Q: I'm ready for a new car, but someone just told me that “new-car smell” is actually toxic. Is that true? Should I get a used car? — Donald F., LaGrange, Ill.
A: That was a fairly big problem in the not-so-distant past, but car manufacturers today are taking steps to make sure your new car is as clean on the inside as it is outside. Here's the health story.
In 2006, consumer watchdog groups started testing the air inside new cars. It turned out that off-gassing (evaporation of volatile chemicals) from flame retardants, adhesives, sealers, chemical softeners, lubricants, paints, carpeting and interior leather and vinyl treatments is what made up that new car smell! They found traces of 275 different chemicals linked to thyroid hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, lung problems and a long list of other health concerns.
Since then, manufacturers have changed some of the chemicals they use in the interiors, but nothing's ever perfect. So, here are a few things you can do to play it safe.
•Look for new cars that boast voluntary certification standards for indoor air quality. Some have testing programs within their company, and others are looking to establish third-party evaluations.
•Roll down the windows when you roll out of the lot. Even if it's cold outside, do it anyway.
•If it is summertime, open the windows and let the car sit in the sun; chemicals release more toxins in the heat. Then take it for a spin with windows down and give the interior a nice cleaning with soap and water.
•At other times (for the first six months), make sure you turn on climate controls to filter interior air.
•After six months, everything should be pretty well cleared out, even if you haven't taken any of the previous precautions.
Q: I've put on some weight lately and developed sleep apnea. It's freaking me and my wife out. What I should do about it? — Felix P., Asbury Park, N.J.
A: You're right to be concerned, but there's good news. Early intervention is effective and can help you dodge health hazards that obstructive sleep apnea can cause. But first let's look at what exactly it is.
OSA is characterized by repeated pauses in breathing for seconds or minutes, when your throat muscles and/or tongue block your windpipe. This can cause low blood oxygen levels, increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as all the health problems that go along with disturbed sleep. It's long been associated with smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obesity and people who already have Type 2 diabetes.
Now we know that it can be triggered by even a little weight gain, and one of the first places you gain or lose fat (weight) are in your neck and throat. We suggest that you work with your doctor or a nutritionist ASAP to lose 5 percent of your body weight — that's been shown to help relieve OSA in more than 30 percent of people, and actually cure others. You also should adjust your sleep position: Elevating your head or getting a firmer pillow can help sometimes, as can sleeping on your side instead of your back.
You may be a candidate for an oral appliance, fitted by a dentist experienced in treating sleep apnea. It's a mouthguard that repositions the lower jaw, tongue and uvula (that little flap hanging down from the back of your throat). Daily singing for 20 minutes also helps, by strengthening your throat muscles.
If you end up with a severe case, the standard treatment is continuous positive airway pressure: It delivers a steady stream of air pressure to keep your airway open all night. So call your doc, get started on figuring out how to lose that 5 percent pronto. Then ... sweet dreams for you and your wife!