A Question Of Health

Why do I sleep like a log after a tipple? Will a faulty gene affect my children?

Q. Occasionally I have a small glass of Campari and ice in the evening, and it appears to coincide with a very good night's sleep. I would be interested to hear why this should be the case.

A. I doubt if it's the ice that's helping you to sleep better, so it must be the Campari. Campari contains about 20 per cent alcohol. That's nearly twice as strong as wine, and about half as strong as spirits such as whisky. Research published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature claimed that nearly a third of adults who have difficulty sleeping use alcohol to help them sleep. The research showed that when insomniacs had a small amount of alcohol before they went to bed, their sleep pattern became more like the sleep pattern of people who do not suffer from insomnia. One worry is if you start to use Campari every night to help you sleep, it may become less effective. This may encourage you to drink more and more, or turn to something stronger.

LIVER WORRY

Q. My sister's baby son has been diagnosed with a condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. He was born healthy, but developed jaundice. The jaundice didn't clear, and he was transferred to a special liver unit, where the cause was discovered. Other members of the family have been advised to be tested for this condition, because it runs in families. I am hoping to start a family soon, but how great is the risk that my children will have the same thing?

A. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (ATD) is a genetic disease that affects people who carry two copies of a faulty gene. People who have the disease inherit one copy of the gene from each of their parents. The parents themselves, however, are likely to be completely healthy, because they have only one copy of the faulty gene. The gene that causes ATD is normally responsible for producing a substance that keeps the lungs and liver healthy. If the gene is not working properly, the lungs and liver can become damaged. In children, the damage affects the liver. In adults, the damage can also affect the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. Although quite a few people (one in 3,000) carry two copies of the faulty ATD gene, most of them remain healthy throughout their lives. We do not know why some people who carry the faulty genes become ill, while others remain healthy. If your sister's child has ATD, there is a 50:50 chance that you could carry one copy of the faulty gene. This won't matter to your future children, unless your partner also carries a faulty copy of the gene. The simplest way to find out about the risks to your future children is to have a test to see if you carry the ATD gene. You can find out more about ATD from the website of the American Alpha-1 Foundation: www.alpha1.org.

CRUSTY EYES

Q. Some mornings, my eyelashes are covered in crusty "sleep", which I find difficult to remove. As a child, I often could not open my eyes first thing, and my mother bathed them with "boracic acid" in warm water. When I asked a pharmacist for this, he recommended eye drops. Is there anything I can use to unstick my eyes?

A. Solutions made from boric acid (sometimes called boracic acid) were a traditional way of dissolving crusty sleep from eye lashes. But they became unavailable when it was discovered that they were dangerous poisons. You probably develop crusty eyes because your tears don't drain away sufficiently fast when you are asleep. I would suggest using warm water on cotton wool to bathe your eyes in the morning. Be careful with eye make-up, which may be clogging up your tear ducts.

Send questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier cannot respond personally.

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