It’s estimated that about 50 percent of adults snore, whether consistently or occasionally. Aside from the lack of sleep for bed partners, snoring can wreak havoc on a person’s overall well-being. We are taking a closer look at what causes snoring and what sufferers can do about it.
Doctors agree that snoring is caused by vibrations in the soft tissue at the back of the throat. According to Dr. Craig Schwimmer, Medical Director of The Snoring Center in the Corridor, snoring sufferers are more commonly men than women and are more commonly overweight than thin.
Dr. Rajiv Pandit, Medical Director at Dallas ENT’s Head and Neck Surgery Center, says that this fluttering can be caused by many issues, such as “blockage of the nose resulting in too much airflow through the mouth, big tonsils or a sagging soft palate and uvula. Weight gain can also cause throat tissues to become more saggy.”
Holly Livingston, of Sleep Centers of Texas, adds that snoring can vary in intensity and quality depending on the time of night, the stage of sleep, the position of the body, the rate of air flow and the anatomical structure of the individual’s nose and throat. Livingston says that, while occasional quiet snoring usually doesn’t have pathological significance, loud, habitual snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea or hypopnea syndrome. She urges snorers to get a thorough clinical evaluation to determine the cause and risk of snoring and sleep apnea.
Dr. Schwimmer says that snoring and sleep apnea can significantly impact quality of life for sufferers and their partners.
“If you sleep with someone who snores, their snoring causes you to lose, on average, an hour of sleep per night,” he says. “Over the course of a week, that’s a whole night’s lost sleep. It’s no surprise, then, that snoring is such a significant problem in many bedrooms.”
Dr. Schwimmer says that “snoring couples” report lower marital satisfaction, have less sex and lower quality of life scores than “non-snoring couples.”
Aside from the wearying affects of snoring on bed partners, the presence of sleep apnea can become a major health problem for the sufferer. According to Dr. Pandit, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when tissues in the throat not only vibrate but actually collapse, which leads to pauses in breathing and decreased oxygen levels.
“This can further disrupt a good night’s sleep,” he says, “and can also result in strain of important organs like the heart and lungs.”
Dr. Schwimmer stresses the importance of taking sleep apnea very seriously.
“Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, which is a serious medical condition linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and other diseases,” he says. “Sleep apnea refers to loud, habitual snoring accompanied by repeated stop breathing spells. If your bed-partner tells you that you gasp, choke, or struggle for breath while you sleep, you must get this evaluated!”
While snoring and sleep apnea can severely affect quality of sleep and quality of life, there are many treatment options for sufferers. The treatment plan will vary for each individual and it’s important to take the time to speak with qualified physicians who can clearly determine the cause of snoring and/or sleep apnea and create a specialized treatment plan.
Dr. Schwimmer says The Snoring Center generally uses a variety of office-based procedures to address anatomical causes of snoring and sleep apnea.
“Our procedures can be seen as newer, less invasive ways of doing what used to be done surgically – so instead of invasive, painful surgical procedures, our patients can be treated and immediately return to normal diet, work, and other activities,” he says. “In addition, we counsel and encourage our patients to make the lifestyle changes that can be so important – not only to their snoring and sleep apnea, but to their overall health. Changes in diet and exercise can really help a lot.”
Livingston says treatment can depend on whether or not the patient is symptomatic or asymptomatic.
“An asymptomatic snorer is a patient who presents solely at the instigation of the bed partner or family because of disruptive snoring,” she says. “This patient is generally completely healthy and in particular does not have any health problems that are presently thought to be associated with sleep apnea. A symptomatic snorer is a patient who in addition to snoring has symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Therefore, it is important to identify risk factors present before making any medical recommendations.”
Livingston suggests that, first, lifestyle modification measures should be discussed with particular attention toward removal of the known risk factors like being overweight, over-use of alcohol, muscle relaxants, smoking, etc. She says that the medical treatment of nasal obstruction, a trial of nasal dilators and sleep position training should likely be explored and instituted.
“Second, the patient should be informed about oral appliances, or mandibular advancement devices,” she says. “Third, patients should be educated about CPAP treatment, since treatment for snoring and sleep apnea may overlap. Lastly, the patient should be informed about surgical approaches.”
Dr. Pandit says it’s important to make sure that patients are seeing qualified ear, nose and throat specialists and that they are receiving comprehensive advice on the available treatment options.
“In our office, we evaluate snoring by performing a camera examination of the throat in order to identify the precise location of snoring,” Dr. Pandit says. “We may also need to obtain a sleep study in order to correlate the depth of sleep with snoring levels, as well as various sleeping positions with snoring levels. Treatment options may then include improving nasal airflow with medications or surgery, as well as procedures to stiffen the palate with in-office implants. If the snoring is severe, surgical options may also be discussed.”
Whatever the level of snoring or more severe sleep apnea, it’s important to gather as much information as possible to determine the best treatment plan for each patient. If you are a snorer or are suffering from sleep apnea, educate yourself on the specialists in the Corridor and make an appointment to get a thorough evaluation.
-By Addison Magazine