People who snore are often the brunt of jokes, but this serious condition is no laughing matter. Chronic snoring is a real problem that can cause relationship tension, drowsiness and fatigue, and lead to lapses in memory and concentration. Often, it’s an indication of a serious health disorder such as sleep apnea.
If you are a snorer, you’re not alone. Forty-five percent of adults snore occasionally, while twenty-five percent are considered habitual snorers. Snoring can affect people of all ages regardless of sex, though it is more frequent in men and those who are overweight.
Snoring occurs when tissues in the throat vibrate as air is breathed. During sleep, these tissues may become more relaxed, causing air passages to become obstructed. Causes of snoring include:
- Nasal anatomy (deviated septum or polyps)
- Mouth and throat anatomy (enlarged tonsils, adenoids, soft palate or uvula)
- Alcohol consumption
- Excess weight
If you snore occasionally, try the following behavior changes to help treat the problem:
- Improve your eating habits and increase exercise to lose weight
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sleeping pills and eating prior to bedtime
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Avoid sleeping on your back
- Keep bedroom air moist
- Elevate your head with pillows
Snoring may be a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious condition in which throat tissue obstructs the airway to the extent that breathing can stop. Oxygen levels drop, signaling the snorer to wake up, and the airway is forced open with a loud snort or gasp. This occurs repeatedly throughout the night, sometimes hundreds of times, putting strain on the heart and resulting in poor quality of sleep. Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous disorder that can lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, inform your doctor, who may recommend a visit to a sleep specialist and/or a sleep study. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which involves a mask attached to a machine that delivers bursts of air pressure through the upper airway to prevent tissues from collapsing and blocking the air passageway.
There are a number of surgical procedures that may help with snoring. Some are minimally invasive and can be performed in your doctor’s office, while others require more traditional surgeries. Talk to your otolaryngologist about treatment options; you will be rewarded with a good night’s sleep.
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