Why Snoring Shouldn't Be Ignored

People who snore believe that their partners are the ones most affected by their nightly symphonies. After all, they’re the ones kept awake while the culprit remains blissfully unaware. But snoring can be more than just an annoyance; it can be a symptom of serious health problems that are both dangerous and life threatening.

Of course, there are many reasons why people snore and not all of them are chronic or hazardous to your health. If you sleep alone, you may not even be aware that you’re “sawing logs” on a regular basis. Here’s how to know if you or a loved one is at risk for snoring-related health problems and what to do about it.

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Why We Snore Snoring can happen for a variety of reasons, but all are connected with the obstruction of the airway. Most often, muscles in the roof of the mouth, known as the soft palate, or the back of the throat, relax and partially block the flow of air.

This occurs when people sleep on their back instead of their side, after a few drinks before bed because alcohol relaxes muscles, or when they have nasal congestion due to allergies or a cold. In fact, about half of adults snore at least some of the time, and it’s usually not dangerous, because most of the time we still get enough air to function normally.

But other snoring triggers are harder to fix. For example, having an enlarged uvula (the ball of tissue hanging in the back of your mouth), a large tongue, or being overweight – especially for men, since they tend to gain weight around their necks. All these raise your risk for obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition in which the heart isn’t able to get enough oxygen to function properly.

Spotting Sleep Apnoea Symptoms Between 5 and 15 per cent of middle-aged adults probably suffer from sleep apnoea although it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Unfortunately studies show strong associations between sleep apnoea and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions.

For people with sleep apnoea, airway obstruction is so severe that breathing slows to a trickle. It may even stop for seconds at a time. These episodes are called apnoeas, at which point the brain sends alert signals to the body, forcing a gasp, a gag or an extra powerful snore. A lot of people think sleep apnoea will cause them to suffocate, but the risk is the long-term damage that this can do.

Fluctuating oxygen levels throughout the night causes stress and damage to cells within your body when the body and brain are ideally supposed to be resting and recovering. It becomes much more of a cardiovascular problem than a respiratory one, and people with untreated sleep apnoea tend to develop these conditions years before they normally would.

When to Take Snoring Seriously So how do you know whether you have run-of-the-mill snoring or a more serious problem? If someone hears you sleep on a regular basis and notices that you periodically stop breathing for several seconds at a time, that’s a red flag. So is the volume of your snoring. If you can hear it clearly through a closed door, it’s a good sign that your body is probably working too hard to get sufficient oxygen.

If you don’t have a live-in partner or roommate to help you observe these things, you can still watch out for certain daytime symptoms. Because the condition doesn’t allow people to get the deep sleep they need, about two thirds of people with sleep apnoea experience excessive daytime sleepiness. If you can stop whatever you doing, just about any place and any time of day, and sit down and immediately fall asleep, that’s a problem.

Waking up feeling exhausted is also a sign, especially if that feeling doesn’t go away within 10 to 15 minutes of getting out of bed. People with untreated sleep apnoea may also have trouble getting high blood pressure under control, even with the help of medication.

How To Treat Sleep Apnoea The good news is that sleep apnoea is very treatable and easily diagnosed through observing these symptoms, or by being referred by your doctor to a sleep clinic.

Almost all cases can be treated by using an oral appliance at night. This is a mouthpiece that keeps your airway open by slightly repositioning your jaw. This will deal with most problems, but if left untreated and it becomes chronic, you’ll need a special device called a continuous positive-air pressure, or CPAP, which pumps air through a tube and a mask, into a patient’s nose and mouth while they sleep.

Be wise. Treat it early. Using a mouthpiece can avoid severe health problems later.

John Redfern