Your Good Health: Alcoholic husband’s odour unbearable

dr_keith_roach_with_bkg.jpgDear Dr. Roach: My husband has been an alcoholic for 30 years. I have recently started to sleep in our living room due to his smell. He is furious! I have not slept well for so long — I know it has affected my health. He doesn’t want me sick, but he is making me sick. Please stress in your column how important sleep is — for everybody!

S.D.

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There’s a lot more wrong here than just sleep.

Excess alcohol use has a dramatic negative effect on relationships, especially between the person with an alcohol problem and their spouse. It often affects children and friends as well. Work life is often affected very late in the course of alcohol abuse.

A strong odour is common in people who drink. The alcohol itself has an odour most people can discern, but byproducts of alcohol metabolism can be noticed in the breath, all over the skin through sweat glands and in the urine. It lasts for hours, many hours if a person has been drinking enough, and nothing can fully disguise it.

You asked about sleep, and alcohol affects the drinker’s quality of sleep. “Falling asleep” does not automatically follow on the heels of “passing out.” And, of course, there is the effect on the bed partner. Poor sleep is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke as well as mental-health issues. Volunteers who undergo sleep deprivation will often develop muscle aches identical to people with fibromyalgia.

You say your husband is furious: Is he upset enough to change his behaviour?

Sometimes, a powerful message, like your action of leaving the bed, can get a drinker to reassess. There is a great deal of help available for him if he is willing to accept it. His doctor or a mental health professional can guide him.

In addition, you should consider getting some help and support, either through a mental health professional or through an organization such as Al-Anon, a support group for people whose lives are affected by a loved one’s drinking.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am 70, living in the U.S. for the past 40 years and relatively in good health. I was born and grew up in India. Almost 55 years ago I had jaundice (yellow eyes). It was not uncommon to have jaundice there at a young age. Over 20 years ago, I went to a blood donation centre in California to donate my blood. They tested my blood sample and told me that I was not qualified to donate because I had antibodies that showed that I’d had jaundice in the past. What problems will the recipient of my blood have?

A.R.

While I can’t be 100% sure, it’s most likely that you had hepatitis B back when you were 15 or so. Hepatitis B was (and is) very common in India, and can be spread through sex or sharing anything that can carry blood, including toothbrushes and razors. No one who has ever had hepatitis B can donate blood.

What is important for you to do now is to find out whether there is any evidence of ongoing hepatitis.

Any internist or gastroenterologist can look in your blood now to determine whether you have had hepatitis A, B or C.

Hepatitis B and C have chronic forms of active hepatitis, and these should be treated if you have them.

You need not worry about the recipient. Your blood would not have been given.

Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers can email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu

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