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For most people, trying to sleep in the same room as someone who is snoring is annoying – but could snoring be indicative of a bigger, more serious problem, such as sleep apnea?
Though snoring tends to affect overweight males more, it is actually a common problem among both males and females, affecting roughly 90 million American adults (37 million on a regular basis).
While you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax, your tongue falls backward, and your throat becomes narrow and “floppy.” As you breathe, the walls of the throat begin to vibrate – generally when you breathe in, but also, to a lesser extent, when you breathe out. These vibrations lead to the characteristic sound of snoring.
The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. Sometimes the walls of the throat collapse completely so that it is completely occluded, creating a condition called apnea (cessation of breathing). This is a serious condition that requires medical attention.
DID YOU KNOW?
People who snore make a vibrating, rattling, noisy sound while breathing during sleep. While snoring may not necessarily be a sign of sleep apnea, you should consult your doctor if you snore and have any of the following:
Whether or not you snore can be the result of several risk factors.
#1 – Aging
The normal aging process leads to the relaxation of the throat muscles, thus resulting in snoring.
#2 – Anatomical Abnormalities
Anatomical abnormalities of the nose and throat, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, or deviated nasal septum cause exaggerated narrowing of the throat during sleep and thus lead to snoring.
#3 – Functional Abnormalities
Functional abnormalities (e.g. inflammation of the nose and/or throat as may occur during respiratory infection or during allergy season) will result in snoring.
#4 – Sleep Position
Sleep position, such as sleeping on your back, may lead to snoring in some people.
#5 – Alcohol
Alcohol is a potent muscle relaxant, and consuming alcohol in the evening can cause snoring.
#6 – Muscle Relaxers
Muscle relaxants taken in the evening may lead to or worsen snoring in some individuals.
#7 – Obesity
One of the most important risk factors is obesity, and in particular having a lot of fatty tissue around the neck.
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.
What Your Doctor will Do for You
During your appointment, your doctor will take your history and perform a physical exam. Depending on the outcome, he or she will decide whether you require a consultation with a sleep specialist and/or a sleep test to determine if you have sleep apnea.
Depending on the results of the sleep study, you will be presented with a series of options to treat snoring. These will generally include:
#1 – Lifestyle Modification
#2 – Surgery
#4 – Appliances
#5 – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to daytime dysfunction and can put you at a higher risk for heart disease. If you think you may have sleep apnea or if you are experiencing issues with snoring, you should make an appointment with your doctor or a sleep specialist. He or she will be able to discuss possible treatment options.
Resources: National Sleep Foundation
About Imtiaz Khurshid, MD
Dr. Khurshid is a Pulmonologist & Sleep Medicine physician with WakeMed Physician Practices.
3000 New Bern Ave.
Raleigh, NC 27610