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We are all very familiar with the ridicule that surrounds snoring, but little do we know what causes this sonorous accompaniment or about its implications!!
Snoring is the noise caused when turbulent airflow generates vibrations in the tissues of the nose and throat.
Snoring is very common. It can occur in anyone, with any body type. It gets worse when a person ages or, after weight gain. It is estimated that 45% of men and 30% of women snore regularly. It is interesting to know that even people who are not prone to snoring tend to snore after a bout of drinking, viral infections or after taking certain medications.
When a person breathes, there is a steady flow of air to the lungs via the nose or mouth. But breathing is often carried out quietly and we hardly hear any sound. Breathing through the nose is considered to be the normal way to breathe. In some people, however, this is not possible due to obstructions in their nasal passages.
Nasal obstructions are caused by deviation of the nasal septum, sinus infections, allergies, swelling of the turbinates or due to large tonsils at the back of the throat. The latter is more common in children while in adults a broken septum, or allergies, lead to nasal obstructions.
Individuals with airway obstructions in their nasal passage tend to breathe through their mouths. These “mouth breathers” tend to snore more often because air flow through the mouth can cause more vibrations in the tissues of the mouth and nose.
Snoring commonly occurs during REM stage of sleep as the muscles tone is very low during this stage and this enhances the possibility of snoring.
Snoring occurs more often when the person lies on the back. Gravity pulls the palate, tonsils and the tongue backward and this causes narrowing of the airway leading to snoring. If the person is made to gently roll over to one side, then snoring can be stopped.
The soft palate and the uvula, situated at the back of the palate, vibrate and play an important role in snoring; therefore, a surgical treatment to cure snoring would involve changing the structure of these parts. This is not recommended for those speaking languages involving fricative sounds, as the treatment would prevent them from speaking properly in those languages.
Clinical Implications of Snoring
Snoring is more of a problem to the snorer’s partner or to those who share the same space; it becomes a social problem, or a relationship problem, as sharing the room with the snorer becomes a problem by itself.
Primary snoring is benign snoring without sleep apnea. In children, however, snoring could implicate a risk for cardiovascular problems.
In adults who snore, other health conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), sleeping disorders or sleep-related breathing disorders may also be an underlying problem and this needs to be ruled out.
High blood pressure values are common to those suffering from OSA and this makes those with OSA more prone to cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and strokes.
FAQs1) Who treats snoring?
Snoring can be treated by doctors called sleep specialists who are experts in sleep medicine.
2) When can snoring be considered a medical problem?
People who sleep with snorers may report stoppage of breathing, jerking limb movements or restless sleep in the latter. All these are indicative of underlying medical problems in the snorers.
3) What are the treatment options for snoring?
Main treatment options include -
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