My husband does it, my parents did it, my dogs did it, even my kids do it, and yes, I too have been guilty on the rare occasion (don’t ask me to define “rare”) of doing it myself. Before your mind gets off on the wrong subject, I’m talking about snoring. I’ve slept many a night on the couch because of the constant lawnmower-type sounds my husband makes when he sleeps, and he may have had one or two nights on the couch, but only when I’ve had a cold!
It’s one of those topics most of us can relate to, since almost half of adults snore at least occasionally, but not many of us can do anything about it. Or can we? We’ve heard throughout the years what can cause snoring – nasal congestion, drinking alcohol, being overweight, and even just sleeping on our backs. For many, snoring is a minor inconvenience we put up with in our significant others. But for some, snoring can be a sign of a more serious problem and could lead to other health issues that impair quality of life and contribute to conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Snoring happens when the muscles in the roof of your mouth, tongue and throat relax. If they relax enough, the tissues will vibrate. The snoring sound comes from the vibration of those respiratory structures. And while for many people snoring is mainly an inconvenience, it can also be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.
“For some, snoring may be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition seen in two percent of women and four percent of men,” says Dr. Shirley Jones, a sleep disorder specialist at the Scott & White Sleep Institute. “Snoring should not be overlooked especially if there are symptoms of sleepiness, insomnia or fatigue, a history of apnea, if you are overweight, or have conditions such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease. A sleep specialist can diagnose if you have a sleep disorder or are just a plain snorer.”
So how do you determine if snoring is a symptom of something more serious? One of the most obvious signs is if you stop breathing during the night, or wake up gasping for air. This means the airway is becoming completely blocked, which is a strong indicator of obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep studies can determine whether or not a person has obstructive sleep apnea or another serious sleeping disorder. If you think you or your partner might have any of these conditions, talk to your doctor about a referral to a sleep specialist.
The Scott & White Sleep Institute has a 16-bed facility for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with a variety of sleeping disorders. The Institute is also the only center in Central Texas that provides a consultation with a sleep-trained physician the morning after a sleep study.
The good news is that there are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce snoring. The bad news is that the lifestyle changes involve losing weight, which can be a challenge. Avoiding alcohol and certain medications before bed can also have a good impact. Furthermore, there are other options, which include oral appliances (a mouth guard) or surgery. However, these should be discussed with a sleep specialist first.
So when you can’t turn a deaf ear to snoring, make sure it’s not a sign of a more serious problem. And remember, there are options for people who are just habitual snorers — options that involve more than just a comfortable couch and a lifetime supply of earplugs! Ask your doctor for more information.