Over 40% of adults snore at least occasionally, with 25% being habitual snorers.
While snoring can affect anyone, the problem is more prevalent in males and individuals of either sex with weight issues. Often passed off as a somewhat ‘normal’ bodily function, snoring can also point toward other health concerns, so should not be automatically dismissed. Instead, it’s recommended that anyone who experiences frequent snoring visit an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat specialist, to get to the root of the matter.
“Snoring also usually worsens with age,” points out Dr. Temp Patterson, an otolaryngologist from Burley, Idaho.
The specialist physician is also keen to make it clear that, more often than not, snoring is no indication of a serious underlying health complaint.
Even so, according to Dr. Patterson, any amount of snoring is likely to affect sleeping patterns. “As such, it deprives the snorer of adequate rest,” says the doctor. In some instances, however, snoring may be an indication of obstructive sleep apnea, which is rather more serious.
“Characterized by episodes of breathing pauses, 10 seconds or more at a time, obstructive sleep apnea is the result of upper airway narrowing or, occasionally, collapse,” reveals Dr. Patterson. “These pauses in breathing lead to lower blood oxygen levels, which puts a strain on a patient’s heart, as it must work harder to keep up.”
Incredibly, Dr. Patterson reveals that obstructive sleep apnea patients can experience as many as 300 such episodes per night.
More generally, snoring is often exacerbated by excess alcohol or drugs which cause sleepiness. Other causes of snoring include poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat, as well as the excessive bulkiness of throat tissue leading to airway narrowing. This is especially common in children with large tonsils and adenoids, who are often observed to snore. Airway narrowing is also a symptom of obesity, while cysts or tumors are another, albeit much rarer, a cause of airway narrowing.
Obstructed nasal airways are another cause, where a blocked nose creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat, resulting in snoring. In such cases, snoring may only occur when a patient presents with a cold or sinus infection, or during the hay fever season. A deviated septum can also result in obstructed nasal airways, but in this instance, the problem will generally persist until any deviation is corrected.
Anyone who snores regularly should seek medical advice, if only to rule out any serious health conditions, according to Dr. Patterson.
A specialist doctor will carry out a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate, and neck, possibly using a fiber-optic scope. Such examinations can reveal if an individual’s snoring is the result of a nasal allergy or infection, nasal obstruction, or an enlargement of the tonsils or adenoids.
With these and other possibilities ruled out, a sleep study may be performed to determine if obstructive sleep apnea is to blame for a patient’s snoring.
“A number of treatments for snoring exist, whatever the cause,” explains Dr. Patterson. These include devices which open the airway during sleep, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty surgery, thermal ablation, and custom-fit oral appliances.
“For light snorers,” says Dr. Patterson, “adopting a healthy lifestyle, avoiding tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and alcohol, establishing regular sleeping patterns, sleeping on one’s side, rather than on one’s back, and elevating the head of one’s bed by around four inches may all help to alleviate the problem.”
“If not,” adds the ear, nose and throat specialist, “it’s advisable to speak to a doctor or otolaryngologist, even as a light snorer, to rule out any other underlying issues, if only for peace of mind.”