Spotlight: What You Should Know About Snoring

By Dr. Richard Shoup

Many of the patients I treat for snoring say they came to see me because their snoring was an annoyance. Of course that can be true, but there’s an even more important reason why people who snore should seek medical help. Snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, which can have serious health consequences.

Today we have ways of figuring out the cause of a person’s snoring, as well as effective ways to treat it. After treatment, many of my patients tell me they wish they had done this years ago, because the treatment made such a dramatic difference in their life.

Snoring is very common, especially as people age. It can range from quiet to very loud – so loud that in some people, the noise level exceeds government standards for noise in the workplace!

Snoring happens when your airway becomes narrowed, and breathing causes tissues within your airway to vibrate. Being overweight makes you more likely to snore, but even thin people can be loud snorers.

Snoring can be a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnea,  a condition that carries significant health risks. This is especially true if your snoring is loud, or if you wake up gasping for breath. Sleep apnea happens when the muscles in the back your throat relax too much during sleep, causing blockage of your breathing passages – often partially and sometimes completely.

People who have sleep apnea have a greater risk for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and problems controlling blood sugar which may lead to type 2 diabetes. Because sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness, they also are at higher risk for automobile accidents, industrial accidents, and accidents in their home. When severe enough, obstructive sleep apnea can increase your overall mortality risk.

But even if your snoring is not accompanied by sleep apnea, it can still cause substantial problems. What’s more, the noise alone can be enough of a disruption to you and anyone with whom you may share a bed. People who snore often wake up their bed partners. In some cases, one of them will even move out of the bedroom because of snoring. When this happens, there is a good chance that the person snoring has obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring can be treated in several ways:

  • Losing weight
  • Adjusting the position in which you sleep
  • Wearing an appliance in your mouth at night that holds your jaw in a more open position
  • Using a C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device, which blows air into your nose through a mask; C-PAP is the most effective way to control snoring, but it is reserved for those with obstructive sleep apnea
  • With laser surgery, in which lasers are used to destroy excess tissue in the back of your throat
  • With radiofrequency ablation, in which an instrument that has an electrode at its tip is placed against tissues in the back of the throat and emits energy that causes the tissue to die
  • With implants into the soft palate that cause scarring to stiffen the tissues

Because some treatments for snoring – such as laser surgery, radiofrequency ablation, and implants – are not recommended for people with obstructive sleep apnea, it’s important to determine if the snoring represents mere noise or is a sign of a more serious medical problem such as sleep apnea.

An important step in diagnosing the cause of snoring is see a doctor and to have a sleep study.  Knowing the cause of your snoring, and how it can be treated, is the best way for you to “rest easy.”