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Thumb-Sucking and Nail-Biting May Decrease Allergy Risk

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Very little in life is either all good or all bad. The same genes that help protect us from some ailments might make us susceptible to others. Shouting obscenities can alleviate pain. And researchers, who published their findings in the journal Pediatrics, say frowned-upon behaviors like thumb-sucking and nail-biting might actually reduce kids’ risks of developing allergies later in life.

The idea that putting your germ-covered hands in your mouth might be beneficial will come as no surprise to those familiar with the hygiene hypothesis. The theory is that, in this age of hand sanitizer and antibiotics, the absence of germs and other immune-triggering substances in the environment weakens our immune systems and makes them more sensitive. In turn, that sensitivity may be responsible for the modern increase in allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Earlier studies have shown that exposing small children to small amounts of immune triggers from pet dander to germy pacifiers can protect them later in life. It’s been suggested that even booger-eating could pay off in the long run. ("I've got two beautiful daughters and they spend an amazing amount of time with their fingers up their nose," University of Saskatchewan biologist Scott Napper told the CBC in 2013, when he floated the idea of a study about the subject to his students. "And without fail, it goes right into their mouth afterwards. Could they just be fulfilling what we're truly meant to do?”) So imagining a silver lining for other scold-worthy habits was kind of a logical next step.

To find their nail-biters and thumb-suckers, researchers tapped into the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which followed more than 1000 residents of Dunedin, New Zealand, from birth to age 38. When the study subjects were 5, 7, 9, and 11 years old, scientists asked their parents about the kids’ thumb-sucking and nail-biting behaviors. When they were 13, the scientists gave them their first skin-prick test, monitoring the kids’ immune responses to tiny doses of 11 different allergens (not including foods or hay fever triggers). At 32, the participants were tested again.

Those pesky habits were unsurprisingly common. From ages 5 to 11, 31 percent (317 kids) regularly sucked their thumbs or bit their nails. Allergies were pretty common, too; at 13, around 45 percent of all the kids displayed some sort of allergic response to the scratch tests. But that number represents an average of all the kids, regardless of behaviors or habits. Splitting the group tells a different story. Kids that didn’t engage in thumb-sucking or nail-biting had a 49 percent chance of developing allergies. Kids that sucked their thumbs or bit their nails had a 40 percent risk. But kids that did both had the lowest allergy risk of all, at 31 percent—an 18 percent reduction.

The patterns held strong into adulthood, even when the researchers controlled for household exposure to smoke, pets, dust mites, and other triggers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should all follow their example. Both thumb-sucking and nail-biting can lead to dental problems and skin infections, after all. Malcolm Sears of McMaster University assisted with the study. "While we don't recommend that these habits should be encouraged, there does appear to be a positive side to these habits," he said in a press statement.

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Interactive Chart Tells You How Long It Takes to Get Frostbite
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For many people, winter means dry skin and high heating bills. But if you find yourself outdoors in the right conditions, it can also mean frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the skin and the tissue beneath it freezes, causing pain, loss of sensation, or worse. It's easier to contract than you may think, even if you don't live in the Siberian tundra. To see if frostbite poses a threat where you live, check out this chart spotted by Digg.

The chart, developed by Pooja Gandhi and Adam Crahen using National Weather Service data, looks at three factors: wind speed, air temperature, and time spent outdoors. You can hover your cursor over data-points on the table to see how long you'd need to be exposed to certain wind chills for your skin tissue to freeze. If the wind chill is -22°F, for example (10°F air temperature with 5 mph winds), it would take 31 minutes of being outside before frostbite sets in. You can also look at the time scale above the chart to calculate it a different way. If you bring your cursor to the 40-minute mark, a window will tell that frostbite becomes a risk after exposure to -17°F wind chill for that amount of time. You can play with the interactive table at Tableau Public.

Chart of cold weather conditions.
Adam Crahen, Pooja Gandhi

If you can't avoid being outside in extreme wind and cold, there are a few steps you can take to keep your skin protected. Wear lots of layers, including multiple socks, and wrap your face with a scarf or face mask before venturing into the cold. Also, remember to stay hydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, drinking at least one glass of water before going outside decreases your risk of contracting frostbite.

[h/t Digg]

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Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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REM-Fit

Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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