Snoring is breathing loudly with sounds similar to sawing logs, vibrating or rattling windows. It often occurs when you are sick or suffer from symptoms of allergy. Chronic snoring occurs nearly every night even when you’re healthy otherwise.
Loud snoring can hit 100 decibels, which can damage a person’s hearing if they are exposed to it for long enough.
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How bad is snoring for one’s health?
Most people are under the impression that snoring is not bad, just embarrassing and bothersome. The truth is that snoring can pose serious health threats as it’s often a symptom of an underlying health problem. Chronic snoring is associated with heart attacks, strokes, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disease.
When you snore regularly, it can cause daytime lethargy, reduce overall performance, and increase the chance of falling asleep at the wheel. People who chronically snore without sleep apnea are still likely to suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness.
How common is snoring?
Around 30 percent of women and 45 percent of men snore on a regular basis. While anybody is susceptible to snoring, there are physical attributes that can increase one’s chances of snoring.
If you sleep on your back, it causes the tongue to relax back into the upper airway, which raises the risk of snoring. You can get relief from snoring and its consequences by sleeping on your side.
Certain disabilities, such as the Down syndrome, will affect the development of the nasal passages, throat, and nose. This can increase one’s chance of snoring. In the Down syndrome the jaw is smaller, the throat is narrower, and the nasal passages are tiny, but the tonsils and tongues are bigger, which makes snoring more likely.
About 10 percent of young children snore. You may even hear newborns or babies snore because they have tiny nasal passages (they usually outgrow this). Bear in mind that snoring (like sleep apnea) can cause poor school performance and negative cognitive effects.
One in every three women will snore during pregnancy because of the increased pressure on the diaphragm, fluctuations in hormonal levels, swelling of the nasal passage, and increased body weight.
- The likelihood of snoring increases with age.
- If a person is overweight or obese, their chances of snoring will be higher.
- Snoring is more common in men than women.
Why does snoring happen?
Snoring is the result of a narrowing of the airway in the throat. Similarly to when you whistle, you push air through a narrowed airway formed by the lips forcefully, which causes the soft tissue to vibrate. There are several reasons why snoring can occur. For the most part it happens when you’re sleeping because the muscles and soft tissue of the airway relax, causing the air to have less room to pass through.
The primary risk factors for snoring include:
Sleepers on the back – are more likely to snore than those who sleep on their side. Sleeping on the back means that gravity causes the airway to naturally be less open.
Sedatives – similarly to alcohol, will relax the throat muscles near the airway.
Alcohol consumption – alcohol relaxes the throat muscles even more. Therefore drinking can worsen snoring. And the closer to bedtime you drink, the higher the chance of snoring.
Pregnancy – the tissue of the throat can swell during pregnancy, usually in the second and third trimester. This constriction restricts how freely the air moves and can result in snoring.
Swollen or large mouth – if your tongue, uvula, or soft palate are larger or your tonsils are swollen, they can constrict the airway and increase snoring.
Nasal deformity – similarly to nasal congestion, a deviated septum or other nasal deformity can increase the likelihood of snoring.
Nasal congestion – when you r nose is congested, it forces the lungs to work harder to push the air through the throat, which creates more vibrations and snoring.
Age – as people get older, the throat tissue and muscles relax and soften, which can increase the chances for snoring.
Excessive weight – people who are overweight or obese have more soft tissue in the back of the throat, which limits how much air can flow through. This excessive tissue can also increase the chances of sleep apnea, which can lead to chronic snoring.
As you review the list, having one or two risk factors isn’t a sure indicator that you will chronically snore. It does, however, mean that you run a higher risk of chronic snoring.
Do you suffer from sleep apnea or snoring?
Snoring and sleep apnea are not the same things, but the two terms are often used interchangeably. Central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are disorders that can lead to pauses in breathing while sleeping. During these pauses the blood oxygen levels are lower and carbon dioxide builds up.
Even if you snore, it does not mean that you have apnea or breathing interruptions while sleeping.
You should, however, see chronic snoring as a telltale sign of sleep apnea. Up to 75 percent of snorers have OSA. That being said, if you notice any symptom from the list below, seek help from a doctor to learn if you have OSA.
- Behavioral problems or poor academic performance (in children)
- Loud snoring that hinders your partner from sleeping well
- Chest pain at night
- High blood pressure
- Gasping/choking for air while sleeping
- Restless sleep
- Sore throat when waking up
- Morning headaches
- Inability to concentrate
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Breathing pauses in sleep.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be recognized by loud snoring that follows numerous periods of silence when the person stops or almost stops breathing. This pause in breathing causes the brain to wake up for just long enough to resume breathing (and snoring). This pattern can last all night and hinder one from getting a good rest and feeling on top of the world the next day.
The negative aspects of chronic snoring
Constant snoring is a problem, not just an annoyance. Besides your partner not getting the sleep they need, snoring tied to OSA can lead to other problems including but not limited to:
- higher chance of accidents in vehicles or at work.
- higher risk of behavioral issues – learning problems, aggression, etc.
- higher risk of heart conditions, high blood pressure, or stroke
- inability to concentrate
- more frustration or anger
- daytime sleepiness.
Possible treatments for snoring
If snoring is problematic for you and your partner, it’s important to seek help. Thankfully there are a plethora of treatments – some at home, others with the assistance of a doctor. The real challenge lies in getting the chronic snorer to face the fact that s/he has a problem and seek help.
Change your behavior and lifestyle
Behavioral therapies are considered a natural and inexpensive option to combat snoring. These therapies involve lifestyle changes such as:
- exercising to improve your neck muscle tone
- avoiding stimulants, antihistamines, or sedatives before going to bed
- avoiding alcohol several hours before bedtime
- sleeping on your side instead of the back
- getting slimmer (even a minor amount of weight loss can alleviate snoring problems).
If you have made changes to your behavior and still snore, you may need to invest in antisnoring products. They can range from pillows through nasal strips to nose vents. Which one will be right for you depends on what you are comfortable with.
Air purifier – if you suffer from allergies, you can buy a HEPA air purifier to decrease the allergen, dust mites, and other allergy particles in your home that might congest the nose.
Nose vents – are nasal dilators that can increase airflow through your nasal passages. They comprise silicone and are sold in an array of sizes.
Nasal decongestants – if you suffer from nasal congestion that also causes swelling and inflammation, you can buy an over-the-counter nasal decongestant to reduce them.
Nasal strips – some antisnoring therapies focus on the nasal airways and passages. Nasal strips are placed on the bridge of the nose to flatten the nose and increase airflow by opening the nostrils and nasal passages. The strips are an inexpensive drug-free way to stop pregnant women from snoring.
Antisnoring sleepwear – you can buy special sleepwear and clothing accessories that can help you sleep on your side. Some night clothing has a tennis ball sewn between the shoulder blades, which makes it uncomfortable to sleep on your back. Inflatable belts can also work the same way.
Antisnoring pillows – you can use regular pillows to tilt the body off the back, but antisnoring pillows are designed to handle this more effectively. They are designed to align the throat, neck, and jaw so that the airway stays open. There are also special pillows to help snorers maintain a sleeping position on the side.
The CPAP therapy
Continuous positive airway pressure or the CPAP therapy is designed to reduce snoring resulting from sleep apnea. The machine produces air pressure through the mask that the user places over the mouth and nose to create an air split in the throat while the user sleeps. The pressure helps to ensure that the airway won’t collapse and prevents snoring. CPAP masks can be found in an array of sizes.
You can also visit your dentist to get an oral appliance specially designed to fit in your mouth to ensure that the lower jaw and/or tongue are pushed forward while you sleep. This keeps the airway open and alleviates snoring. It is possible to get these devices without a dentist’s help, but they may not work as well.
There are some people who find these oral devices much more effective than CPAP machines. CPAP machines are well known for causing discomfort in wearers, which is why they are not worn often. An oral device that’s been specially designed for the wearer is much easier to use and portable. Most importantly, it’s discreet and doesn’t need to be lugged around everywhere you go.
An array of research shows that a combination of domperidone and pseudoephedrine will help in reducing apnea and snoring. If you recognize the name pseudoephedrine, it’s a common cold medicine that can alleviate nasal congestion. Domperidone works to reduce vomiting and nausea.
Should you have surgery for snoring?
Surgery should be viewed as the last resort. It’s only practical when other methods have failed or there’s an obvious anatomical issue. While surgery can help, it may not work as well as you hope. Some procedures may not totally eliminate snoring, and you may still need to make behavioral changes.
What are some surgeries that can be performed for your chronic snoring problem?
Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty – this surgery, which is often called UP3 or UPPP, will remove some soft tissue and the uvula that can collapse while sleeping and lead to snoring. If the surgeon only removes the uvula, the surgery is called uvuloplasty.
Somnoplasty – this surgery will remove the tissue in the throat. This procedure can be done in various ways, such as using heat or scarring agents that can cause the tissue to shrink.
Tonsillectomy – if a person has the tonsils and they are responsible for snoring, the surgeon will remove them. People who suffer from reoccurring infections that lead to swollen tonsils will end up having this surgery.
Septoplasty – for this surgery the doctor will address the nasal passages. It’s often used to fix a deviated septum or other tissue that obstructs the flow of air through the nose.
Bariatric surgery – while this surgery is used to address a person’s weight, it can also work for people who have obstructive sleep apnea (and are overweight/obese). This surgery, also called gastric bypass, will shrink the stomach and alter how the gastrointestinal system handles food.
Any surgery has advantages and disadvantages, which is why you need to really think about the idea. If your primary care doctor feels that you’re a good candidate for surgery, they will send you to an ENT doctor (otolaryngologist) for a consultation. This doctor will do the following:
- look at your medical history
- consider the surgery you’re asking for
- explain the complications
- explain the success rates
- tell you whether a hospital stay is necessary
- tell you about the recovery.
As with any surgery, it’s always good to seek a second opinion. Talk to another ENT specialist to get their take on the surgery.
Tips for sleeping with a snorer
If you snore, you may find that your partner is unhappy with the situation. While you may be able to sleep right through the snoring, your partner is often disrupted when trying to fall asleep or woken up by the loud noise. What can partners do?
The best thing partners can do is to be honest with their snoring partners. Of course, also be sensitive about the matter. Let them know how the snoring is affecting your sleep and wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for snorers to underestimate the gravity of the situation, which is why they may be quick to get defensive or feel criticized.
While there are things that can help a chronic snorer, there are also things the partner of a chronic snorer can do to help them get the much needed rest. If your partner has made lifestyle changes, used antisnore products, or even had surgery, you don’t have to suffer. Consider the following ideas to help you get your beauty rest:
Earplugs – they are very inexpensive devices that can block out the noise around you. The trick to using them is to find a pair that’s comfortable and will fit well enough to stay in your ears while you move in your sleep.
Relaxation exercises – it’s easy to get upset when you’re woken up by your partner’s loud snoring, but instead of getting mad and waking up you should focus on your breathing and meditate. The key is to relax and get back to sleep. Calm your mind and body down so that you can go (back) to sleep without worrying about your partner’s snoring.
White noise machines – are great at producing low-level background noise that will soften other sounds around you. If you don’t want to invest in one, you can always download a smartphone background noise app that will help you focus on the sounds instead of the snoring.