In extreme cases, referred to as obstructive sleep apnea
Snoring is the sound of soft tissues in the back of the mouth striking against each other and vibrating while one sleeps. In extreme cases, breathing may be interrupted, causing a periodic gasping sound. Sleep Apnea is a serious condition.
- Lifestyle changes and/or
- Mood elevation medication
- Mechanical assistance for breathing at night
Snoring is one of life’s little annoyances, especially to one’s bedmate. That familiar noise is the butt of countless jokes and a favorite sound effect for Saturday morning cartoons on television. But snoring can also be a serious medical problem.
In its most extreme form it is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea and can be a signal that more serious problems exist that can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeat and irreversible heart disease. Fortunately, there is help for both serious snoring and the merely aggravating type.
The noisy problem can be traced to a number of soft tissues in the back of the mouth and in the throat:
- Uvula -That little fleshy tab visible at the rear of the mouth
- Soft Palate – Flesh that separates the roof of the mouth from the nasal cavity
- Tonsils and Adenoids – Organs that sometimes cause problems in childhood and are removed
Snoring is the sound of these structures striking against each other and vibrating during breathing. When a person is awake there is no problem. While asleep, however, muscles relax and the tissues, unsupported by nearby bone structure, collapse into the airway causing blockage.
Certain people are more prone to snoring than others. In some, throat tissues such as tonsils and adenoids may be too large. Overweight adults often have bulky neck tissues that cause problems, as do soft palates and uvula that are too long. Some people snore only when suffering from a cold, allergy or sinus infection. A deviated septum, most often resulting from a blow to the nose would be a contributing factor. In all cases, partially blocked nasal passages cause the sleeping person to inhale harder, creating a vacuum in the collapsible part of the airway. This pulls floppy tissue into the airway, causing snoring.
Your companion may nag you until you see a physician about the irritating noise that is keeping everyone else awake. If your condition is only moderately serious the doctor may recommend several things you can do to help yourself as well as others. Self-help ideas include
- Exercise – Which helps a person lose weight and tones the throat muscles
- Avoidance of tranquilizers, alcohol, sleeping pills and antihistamines before bedtime since they all relax the throat muscles
- Sleeping on the side rather than on the back
- Elevating the head of the bed with 4″ high blocks to decrease congestion. If allergies contribute to the problem the doctor may recommend medication or other treatments
Obstructive Sleep Apnea requires more than self-help. Unlike simple snoring, the soft tissues block the airways completely. The body may be without air for 60 seconds or more at a time. The pattern may repeat itself more than 200 times a night! The brain, sensing that the body is suffocating from lack of oxygen, awakens the person to a light sleep. Partial consciousness tightens the tissues enough to allow a small passage of air. That produces the gasping sound so common to those suffering this malady. The person falls back into a deep sleep until the muscles relax again, blocking the airway.
This vicious cycle produces mysterious periods of fatigue the next day. Sometimes a person will fall asleep, even while driving. Apnea also causes the heart to work harder and oxygen levels drop to lower levels than if a person were to hold his breath as long as humanly possible while conscious. Strain on the heart leads to several problems previously mentioned.
It is best to solve the problem before it gets out of control. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is a reliable surgical treatment procedure which tightens up excess tissues in the back of the mouth so they don’t interfere with breathing. Some patients may require other types of surgery, including correction of a deviated septum. In some cases benefits may be derived from an apparatus called Nasal Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), in which air is forced into the throat at night to keep the passages from collapsing.
Frequent sore throat is one of the most common health complaints of childhood. Sometimes the sore throats are accompanied by bothersome ear aches and difficulty in breathing at night. Most often the discomfort is easily traced to two small masses of tissue, the tonsils and the adenoids.
Tonsils are located on each side of the throat. The adenoids lie behind the nose and roof of the mouth. The purpose of each is to protect against germs and infection. When they cease to function properly they may actually hold germs in areas that are tough for medication to reach, resulting in bothersome infections.
Infection causes the tonsils and adenoids to become swollen and sore. The swelling makes swallowing difficult along with the other problems such as labored breathing at night, ear aches and, of course, sore throat. The condition is usually remedied by surgically removing the tonsils or adenoids or both. Removal doesn’t negatively affect the body’s ability to fight off infection.
The surgical procedure takes no more than 30-35 minutes with the patient under general anesthesia. Removal of the tonsils requires a little more time than the adenoids for the patient to get better, but in either case the after effects are minimal. The patient may experience bad breath temporarily, may talk funny, or notice sores on the tongue and a swollen uvula (the little tab of tissue extending downward at the rear of the mouth). Fever may last for up to a week. All post-operative discomfort usually clears up quickly. Should excessive bleeding occur, the doctor should be contacted for assistance.
In case of any residual throat and ear pain, the doctor will prescribe medication for relief and may also prescribe antibiotics to guard against infection. The patient will be instructed to eat soft foods only for a few days. Normal activities can be resumed in a few weeks.