Snoring - Is it always innocent?
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As annoyingly innocent as it may be, snoring can sometimes be the tip of the iceberg, with serious underlying conditions, especially when it is connected with episodes of sleep apnea, and breathing or oxygenation obstruction during sleep.
Snoring is caused by the vibration of the soft tissue in your head and neck as you breathe in, and it can affect the nasal passages, the palate, the tonsils and the uvula. Snoring does not occur during the day, but while you are asleep, the pharynx muscles relax and the airways narrow. This narrowing of the airways is thought to increase the speed of breathing out and to change air pressure in the airways, thus causing the soft tissue to vibrate by sucking the sides of the airways in. The same effect can also be the result of the upper respiratory tract narrowing which may be caused by conditions such as septum scoliosis and adenoid hypertrophy, nasopharyngeal tonsil, hypertrophic tonsils, hypertrophic or elongated uvula, and narrow cavities in the soft palate.
Men are known to snore more than women because of a different fat distribution. Elderly people also snore more because the pharyngeal muscle tones, as well as the palate and uvula muscles reduce with aging, thus resulting in the airways narrowing.
There is a direct connection between snoring and alcohol consumption, as well as the use of soporifics; alcohol and soporifics cause the pharyngeal tissues to relax resulting to recession of the pharyngeal walls and throat obstruction.
Moreover, high consumption of coffee and cigarette smoking on a daily basis may cause snoring.
The main symptoms of snoring include restless sleep, morning headaches, excessive feeling of fatigue in the morning, unusual daytime drowsiness, sluggishness, concentration and attention disorders, decreased performance and frequent change of feelings.
Snoring can be prevented if, from the moment it first appears, a careful investigation of finding and treating its causes takes place in the ENT clinic. Weight loss may be of great value for obese patients.
It is also essential to avoid alcohol and sleep-suppresive substances consumption, and to limit smoking. Other ways of prevention include frequent physical exercise, proper posture and the use of a suitable sleeping mattress and pillow; it is also advisable to avoid consuming large meals before bedtime. The use of nasal expanders that are sold in pharmacies seems to be of little help and only in the cases where snoring is due to nasal obstruction.
Is snoring dangerous?
Snoring itself, apart from the fatigue it causes due to the poor quality of sleep, it is often neither dangerous nor life-threatening for the patient. But if it is accompanied by known episodes of sleep apnea, thus interruption of breathing during sleep, then there is a risk that it forms part of a general syndrome called Sleep Apnea Syndrome (SAS). The Sleep Apnea Syndrome has a very serious impact on the patient’s health and it is even life-threatening as it is associated with hypertension, coronary artery disease and arrhythmias. In case your partner wakes up suddenly at night, gasping for air, it is advisable to seek help at a special ENT or to undergo a Sleep Study. Because the Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) is accompanied by specific symptoms, you should be seriously alarmed in case your partner shows one or more of the following: waking up with a feeling of suffocation, sweating during night, tiredness in the morning and sleepiness, irritability, bad mood, concentration and attention disorders, decreased efficiency at work or school, gastroesophageal reflux, nocturnal enuresis, decreased sexual desire, low blood oxygen levels, as well as serious cardiovascular complications such as hypertension, arrhythmias, tachycardias or bradycardias. Moreover, unusual drowsiness after eating or sleepiness while driving or watching a movie or TV are signs that a person may be suffering from sleep apnea, therefore they should contact a physician as soon as possible.