Question of the Week
August 23, 2004


Do you snore? Do you know someone who does?

"Snoring is a fairly common problem that can happen to anyone - young or old. Snoring happens when a person can't move air freely through his or her nose and mouth during sleep. That annoying sound is caused by certain structures in the mouth and throat - the tongue, upper throat, soft palate (say: pa-lut), uvula (say: yoo-vyuh-luh), as well as big tonsils and adenoids - vibrating against each other. People usually find out they snore from the people who live with them. Kids may find out they snore from a brother or sister or from a friend who sleeps over. Snoring keeps other people awake and probably doesn't let the snoring person get top quality rest, either."

Just because it's common, doesn't mean it's "No big deal."

"Myth: Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn't harmful.
Fact: Although snoring may be harmless for most people, it can be a symptom of a life threatening sleep disorder called sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness. Sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing that prevent air from flowing into or out of a sleeping person's airways. People with sleep apnea awaken frequently during the night gasping for breath. The breathing pauses reduce blood oxygen levels, can strain the heart and cardiovascular system, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Snoring on a frequent or regular basis has been directly associated with hypertension. Obesity and a large neck can contribute to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be treated; men and women who snore loudly, especially if pauses in the snoring are noted, should consult a physician."

Men and women, young and old, are all affected. But why?
Why do people snore?

"There are many reasons why people snore. Here are some of the most common: Seasonal allergies ... Blocked nasal passages or airways... A deviated septum (say: dee-vee-ate-ed sep-tum) ... Enlarged or swollen tonsils or adenoids ... Drinking alcohol ... Being overweight ... Snoring is also one symptom of a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. When a person has sleep apnea, his or her breathing is irregular during sleep. Typically, a person with sleep apnea will actually stop breathing for short amounts of time 30 to 300 times a night! It can be a big problem if the person doesn't get enough oxygen."

Are you getting a good night's sleep?

"Many people think that they have slept well and yet they fall asleep in front of the TV or doze behind the wheel. Those with untreated sleep apnea are up to seven times greater risk of traffic or work-related accidents due to daytime sleepiness."

Does being tired during the day really mean that there is problem? Aren't all teenagers tired? You fall asleep each night only to be jolted to life again in the morning by the shrill of your alarm (or maybe by a parent or sibling who was awakened by your alarm before you noticed it). You don't ever remember being awakened by an inability to breathe, and you haven't ever heard yourself snore. Is it possible to sleep through your own problem?

"How do you know if you have sleep apnoea? That's the trouble - most people with this problem don't realise it. It's more likely to be the person's partner or someone in the same household who's more aware, not only of the snoring, but also of the drowsiness during the day. But
because snoring and drowsiness don't seem like important symptoms, many people don't bother to see their GP, says Professor Colin Sullivan of the Centre for Respiratory Failure and Sleep Disorders at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. 'But it's not a trivial problem,' he adds, 'It should be taken seriously.'"

But how do you bring a sleep problem in for the doctor to examine? It's not like a broken leg that the doctor can see. What do you know about your sleep habits? What information would you have that would help your doctor help you?

"Two-thirds of Americans have sleep problems. What most people don't realize, however, is that many sleep problems can be solved. A good place to start is to record your sleep habits and experiences in the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Diary. Completing this diary will help you identify patterns or conditions that might be interfering with your ability to get a good night's sleep."

The good news "is that many sleep problems can be solved."

"Some people need to lose weight, change their diets, or develop regular sleeping patterns to stop snoring. It may be helpful to remove allergy triggers (stuffed animals, pets, and feather/down pillows and comforters) from the person's bedroom. The doctor might also suggest medications for allergies or congestion due to a cold. If a doctor suspects a person has sleep apnea, he or she will monitor the patient while they sleep."

Is a visit to the doctor really necessary? What about an "over the counter" remedy?

"Many snoring sufferers turn to over-the-counter solutions to try to get a good night's sleep. Well a new study looked at three of the most popular anti-snoring aids to see if they can help stop those noisy nightly symphonies. Researchers evaluated three top products promoted to prevent snoring - a pillow, an herbal spray and a nasal strip. Each claims in ads and on web sites that their product prevents or reduces snoring. During the sleep lab study, patients were wired to monitoring equipment before they slept. Over the next week, they rotated products, using an anti-snoring pillow for the first night, then nothing the second, then the spray the third night, etc. Snoring levels where charted to see if there was any effect. Stanford sleep specialist, Dr. Pelayo, regularly evaluates sleep studies, and says the conclusions were clear. Dr. Pelayo: 'They found that none of the devices worked, that everybody snored just about the same before and after.'"

Questions of the Week:
Do you snore? Do you know someone who snores? What can people do on their own to improve the problem? What doesn't work? How can people who snore know if it is a problem that requires more serious attention? How can the doctor help? What information should people know about their snoring so that they can have informed conversations with their doctors? What lifestyle changes can a snorer expect to make in order to move toward being an ex-snorer?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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