October 2012 - Snoring

Anyone with experience of snoring can be sure of two things. Firstly, that it can be incredibly distressing for the sufferer who is often left craving a decent night’s sleep and secondly that it can be infuriating for the person’s partner, who may also have their own sleep patterns interfered with.  In serious cases, it can lead to difficulties at work and place a strain on marriages.

The good news is that there are ways to manage the problem and in some cases get it completely under control. Here our snoring consultant Mr Murray Waldron explains what causes snoring and runs through the various options that sufferers have for dealing with the issue.

“Snorers usually have a partial blockage somewhere in their airways, causing the soft palate and tissue in the mouth, nose and throat to vibrate while they sleep and create the noise we know as snoring.  Whereas the throat muscles would normally keep any vibration in check, for some people the muscles relax too much during sleep for this to happen.

“When I first see someone in clinic, the first job is to run through a series of questions and checks to separate whether the person has a lifestyle issue or an obstructive sleep pattern. We ascertain how sleepy they are day-to-day and look into whether they actually stop breathing for very short periods while asleep, causing them to wake - something known as sleep apnoea. This is important because a drop in oxygen levels from a respiratory issue can cause real health problems. We assess nasal and throat symptoms and often use cameras to look at the upper airway. This helps us decide whether the person needs to come in overnight for a sleep study.  

“Ultimately the aim is to identify where the snoring comes from and look at any additional factors involved in order to agree the most effective course of action. Solutions range from lifestyle changes including weight loss to non-surgical and surgical treatments.

“People who snore sporadically most often snore from the throat and the problem is likely to be caused by a heavy cold, resolving when this passes. Where snoring comes from the back of the throat or tongue, the sufferer may sleep on their back, causing the tongue to gather at the back of the throat. Changing the sleeping style, reducing alcohol intake or weight loss can often significantly improve the situation.

“Where the tongue and / or throat and nasal tissue collapsing into the back of the throat is the route of the trouble, one option is a mask, which blows air at a slightly raised pressure into the airway. Gum shields to bring the tongue forward from the back of the throat are also extremely effective and treat the abnormality with very little discomfort.

“Surgery is only really considered where snoring is having a serious effect on the person’s health and lifestyle and non-surgical options haven’t worked. In this situation we are able to offer nasal airway enhancements or a palatoplasty to stiffen the palate and reduce the vibrations that cause snoring. Although quite painful procedures, they do have excellent long-term results that can change lives for the better and are well worth considering when the problem merits it.”

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