By Dr Shweta Bansal
Snoring can be a symptom of the potentially-dangerous obstructive sleep apnoea, which may need medical help to overcome.
At some point in our lives, everyone has snored. Although a common condition that can affect anybody, males and overweight persons are more prone to snoring, which increases with age.
Though it disturbs family members’ sleep, snoring occasionally isn’t a serious issue. Habitual snorers, however, interrupt their own sleep and end up disrupting others’ sleep too. Regularly-disturbed sleep patterns then hold grave health implications arising from an inadequate night’s rest.
Ultimately, habitual snorers can suffer serious health problems, including OSA (obstructive sleep apnoea), caused by daily sleep disruptions. Medical help is then required to ensure the situation doesn’t worsen.
The problems from OSA include:
- Long interruptions in breathing (lasting more than 10 seconds) when asleep, triggered by partial or complete airway obstruction.
- Light, interrupted sleep since the body tries to keep the throat muscles tense for ensuring enough air flow.
- Pressure on the heart because prolonged OSA can cause high blood pressure and even heart enlargement; in turn, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Daytime fatigue and sleepiness that lowers the quality of life.
- Low oxygen supply in the blood, causing constricted blood vessels in our lungs, eventually leading to pulmonary hypertension.
- Chronic headaches.
Sleep apnoea can be potentially dangerous due to breathing repeatedly stopping and starting, which may trigger a heart attack. Whereas death due to OSA is rare, the demise of Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher is attributed to apparently-untreated sleep apnoea.
Clearly, all forms of snoring cannot be ignored, especially when chronic. Therefore, it’s important to first understand snoring. When breathing during sleep, the soft tissues in our neck relax, narrowing the airway passage. The neck tissue then vibrates each time we breathe, creating a noisy sound – snoring. Anything narrowing our breathing passage can trigger snoring – tonsils, an enlarged uvula, nasal blockade, excess weight creating large soft tissue around our neck, etc.
Snoring can be controlled and treated by simple lifestyle changes to limit its severity, including:
- Promptly treating sinusitis and nasal congestion
- Shunning sedatives, muscle relaxants and antihistamines
- Sleeping on your side (to prevent a relaxed tongue from blocking the airway)
- Avoiding alcohol and cigarettes
- Suitable dietary changes
- Exercising regularly
- Losing weight
While every snorer won’t have OSA, snoring is a key symptom. OSA impacts the quality of life of sufferers and remains a common disorder in those suffering from obesity, diabetes or hypothyroidism. In the US, around 18 million suffer from OSA. Although nationwide studies are not available in India, cross-sectional surveys across numerous groups indicate a 13.7% prevalence among adults, with 7.5% urban middle-aged males affected, as per a report in the Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research. Another report states the prevalence is thrice as higher in males than females.
The following could indicate the possibility of OSA:
- Loud snoring daily
- Sleep interrupted by gasping/choking sounds
- Irregular pauses in breathing and breathlessness
- Increased night-time urination
- Morning headaches
- Daytime fatigue and sleepiness
- Irritability and lower concentration
If you suffer some of the above symptoms (a few of which you’d be unaware of, so ask your spouse or family), it’s important to consult a pulmonologist. Since the risks posed by OSA include disturbed sleep rhythms, imbalanced body and brain functions, stroke and other cardiovascular ailments as well as road traffic accidents, it’s best to play safe…