We all know someone who snores at night. It could be a family member, a bed partner or even you, but while occasional snoring is simply an annoyance, habitual snoring may be a sign of bigger snoring problems.
Unfortunately, this type of constant snoring comes with an array of snoring health risks, the good news, however, is that in most cases, there is a proven treatment for snoring that can help.
Before we dive into the risks and treatments for snoring related problems, it’s worth defining what snoring is.
In lay terms…
Snoring occurs when air is unable to flow freely through your airways when you sleep. As air tries to pass, it rattles against soft tissues in your nose and throat, resulting in that all-too- familiar snoring sound.
So when is snoring harmless?
- When it happens infrequently, but doesn’t affect your sleep patterns
- When it happens due to ageing – the muscles of the throat relax as we age
- When snoring is exacerbated by nose and throat inflammation caused by allergies or respiratory illness
- When an alcoholic nightcap before bed causes you to snore – Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxant.
When might night-time breathing problems cause snoring health risks?
Snoring may be a potential health issue if the snorer experiences one or more of the following symptoms:
- Excessive drowsiness during the day
- Recent excessive weight gain
- Decreased ability to concentrate and/or memory loss
- Observed pauses in breathing during the night
- Chest pain
- Awakening gasping for breath
- Chronic morning headaches
In many cases, some or all of these snoring problems suggest that the individual is suffering from a condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
So while you might think that snoring is an embarrassing and somewhat annoying side effect of sleep, did you know that the chances of earlier death in people whose snoring is caused by excessive or obstructive sleep apnoea, is far greater than those who don’t snore, or snore occasionally?
The American sleep apnoea association for instance concluded that people are 3 times more at risk from premature death if they have untreated sleep apnoea.
So why is this?
Because OSA puts great strains on your cardiovascular system which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease, strokes, and other heart-related problems as well as diabetes. But that’s not all, untreated or mismanaged sleep apnoea may also increase the risk of accidents due to excessive daytime fatigue and continual tiredness.
So what causes Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)?
OSA occurs when the throat muscles relax too much. When this happens, the airway narrows or closes as breath is taken in. When the sleeping individual inhales, they can’t get enough air. This, in turn, lowers the oxygen in the blood.
In the meantime, the brain senses the individual’s inability to breath and wakes the person up from their sleep – albeit briefly – to enable the person to open their airway once more. At this point, the individual might snort, gasp, or choke but once they have done so, they usually relax and the cycle starts all over again – often repeating itself up to 30 times every hour, all night long!
This never-ending cycle impairs the person’s ability to reach the point of deep restful sleep and inevitably, they awake feeling exhausted.
Therefore when it comes to treatments for snoring – the best option is to deal with the initial problem outright.
For harmless snoring, this may include:
- Weight loss – Obesity can cause a thickening of the throat
- A change of diet – a balanced diet promotes better sleep
- A lifestyle change – including limiting alcohol intake close to bedtime or stopping smoking
- Avoiding situations where allergies or respiratory illness prevail.
While all of the above are changes that individuals themselves can make to put an end to their snoring problems, what about more serious snoring problems – particularly sleep apnoea – how can this be tackled?
The CPAP technique
One way to help patients with sleep apnoea is through a treatment known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
During sleep, the patient wears a mask over the nose and/or mouth attached to a tube which gently blows air into the airway to ensure it is kept open during sleep. This is one of the most common and proven methods to treat problematic snoring related to sleep apnoea. However, it does have its disadvantages…
It’s cumbersome – Because a patient is attached to a unit during sleep, it can feel a little cumbersome and therefore isn’t ideal when being used on trips or vacations.
It’s restrictive – Even though modern CPAP masks are designed to be comfortable, they still need to be worn over the mouth and/or nose for the duration of your sleep. So they can feel somewhat restrictive and therefore, aren’t ideal if you have a phobia about wearing anything over the face.
Nose and throat dryness – in some cases, a bi-symptom of CPAP technology is nose and throat dryness due to a continual flow of forced air.
Oral appliance therapy
Another technique for dealing with snoring related problems like sleep apnoea or Bruxism (teeth grinding) is a treatment called oral appliance therapy. During this treatment, expensive and restrictive breathing apparatus is exchanged for sleek mandibular advancement splints which are worn like a mouthguard inside the mouth.
Designed to keep the tongue and jaw forward during sleep, they enable your airway to remain open and clear. They are customised and adjustable, ensuring a perfect fit. In addition, patients shouldn’t feel that they are restricted in any way and the device can easily be popped into a bag when travelling.
Don’t let your continual snoring problems get in the way of your relationship and overall health. Come and talk to the Melbourne Dental Sleep Clinic about a possible solution. To find out more, book a consultation with Dr Teo and the team at our Footscray (03) 9068 5357, Niddrie (03) 9068 5316 or Armadale (03) 9068 5355 clinics and take the first steps towards a great night’s sleep for you and your loved ones.