Snoring: It’s Not Just a Minor Annoyance

Snoring can be as dangerous to our health as smoking, high cholesterol and other factors that contribute to heart disease. Dr. Carol Ash of Meridian Health appeared on CBS Morning to talk about a recent study that confirms the effects of snoring on our overall health.

What Causes Snoring?

When we sleep, the throat naturally relaxes. As the muscles narrow the airway, the air movement causes vibration in the tissues, which can cause snoring and in more severe cases sleep apnea, Ash says. (Sleep apnea happens when the airway becomes completely blocked.) The CDC estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by a sleep disorder. Snoring causes thickening of the carotid artery in the neck, increasing the snorer’s risks for heart disease, stroke and dementia.

Treating Snoring

Several options are available for treating snoring disorders, and they range from simple pillow arrangement to invasive nasal surgery.

  • Pillows. One of the simplest and least expensive treatments for snoring is simple repositioning the body so the airway does not become restricted. Arrange pillows in a wedge so the shoulders, neck and head are at an angle. Of course, sleep apnea pillows are an option, but you should be able to create the same effect with your standard bed pillows.
  • CPAP. A continuous positive airway pressure machine provides a constant airstream to the user, which helps keep the airway open. The CPAP requires a doctor’s prescription, and most doctors will require a sleep study to diagnose the patient. The patient straps a mask to his face, which controls airflow and humidity through rubber seals, o-rings and tubes. (An Apple o-ring size chart will help determine the size of the replacements, should they become worn.) The device is designed to treat snoring and is not a cure for the problem; in other words, it works only as long as the patient wears it.
  • Surgery. When all else fails, nasal surgery to open the airways is an option. Mayo Clinic says surgical options include tissue removal from the nasal passages, jaw repositioning and implants in the soft palate. Surgery might also remove the tonsils and adenoids, which will enlarge the airway. Mayo Clinic adds that surgery to treat sleep disorders has not proved to be a highly successful treatment and should be a last resort.

Excessive Sleepiness

National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports that 13 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from excessive sleepiness during the day; as a result 35 to 45 percent of those adults report nodding off at least once during the day. NSF launched a website in January dedicated solely to this topic,  Excessivesleepiness.sleepfoundation.org. Most experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for adults.

For people who suffer from sleep disorders (and there are about 80 of them), a common sense approach should be the first step.

  • Limit caffeine to mornings before 12 p.m.
  • Avoid eating large meals within two hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid nicotine before bedtime.
  • Lose weight. Obesity contributes to snoring because fat on the neck further constricts breathing.
  • If you take medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what time of day is best to take them.

If the problem persists, start with your family doctor. He or she might refer you for a sleep study or recommend other therapies.

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