Approximately 30% of the adult population snores. You’ve heard all the reports about the relationship between snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the condition that cuts off breathing many times during the night, and the resultant oxygen lack that has been strongly linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes. Although OSA has gotten a tremendous amount of press in the last few years, your physicians at The Medical Group of South Florida know that not all snorers suffer from this dangerous condition.
How can you tell the difference? You can’t. We can. If you snore, we can perform various exams and tests that will reveal whether your snoring is linked to sleep apnea. Even if it isn’t, however, it may not be harmless—to your relationship. In Britain, snoring is the third leading cause of divorce. If your snoring interrupts your partner’s sleep, for her or him it will lead to all of the medical issues associated with poor or insufficient sleep. And many people snore loudly enough to wake themselves, interrupting their own sleep, and impacting their own overall health.
What causes snoring? The complex configuration of our airways means that snoring can occur if anything along the pathway from the base of the tongue to the nasal passages is not functioning properly. The most common cause occurs when we drop into the deepest levels of sleep and the muscles along the airway relax, allowing tissues to vibrate as we breathe, resulting in snoring.
What contributes to snoring? Any number of things. These can include: the configuration of your mouth and throat anatomy, smoking, alcohol consumption, colds/allergies, certain medications such as muscle relaxants, lack of exercise, and excess weight. In fact, some studies have shown that obesity is the leading cause of snoring, and that losing as little as 10 pounds can make a difference, or even cure the problem completely in those who are just slightly overweight. And other studies have shown that those who begin an exercise program have seen both snoring and OSA decline regardless of whether they lose weight.
Besides exercising and losing weight, what else can you do to correct the problem? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Change your habits.
Cigarette smoke irritates delicate mouth and nasal membranes, and makes snoring more likely. Alcohol relaxes the airway and tissues, making you more prone to snore. If you drink alcohol, be sure to stop at least four hours before bedtime. Sleeping on your back causes the tongue and the soft palate to collapse into the back of the throat, interrupting breathing. Sleep on your side, if possible. Using a pillow or even tennis balls taped to the back of your pajamas can ensure this. Elevating the head of your bed about four inches can also help alleviate the problem, although adding an extra pillow will not, because that can constrict the airway, worsening the condition.
2. Clear your airways.
If your snoring is due to colds or allergies, you can address the issue two ways: with decongestants or antihistamines to minimize the swollen nasal passages that make snoring more likely, or with painless adhesive nasal strips that open the respiratory system near the end of the nose, just behind the nostrils. Avoid decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine, a stimulant that can keep you awake.
3. Seek medical intervention
If these suggestions don’t solve the problem, there are numerous medical solutions that can, and your primary doctor at The Medical Group of South Florida can help you sort through the best options for you. From oral appliances, like the mouth guard similar to those used by athletes, to the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) sleep mask, to tissue-stiffening implants, to surgery to remove soft tissue in the throat, there are numerous ways to ensure you get a peaceful, quiet night’s sleep.
The main thing to remember is that you don’t have to “just live with it.” We can help.