Snoring: Causes, Risks, and Treatment
Sleeping with a snorer? It could be more than just a nighttime habit that’s keeping you awake. Snoring is often a sign of an underlying host of health problems that range from hypertension to acid reflux. Here’s a quick rundown of the causes, risks, and possible treatment for snoring.
- Relaxed throat and tongue muscles – Throat muscles and tongue muscles tend to relax as we age. When this happens, it falls back into the airways and obstructs it, which results in snoring. Aging, alcohol consumption and taking sleeping pills and other medication affect the throat muscles the same way. Another culprit is smoking which irritates nasal passages and the throat that inflames it.
- Long soft palate (Uvula) – The uvula, a long soft palate, can also block our airway when lying down. In this position, the uvula narrows the opening from the mouth to the throat that makes it vibrate and bump against each other causing the snoring.
- Obesity – Overweight people are more prone to snoring due to built-up fatty tissues in the throat. These bulky throat tissues can restrict the throat muscles and cause snoring.
- Nasal airway obstruction – A swollen nasal passage caused by allergies, nasal polyps, or even a deviated septum (a condition that makes breathing difficult because of the imbalance of the sizes of the passages) can also cause snoring.
- Sleep Posture– Believe it or not, how you sleep can cause you to snore. Most people sleep on their back not knowing that this increases the chance of snoring. When tissues fall back, it can cause a partial and even complete blockage of the airways.
- Interruptions in breathing – Snoring indicates that you have blockage of your airway. When your breathing is irregular, your body does not get the oxygen it needs and this may lead to pulmonary hypertension. The 10-second loss of breath also disrupts your sleep leading to daytime fatigue.
- Strain on the heart – Snoring caused by sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure. Consequently, hypertension increases the risk of developing coronary artery disease, an enlarged heart, and/or heart attacks which could be fatal if left untreated.
- Arrhythmias – Arrhythmia is a term for irregular heart rhythm. People with this condition can experience atrial fibrillation which is when the heart beats too fast, too slow or, irregularly. Snorers and sufferers of sleep apnea are prone to developing an arrhythmia.
- Stroke – There is a link between how loud a person snores and their risk of stroke. According to a study, patients who snore louder and for a longer period are at risk to develop carotid atherosclerosis – a condition in which the arteries in the neck become narrow because of fatty deposits called plaque. If left untreated, carotid atherosclerosis can result to a stroke.
- GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD, usually develops among snorers and sufferers of sleep apnea. Due to the problematic way the throat opens and closes in snorers, the stomach acid gets sucked up to the esophagus causing irritation.
- Nocturia – Nocturia, or frequent urination during sleeping hours, is found to be a strong indication of sleep apnea and prostate enlargement in men. The condition seems to affect males over the age of 55 the most but women are known to experience this as well.
- Fetal complications – Pregnant women may experience snoring in the last trimester of their pregnancy because of weight gain. Snoring causes sleep disruption and other conditions that may affect the development of the baby.
- Mental health issues – Most people are cranky if they do not get a good night’s sleep. However, researchers have discovered that a lot of poor sleepers also experience mild depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that there is a strong link between snoring or sleep apnea and depression, and that the treatment of sleep apnea often results in the improvement of the sufferer’s mental well-being.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness – People who snore experience sleep deprivation and they wake up feeling exhausted. Their work performance becomes poor and, a ten-year study proved a greater risk of vehicular accidents when sleepy drivers are behind the wheel.
- Chronic headaches – It’s almost certain that snorers will wake up with a headache, usually caused by the altered oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in their bloodstream because of their obstructed breathing while they sleep.
There are a number of ways to treat snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep specialists recommend sleep apnea patients to lose weight, consider having their uvula removed, or change their sleep posture.
Pregnant women who snore should see their OB-gyn to explore possible options and to ensure that their interrupted sleep doesn’t affect their baby’s development.
Others look into treatments like SomnoMed – a company that measures patients for a custom-made mouthguard you can wear while you sleep. The special mouthguard allows patients to have a continuous open airway which prevents snoring. Among the available treatments for snoring, SomnoMed is the most affordable and the least invasive. SomnoMed is offered by Pymble Dental located in the North Shore. For more information or to book a consultation, call (02) 9488 7676.