Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Are You Snoring?

Thursday 22nd October 2009

Snoring can be a bit of a joke complaint, and none of us like to admit that we are snorers, but it has been known to destroy marriages.

When one or both partners are left feeling irritable because of a restless nights sleep, it's hardly surprising that it leads to arguments, ill feelings and harsh words.

When you consider the figures involved, 15 million snorers in the UK plus their partners, that’s half the British nation troubled by snoring! Therefore it’s best to get it checked out.

The good news is that snoring can be cured and – for the most part – using quite conservative measures.

But what is making us snore in the first place?

The main triggers for snoring are being overweight, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol. Because of this, it’s mainly men aged 50-59 who snore. Another reason is that men tend to put on weight around the neck area, unlike women, and it’s this fatty tissue that pre-disposes to snoring because it squeezes the airway closed.

Snoring can also be triggered by allergies. It’s the sort of thing we don’t readily think about, but allergies to everything from feather pillows to house dust mites, pet hair and even household cleaning products can cause snoring. People wouldn’t equate bleach with a snoring problem, but if you have allergies to these sort of things, it will cause the lining of the nose and throat to swell. This in its turn will prevent you from breathing properly, which will give rise to a snoring problem.

Before you can look for a snore cure, experts say you have to identify type of snore you have first. According to Marianne Davey from the British Snoring & Sleep Apnoea Association, there are three different types.

Physiologically, the noise that you hear as a snore is due to some sort of structure within the mouth, nose, throat area vibrating. So you’ve got to really find out what structure is vibrating so you can treat it properly,' she says.

'It could either be a tongue, it could be the uvula – which is the flappy bit at the back of the throat – or it could be some sort of blockage within the nose area.'

The tongue flaps around because it literally blocks off the airway so the air can’t get through, Marianne explains. The air then tries to force its way past the tongue. 'In doing so, it will vibrate it up and down, and so we hear the noise of snoring.'

Uvula-based snoring usually occurs when a person is breathing with their mouth open. The air will hit the back of the throat and vibrate the uvula.

'And if you’ve got a blockage in your nasal airway, then all those vibrations within the nasal passages are going to vibrate,' says Marianne.

Snoring Solutions

Dr Hugh Bethell, a GP from Aldermaston, says the first stage is to get the patient to lose weight and stop smoking. 'And of course, reduce their alcohol intake, particularly late in the evening.' Too much alcohol disturbs and alters the pattern of sleep, and people who drink too much tend to sleep on their back – another cause of snoring.

'If you get them to lie on their sides, that’s helpful, and there’s all sorts of home remedies for doing that – tennis ball in the back of the pyjama jacket. That’s pretty effective!' he says.

It’s also vital to make sure you have the appropriate remedy. The only treatment for tongue-based snoring is a mandibular advancement device, says Marianne. This is a small plastic splint worn in the mouth at night and looks a bit like orthodontic braces.

Open mouth snoring can use 'chin up strips' which stop the mouth from dropping open and for those with nasal stuffiness, nasal dilators and sprays can help.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is another option. This treatment for sleep apnoea can also be effective for snorers.

'Finally there’s surgery,' says Dr Bethell. 'There are various things that can be done, but they basically try and widen the nasal pharynx and remove the uvula.' However, he adds that it’s 'fairly unpleasant'.

Many experts agree that surgery is a last resort only. There is a place for surgery, but you have to be absolutely certain that you’ve tried everything else first and that there’s a good chance it’s going to work for you. The only way you’ll know that is to have an overnight sleep study. Also, ask the surgeon why he is recommending surgery, what his success rate is, and what he deems a success.

People can also get referred to a sleep centre by their GP, says Dr Bethell. There, a person is connected to non-painful physiological sensors, such as scalp, facial and chest electrodes, to study various aspects like sleeping pattern, levels of oxygen in the blood and brainwaves.

If you are having serious snoring issues then it is best to get it sorted out. In some cases, if left un-addressed, it can develop into sleep apnoea, which requires medical treatment. New research also suggests snoring may have a link to chronic headaches.

While many people will go to their GP, self-diagnosis is simple. The association has an information pack (scroll down to the bottom half of the page) that explains the tests a person can do in front of the mirror. But for those with multi-factoral snoring, where snoring might be originating from different areas, it’s probably best to see a GP.

While there are no quick fixes for changing your snoring habits, they can be improved and resolved, it just takes time.

Credits: Photograph from

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