The sound of snoring brings unrest to many a household across America. Habitual snoring has been estimated to affect 24% of adult women and 40% of adult men. ANY noise heard during breathing while a person is sleeping is indicative of a sleep disordered breathing problem. Snoring is heard when the soft tissues of the upper airway partially collapse against the back of the throat during sleep. These tissues vibrate against each other and result in the sound of snoring. Dry mouth and sore throat are also common for these individuals when they wake up in the morning.
The more narrow the airway space, the louder the snoring becomes. This can be caused by an enlarged tongue, tonsils, or excess weight. Those individuals who struggle with obesity have a greater amount of fatty tissue around the throat, and thus even more compression on the airway.
Of course snoring is usually the complaint of a spouse or bed partner, but it is also the cardinal symptom of sleep apnea. Approximately 50% of people who snore loudly suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition arises when the ENTIRE airway becomes blocked, causing a pause in breathing, and a decrease in oxygen flow to the lungs. This decreased oxygen level affects the blood as it reaches vital structures like the heart and brain, and thus increases risk of hypertension, stroke, heart attack, and diabetes. Individuals with OSA who snore loudly will often make snorting or gaspng sounds during sleep.
What can you do for snoring? There are several ways to help these individuals and their partners get a better night sleep. Some daily behavior changes can reduce the severity of snoring such as weight loss, and a decrease in evening alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and muscle relaxants. Sleeping on one’s side instead of on the back also has very positive effects. There are sleep positioners on the market to help with this approach. There are surgeries available to decrease the amount of soft tissue surrounding the upper airway. They have varying degrees of success and your doctor can review them with you. The most successful treatment thus far for snoring is oral appliance therapy or “snore guards.” 70% of patients AND their bed partner report significant improvements with use of a snore guard after 3 months.