The basics of snoring

Snoring is a common condition that can affect anyone, although it occurs more frequently in men and people who are overweight. Snoring has a tendency to worsen with age. Occasional snoring is usually not very serious and is mostly a nuisance for your bed partner. However, if you are a habitual snorer, you not only disrupt the sleep patterns of those close to you, but you also impair your own sleep quality. Medical assistance is often needed for habitual snorers to get a good night's sleep.

What Causes Snoring?

Snoring occurs when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is physically obstructed. Air flow can be obstructed by a combination of factors, including:

  • Obstructed nasal airways: Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum (a structural change in the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps can also cause obstruction.

  • Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue: Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the airway. This can result from deep sleep, alcohol consumption, and use of some sleeping pills. Normal aging causes further relaxation of these muscles.

  • Bulky throat tissue: Being overweight can cause bulky throat tissue. Also, children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore.

  • Long soft palate and/or uvula: A long soft palate or a long uvula (the dangling tissue in back of the mouth) can narrow the opening from the nose to the throat. When these structures vibrate and bump against one another the airway becomes obstructed, causing snoring.

Health Risks associated with Snoring

Habitual snorers can be at risk for serious health problems, including obstructive sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea creates several problems, including:

  • Frequent waking from sleep, even though you may not realize it.

  • Light sleeping. Waking up so many times a night interferes with the normal pattern of sleep causing, more time to be spent in light sleep than in more restorative, deeper sleep.

  • Strain on the heart. Prolonged suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea often results in higher blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.

  • Poor night's sleep. This leads to drowsiness during the day and can interfere with your quality of life and increase risk for car accidents.

Coping with snoring

People who suffer mild or occasional snoring, who wake up feeling refreshed, and function well during the day may first try the following behavioural remedies, before consulting their doctor:

  • Lose weight.
  • Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol for at least four hours and heavy meals or snacks for three hours before retiring.
  • Establish regular sleeping patterns.
  • Sleep on your side rather than your back.

Consult your doctor if you snore and have any of the following symptoms or signs:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Recent weight gain.
  • Awakening in the morning not feeling rested.
  • Awaking at night feeling confused.
  • Change in your level of attention, concentration, or memory.
  • Observed pauses in breathing during sleep.

Treatment

Snorers are generally unaware of their snoring, and must rely on the observations of their bed-partners. Some snorers may wake up at night choking and gasping for breath, but this occurs relatively infrequently. If you have been told that your snoring is disturbing to others, or you have some of the symptoms and signs listed above, consult your doctor. He or she will take your history, perform a physical exam and will determine whether you require a consultation with a sleep specialist and a sleep test to determine if you have sleep apnoea and to see how your snoring affects your sleep quality.

Depending on the results of the sleep study, you will be presented with a series of options to treat snoring. These will generally include:

  • Lifestyle modification such as avoidance of risk factors mentioned above, sleep position training if applicable and the treatment of allergies if applicable.

  • Surgery (generally on the back of the throat and roof of the mouth, or the nose if applicable, using a variety of instruments including scalpel, laser, or microwaves.

  • Appliances (mainly oral appliances constructed by a dentist experienced in treatment of snoring and sleep apnoea, but also other appliances such as nasal dilators).

  • CPAP (a continuous positive airway pressure appliance which blows room air into the back of the throat thus preventing it from collapse).

The latter method is the treatment of choice for sleep apnoea.



Source: WebMD Medical Reference  |  www.nlm.nih.gov  |  sleepfoundation.org

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