!

Q: My husband snores — not all the time, but enough to mess up my sleep. Can anything be done? — K. Jacobsen, Kansas City, Mo.

A: This unwanted nighttime symphony, which can actually reach locomotive decibels, plagues more than 90 million North Americans and their bedmates, at least occasionally. And while it can interfere with sleep (for both the snorer and those in earshot), cause morning headaches and swollen throats, or be a symptom of nasal congestion, allergies, excess drinking, overwork or obesity, it hasn't been thought of as a serious medical problem until recently.

Simple snoring may trigger a thickening of the lining of carotid arteries (they bring blood and oxygen to the brain), which can lead to stroke and dementia. Seems the constant trauma of vibrating tissue in the neck triggers inflammation of those arteries, which can lead to plaque buildup. (Postmenopausal women who snore regularly are twice as likely to develop heart disease as non-snorers.)

So these days, we say it's smart to get treatment for snoring, the way you would for sleep apnea (a repeated stoppage of breathing while asleep, with or without snoring), high blood pressure, angina or any other risk factor for heart disease. Snorers are more likely to be overweight, have diabetes, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, smoke cigarettes and use alcohol.

So have your husband identify his health issues and take steps to remedy them. It may take medication (for high blood pressure or diabetes, for example), but throwing out the Five Food Felons (all saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sugar syrups, and any grain that isn't 100 percent whole), starting a walking program that builds up to 10,000 steps a day, losing weight (your neck and throat are the first places to lose fat, and that decreases snoring), stopping smoking and cutting down on or eliminating alcohol can all but guarantee you both a peaceful and restorative night's sleep.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.