Recently, we have had patients who are on the verge of a legal separation due to the extent of their partner's snoring. Setting aside the mental anxiety, snoring is a telltale sign of some problems, and can be the cause for other serious health concerns.
Snoring is caused by the vibration of tissues/muscles of the nose and throat while air is flowing in and out during breathing. When we sleep, muscles in our body relax; the airway is no different. If, for some reason, there is a constriction of the upper portion, the free movement of air is obstructed and the resulting friction leads to snoring by the patient.
Many causes have been identified for this- people with weight issues tend to have bulky neck muscles, which, when relaxed, may cause narrowing of the air passage; individuals with shorter necks also face a similar problem.
Other reasons include having a thick soft palate; elongated uvula, bulky tongue, enlarged tonsils, etc. Consumption of alcohol, a congested nasal passage or deviated nasal septa can also have similar effects. Studies have shown that sleeping positions may also contribute to snoring and for children, enlarged adenoids is a probable cause.
Snoring is also often associated with a sleep disorder known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Not all snorers have OSA but sufferers usually do snore.
Sleep apnoea is a serious health issue, which has gained a lot of attention now-a-days. It is a problem where the patient repeatedly stops and starts breathing in their sleep. Sleep apnoea has been identified under three categories Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA; this is most prevalent); Central Sleep Apnoea (CSA), and (the third) mixed type. It is very important to recognise the problem and get treatment as soon as possible.
Loud snoring, repeated cessation of breathing (which in most cases is noticed by a partner), repeated night walking, shortness of breath, etc. are identifying signs of apnoea. Dryness of mouth at night, morning headache, insomnia, and drowsiness during the day, irritability and loss of attention are also signals that need to be picked early.
Sleep apnoea can even affect children. The risk factors vary even for adults, and include– consumption of alcohol, smoking, etc. People who only snore but do not suffer from sleep apnoea, may undergo lifestyle changes that can ease problems to a large extent. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and alcohol consumption also helps.
Those who suffer for anatomical reasons may seek surgical procedures, which can now be done very easily.
Patients diagnosed with sleep apnoea, may use devices like Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. CPAP typically is used by people who have breathing problems, such as sleep apnoea. Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP) is another viable option – a pressure created during exhalation that stabilises the upper airway, reducing snoring.
Rather than trivialising the issue of snoring, it is best to address the problem and seek a possible solution as soon as possible.