self healingMusic gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ~ Plato, ~400 BCE

Every sound in our environment affects our minds and bodies.

Consider a warm evening with crickets chirping outside your open windows and distant passersby murmur quietly. You’re well on your way to sleep, when a car’s brakes screech, followed by a discordant crash and angry shouts. The tranquility you were experiencing is gone, affected by sounds in the environment.

Music has a profoundly positive effect on the mind and body. Music helps us to concentrate, wakes us up or helps us to sleep, excites or calms us. And people used it for social bonding—in religion or love, or for mind-altering experiences such as war dances, since before time began. Anyone who has rocked out at a concert or flipped on the radio to your favorite music station knows that we are still using and enjoying music today.

Scientists have recently identified the ways that music changes the state of the body. The levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and the endorphins rise; the pupils dilate, antibodies increase (with their protective role in the immune system). In the brain, music activates the amygdala (involved in processing emotion) and prefrontal cortex (involved in decision-making).

These chemical changes explain why music is so appealing. With an increase in the brain chemical dopamine, anxiety decreases and depression lifts. Research has found that music is as effective as medication in decreasing presurgical anxiety. Even sick premature babies respond well to the playing of music. People listening to music at the gym showed improvements of 15% in their endurance and workouts, and coronary disease patients boosted cognitive and verbal skills while exercising.

So, the pleasure of listening to music is an important part of a balanced wellness program. What kind of music is best? Whatever you like! Pick your favorite music, make a playlist, and “medicate yourself with music.”

Jean has been working at Howard County Library System’s Central Branch for nearly nine years. She walks in the Benjamin Banneker Park whenever she gets a chance.

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calendar_2014smWednesday, July 30 and Thursday, July 31, 6-9 p.m. Living with Diabetes: Executive Summary. A condensed version of Living with Diabetes offered in the evening. Most insurance plans cover all or part of this program. To register, call 443-718-3000. Bolduc Family Outpatient Center at HCGH, 5755 Cedar Lane, Columbia.

Friday, Aug. 1 and Tuesday, Aug. 5, 8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Living with Diabetes. Learn from an endocrinologist, podiatrist, psychologist, diabetes nurse educator and dietitian. Most insurance plans cover all or part of this program. To register, call 443-718-3000. Bolduc Family Outpatient Center at HCGH, 5755 Cedar Lane, Columbia.


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Six clues to observe in your child if he takes in too much water

secondary drowning photo

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. One second your toddler is happily swimming in the backyard or neighborhood swimming pool. You look away for a few seconds and, when you turn back to the pool, he is struggling under water and then gasping at the surface for air. You get him out of the water immediately and, after a few minutes, hours or even up to two days, he seems no worse for his frightening experience. But suddenly he starts to have strange symptoms that require an emergency hospital visit.

A swimmer may inhale a lot of water or take in a rush of water after jumping off a high surface or coming off a water slide. A toddler can slip into water that is over his head. It only takes a few seconds in the water – just enough time for the water to get past the vocal chords before the body can react.

The majority of children, or anyone for that matter, who suffer the effects of secondary drowning, will survive. But a small percentage could have permanent brain damage and others may even die.

It is a rare condition – the syndrome occurs in less than one to two percent of near-drowning victims–but its onset is usually rapid and is characterized by a period of one to 24 hours of respiratory well-being. The swimmer seems fine at first, but water left in the lungs begins to cause swelling and diminished oxygen exchange to and from the blood. As the blood oxygen level drops, oxygen flow to the brain and other vital organs is reduced. Inhaling pool water can cause an additional condition called chemical pneumonitis, inflammation of the lungs due to harmful chemicals. An interesting observation is that children who develop secondary drowning syndrome after immersion in fresh water have a higher rate of survival than those who take salt water into their lungs.

Common symptoms of secondary drowning are persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, lethargy, fever and unusual mood change. These signs can be difficult to spot in young children who are normally tired and fussy after a day a long day in the water. If symptoms are diagnosed early on, a physician can administer oxygen and remove fluid from the lungs. If not treated, the syndrome can progress to pulmonary edema (swelling) with a frothy pink discharge from the nose and mouth; partial or complete lack of oxygen supply to the brain, which can cause serious cognitive, physical and psychological impairment; respiratory and cardiac arrest; and death.

It sounds very scary, but none of this means parents should needlessly worry or forego the joys of family summer vacations at the beach or long days at the swimming pool. Just remember that vigilant monitoring of children when near the water is extremely important and water safety is the best prevention. If your child does have a near drowning experience, you should observe him or her in the following days and know what to look for. If you see any signs of secondary drowning, immediately take your child to an emergency department. Time is a critical factor in treatment – it could save your child’s life.

Dr. David J. Monroe is the director of the Children’s Care Center at Howard County General Hospital.

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© Innovatedcaptures | Dreamstime.com

© Innovatedcaptures | Dreamstime.com

If your sleep partner thrashes around and frequently kicks you during the night, don’t assume he or she is angry at you. And the friend who can never sit still for more than a few minutes may not just have “ants in her pants.” They may have a neurological disorder called restless legs syndrome (RLS), also referred to as Willis-Ekbom Disease named after the doctor who first described this condition more than 300 years ago. While anyone, even children, can develop RLS, it is more common among women. According to The Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome, five percent of the general population and as many as 10 percent of those over 65 years old suffer with this condition.

RLS Symptoms The hallmark of this condition is an abnormal creeping sensation in the legs that causes an uncontrollable urge to move them. People with RLS can barely sit through a movie or quietly read a book without having to get up and move, and it makes sleeping almost impossible. Rest brings on symptoms, which usually peak at night, and activity relieves them. These sensations may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle in one or both legs and sometimes in the arms, but rarely in the feet. Some people’s legs jump on their own, and there may be semi-involuntary movements of the legs. Many with RLS will have rhythmic or semi-rhythmic movements of their legs while they are asleep.

RLS Causes?

  • Iron deficiency – There is a strong relationship between iron deficiency and RLS and even people with normal blood iron levels may have iron deficiency in the tissues that can cause symptoms.
  • It’s in the genes – There is considerable evidence that there is a genetic component to RLS and, while genetic variations do not always cause RLS, they can increase your risk of developing it. We also know that there is a connection between several genes and iron regulation, which supports the idea that iron levels and genes may trigger the onset of RLS.
  • RLS is also associated with pregnancy, kidney dialysis and increased age.

Treatments We like to start with treatments that don’t require medication, such as hot baths, massaging the legs, applying hot or cold packs, moderate physical activity, and restricting caffeine and alcohol. These remedies may bring some level of relief, but for most, they will not bring a good night’s sleep. Certain medications, such as antihistamines, can actually make the condition worse, but others have proven to be very helpful in reducing symptoms. So if you or your sleep mate can’t lie still at night and it’s keeping one or both of you awake, it may be time to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment. For information or to schedule an appointment, call 800-WESLEEP (800-937-5337) or visit hcgh.org/sleep.

Rachel Salas, M.D., is a neurologist and assistant medical director of The Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at HCGH and director of its home sleep testing services.


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You or your sleep partner anticipates when it will begin every night. That dreaded sound of a buzz saw with intermittent gasping and choking sounds that can wake you up and keep you awake for too much of the night. Snoring is the subject of cartoons and sitcoms, but in real life, it isn’t very funny.

What is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? Just about everyone has, at some time, experienced snoring, but chronic loud snoring accompanied by the actual cessation of breath that lasts for ten seconds or more is the most common symptom of a sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or sleep disordered breathing. The back of the airway is obstructed by the tongue and the back of the throat collapses so that air can’t come through to the lungs. People with OSA may even have trouble breathing during daytime napping. This causes retention of carbon dioxide and a drop in blood oxygen levels that can lead to headaches, daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression and nighttime urination. Anyone can develop OSA, but men are more prone, perhaps because they have bigger and more muscular necks; and women sometimes go undiagnosed because they display different symptoms, including depression. In children, sleep apnea is usually associated with enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. A large tongue, excess tissue in the upper airway, blocked nasal passages or the structure of the jaw and airway are other risk factors, as is being overweight. As the waistline of the American public has expanded over the years, so has the number of people with sleep apnea.

What are the consequences?
Without treatment, sleep apnea can have many unfortunate consequences, including stroke, diabetes and cardiac problems. OSA can also aggravate other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, acid reflux and insomnia. If you have existing high risk for any of these conditions, OSA can move you faster toward developing the disease; and because oxygen levels sometimes go down very low during sleep, people can die from sleep apnea.

What is a sleep study?
We always want to get the patient’s history, but with symptoms of OSA, an overnight sleep study is required to make a conclusive diagnosis. This study, also called a polysomnogram, can be done either at the hospital in a sleep lab or using portable monitoring equipment at home. The purpose is to evaluate how a patient breathes during sleep. A trained technician will connect wires to the patient’s head, chest and legs in order to monitor the oxygen level, breathing pattern and sleep pattern throughout the night.

How do we treat OSA?
Adequate treatment of sleep apnea can improve both symptoms of OSA and its associated medical conditions. For mild apnea, sometimes a pillow or sleeping on one’s side can help alleviate the symptoms and there are dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and keep the tongue forward to open the airway. But for more severe cases of OSA, CPAP (continual positive airway pressure) machine therapy is the gold standard. A machine is worn during sleep to push air through the throat and keep it open during the night. For overweight patients, weight loss and sometimes surgery, such as removal of tonsils and adenoids is recommended. Tobacco, sleeping pills and alcohol can exacerbate apnea, so avoiding these substances may help. Remember – snoring is not just annoying. It can be a warning sign that you have a sleep disorder that may have serious health consequences and a “wake up” call that you need to improve your sleep!

Francis Chuidian, M.D., is a pulmonary, critical care physician with the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at HCGH. For more information about the center, visit hcgh.org/sleep.

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1024px-BlackberrySorry for those of you who thought I was talking about the hand-held, email-pager thingy. As far as I know, there are no known health benefits to those devices. No, I’m talking about the good, old fruit. There have already been some great Well & Wise pieces extolling the virtues of berries, but I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the blackberry in particular because: 1. its season is almost over (yikes!); and 2. it holds a special place in my heart.

You see, I grew up in a pretty suburban neighborhood that was on the border of a pretty urban neighborhood. We had our fair share of backyard “fauna” as far as squirrels and bunnies and birds go. And there was plenty of lovely (though yard friendly) flora too. But the only edible plant that ever grew in our yard (other than dandelions) was one scraggly blackberry vine or bush. (Was it a vine or bush? To the Internet!) We had one blackberry cane or bramble that would faithfully produce a handful of delicious blackberries every summer. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was huge to me as I grew up in a time where microwaves, instant meals, and fast foods were “innovations.” So, in retrospect, this sad little bush/bramble/whatever (I think I’ll stick with “bramble” as it sounds more fairytale-ish) may have helped keep me alive.

I might be exaggerating a little, but blackberries are insanely good for you. Check out this Huffington Post blackberry morsel. And, in a book already highlighted by our own Farmers’ Market Chef, blackberries are named as one of the 50 Best Plants on the Planet! Cathy Thomas’s book also illustrates how they can be among the 50 tastiest too with recipes such as blackberry gratin, cherries poached in red wine with blackberries and mint, and breakfast quinoa with blackberries. I plan to try all three recipes.

But, back to my childhood memories: if this scrappy little bramble of goodness can spring up and survive in my childhood home, then it has a pretty good shot of being a hardy grower for others. In fact, it is featured in Vertical Vegetables & Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart, so anyone might be able to capture a little bit of home-grown health. My kids and I are growing blueberries and strawberries in pots this summer; we might have to add a blackberry bramble to our little vegetal menagerie (if not for culinary and health reasons, then for sentimental reasons).

Joanne Sobieck-Lingg is glad to blog about her many, disparate interests (though expert in none, except maybe parenthetical asides). In past lives, she was a writer, proofreader, editor, project manager, teacher, and even co-coordinator of a certain health blog. She has been happily ensconced among the fiction and teen books at the Central Branch of HCLS since 2003.

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