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Dear Dr. Roach: I am a man in my late 50s. I now am told to sleep on my right side and not my left side, because it’s better for the heart. However, my sinuses seem to open up and it’s easier to breathe lying on my left side. What, if anything, will happen if I sleep on my left side? Can it damage the heart permanently or lead to an early death?

M.N.

Dear M.N.: Most people can sleep in whatever position they find comfortable without any problem. However, there are a few instances in which sleeping on the left side may potentially cause problems. One is in people with untreated obstructive sleep apnea, in which several studies have shown that sleeping on the left side leads to slightly more breathing problems than sleeping on the right. However, in people who are treated, that should not be a problem.

Pregnant women should sleep on the side. Although women have often been recommended to sleep on their left side, either side is fine for the baby. Left-sided sleeping may reduce swelling in the feet.

People with known severe congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease and who habitually sleep on the left side have a small increase in death compared with back sleepers or right-side sleepers. However, my opinion is that the benefit is so small that comfort and quality of sleep is more important.

Dear Dr. Roach: Does sunlight make chickenpox blisters appear more quickly?

S.V.A.

Dear S.V.A.: I have heard that, too, but can’t find any evidence that it’s true. The rash of chickenpox certainly will come, even in darkness. Sunlight can worsen scarring from chickenpox, and the affected skin is more susceptible to burning, so those with chickenpox rash should be kept out of the sun. Chickenpox is also very contagious; restrict contact with anyone who hasn’t had it or the vaccine.

Dear Dr. Roach: A few years ago, Johns Hopkins produced an article stating that possibly being hard of hearing and doing nothing about it could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Is that study still valid?

S.S.

Dear S.S.: It’s been almost 30 years since a link between hearing loss and dementia was first published, and recent research has confirmed this link. It now seems clear that hearing loss increases the rate of decline in brain function by 30 to 40 percent, independent of other risk factors. Put another way, people with mild hearing loss had double the risk of dementia in 10 years; those with moderate hearing loss, triple the risk; those with severe hearing loss had five times the risk of dementia compared with people of normal hearing and the same age. The brains of people with hearing loss are more likely to atrophy as well. Of course, not everybody with hearing loss develops dementia.

There is some, but not conclusive, evidence hearing aids protect the brain from dementia in people with hearing loss. However, it is clear hearing aids can improve social functioning, well-being and some measures of memory.

Despite this evidence, many older people with hearing loss do not get it treated.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.

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