Could those snores mean something more?

Contributing columnistMay 11, 2013 

We all know someone who snores, and we likely all know a spouse who has complained about it. According to research, 45 percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally and 25 percent are habitual snorers.

The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing. It can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem that should be evaluated.

An otolaryngologist can help you to determine the source of your snoring and offer solutions. Snoring may be an indication of obstructed breathing, and should not be taken lightly. It also can be a sign of a more serious condition known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is characterized by multiple episodes of breathing pauses greater than 10 seconds at a time, due to upper airway narrowing or collapse. This results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which causes the heart to work harder. It also causes disruption of the natural sleep cycle, which makes people feel poorly rested despite adequate time in bed.

Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of developing heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and many other medical problems.

Loud, heroic snoring (anything that is disturbing your bed partner) is abnormal and should be evaluated. The average spouse of a person with sleep apnea, for example, loses 1.4 hours of sleep per night.

The most common and effective nonsurgical treatment for sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, which is applied through a nasal or facial mask while you sleep. Not all sleep apnea cases are treated with CPAP. There are other options available, such as a mandibular advancement device, surgery and weight loss.

Losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight can improve your breathing by 25 percent. Treating sleep apnea can also aid weight loss. Patients receiving treatment have more energy, feel better and correct metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

You should have your snoring evaluated if you have any of the following:

■ Excessive daytime sleepiness.

■ Hypertension or high blood pressure.

■ Stroke.

■ Heart attack.

■ Diabetes.

■ Non-restorative sleep (you feel as tired when you wake up as you did when you went to bed).

Dr. Pell Wardrop is the medical director at Saint Joseph Sleep Wellness Center, part of KentuckyOne Health.

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