Could Your Snoring Be Something More Serious?

Could Your Snoring Be Something More Serious?

If you’re not a snorer yourself, chances are you know one – over 40% of the UK adult population snore – but this noisy night-time habit could be doing far worse than just keeping others awake. While not all snoring is harmful, the condition is a common indicator of more serious sleep disorders, and can cause severe health problems later down the line…

Firstly, what causes snoring?

Snoring occurs when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is physically obstructed. Air flow can be obstructed by a combination of factors, including:

Obstructed nasal airways: Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum (a structural change in the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps can also cause obstruction.

Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue: Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the airway. This can result from deep sleep, alcohol consumption and use of some sleeping pills. Normal ageing causes further relaxation of these muscles.

Bulky throat tissue: Being overweight can cause bulky throat tissue. Also, children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore.

Long soft palate and/or uvula: A long soft palate or an elongated uvula (the dangling tissue in back of the mouth) can narrow the opening from the nose to the throat. When these structures vibrate and bump against one another the airway becomes obstructed, causing snoring.

Why can it be dangerous?

It’s estimated around 35% of people who snore have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – a common condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing. It can lead to regularly interrupted sleep, which can have a big impact on quality of life and increases the risk of developing certain diseases.

So how can you tell when snoring is more than simply being overtired or having sinus issues? The two main giveaways are sleeping with the mouth open and pauses in breathing as a result of the tongue falling into the airway. If pauses reach a duration of ten seconds, it’s called an ‘apnoea.’ Pauses can last just a few seconds to minutes and occur as many as 30 times an hour. Breathing usually restarts with a loud snort or choking sound.

During an episode, the lack of oxygen triggers your brain to pull you out of deep sleep, so your airway reopens and you can breathe normally. Not only does interrupted sleep cause extreme tiredness, a lack of oxygen due to sleep apnoea can also lead to marked changes in the brain.

The earliest signs of oxygen deprivation to the brain due to obstructive sleep apnoea may be memory loss, brain fog and daytime sleepiness. But in the long-term, it’s been linked to drug resistant hypertension, congestive heart disease, loss of coordination, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Worryingly, OSA sufferers usually have no memory of their interrupted breathing, so may be unaware they have a problem – around 5% of the UK population have undiagnosed sleep apnoea.

Are there any other signs to look out for?

According to dentist and snoring expert Dr Steven Lin, dental history and exam can reveal some clues to the causes of snoring. Signs of snoring and sleep disorders in the mouth include:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Previous orthodontics or crooked teeth
  • Dry mouth
  • Impacted wisdom teeth
  • Tooth erosion
  • Scalloped tongue
  • Enlarged tongue
  • Cheek biting
  • Severe gum disease

How can it be treated?

Almost all treatments for snoring revolve around clearing the blockage in the breathing passage. This is the reason snorers are advised to make small lifestyle chances such as losing weight (to stop fat from pressing on the throat), quitting smoking (smoking weakens and clogs the throat) and sleeping on their side as opposed to their back (to prevent the tongue from blocking the throat).

A number of other treatment options are also available, ranging from over-the-counter aids such as nasal sprays, nasal strips, nose clips, lubricating sprays, oral appliances and ‘anti-snore’ clothing and pillows (Aldi’s £5 expert-approved offering is worth a try), to more obscure throat-strengthening activities like playing the didgeridoo. Specially designed laser treatments can also be used to reduce the inflammation and elevate the soft palate and uvula, as well as Mandibular Advancement Devices, which hold the lower jaw and tongue forward making more space to breathe.

If your snoring is causing real problems – either for you or your partner – it’s important to see your GP. They may recommend one of the many treatments available which can help ease the obstruction to your airways, including continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP). These machines are often used to control sleep apnoea and the snoring associated with it by keeping the airway open – a mask is worn over the nose, mouth, or both at night while a device pumps a controlled stream of air through a flexible hose.

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