snoring & sleep apnoea

Dr Garry Cussell from Specialist Clinics of Australia has stated that the understanding of snoring has significantly changed in the recent years. He recently explained, “Snoring was once seen as a simple inconvenience and a condition that interferes with good sleep, but it is now perceived as a potential symptom of various diseases, such as sleep apnea, hypertension or heart disease”.

Dr Cussell says that there are several major factors that contribute to snoring. These include:

Obesity
You might be already aware of the fact that obesity is an important factor that contributes to snoring. Having said that, it is also a reversible condition. Controlling your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good way of keeping your weight within the recommended limits.

Additionally, when considering your weight as a factor contributing to your snoring, the circumference of the waist, neck and any fatty deposits on the pharyngeal walls are also measured when making the diagnosis.

“This is an important part of the evaluation as the fat in your abdomen reduces your lung volume and the local fat deposits increase the circumference of the neck, which in turn decreases the upper respiratory tracts radius,” says Dr Cussell.

Gender
Clinical studies clearly point to the fact that there is a strong male prevalence in snoring with the ratio reaching 3:1 men to women, respectively. This ratio changes with women who have entered the postmenopausal phase and the proportion of snoring individuals levels out.

This significant discrepancy of different genders being unequally affected by snoring is partly due to the fact that men’s anatomy supports bulky tissue to build up around their throat. As men age, this tissue gets softer and more relaxed, eventually contributing to obstructing the airways.

A male hormone, androgen, is responsible for this build up as well as fat deposits gathering around the shoulders, neck and abdomen. Androgen also simulates appetite, weight gain and salt retention, and these in turn can aggravate snoring conditions.

Age
Age is another factor that contributes to snoring. When we age, we lose muscle tone everywhere in our body, including our neck, throat as well as soft palate. When the soft palate becomes flabby, it is more prone to vibration, which is directly associated with snoring.

This change in human physiognomy takes place around the age of 65 and this is when you can see significant changes in your sleeping habits.

Genetic component
Recent studies show that the genetic component should not be ignored when considering the tendency for snoring. You should be aware that if your parents and grandparents have snored, you are more susceptible to developing the same condition at some point in your life, if you don’t have it already.

Considering the fact that snoring has been linked to sleep breathing disorders and heart disease, you should keep an extra care in this case. “A couple of decades ago, snoring was not linked to any dangerous diseases, so your ancestors would not be aware that  they might have been battling an illness,” says Dr Cussell.

Alcohol & medicines
Alcohol and certain kinds of medicine have a significant role in respiratory problems. They act as muscle relaxant to our body. If consumed in the hours just prior to sleep, they are contributing to loosening of your muscles as well as palates. This increases the respiratory pauses in snorers and even causes non-snores to snore.

Additionally, there is evidence that many drugs including sedatives and barbiturates increase the frequency of apneas. Also, substances irritating the mucosa of the upper airway, such as tobacco, can provoke snoring and apneas.

Resting position of the head & neck
“If you are a snorer or share bedroom with a person who snores, you have probably noticed that the resting position during sleep has influence over snoring,” says Dr Cussell.

The supine position during rest causes the tongue and soft palate to fall backward, which has a negative effect on the diameter of the upper airway and predisposes to mouth breathing. The supine position can even cause healthy patients to snore and have the occasional apneic episode.

Changes in neck position can significantly influence snoring as they result in the displacement of the hyoid bone, which impacts the airflow into the pharynx. “The position of the temporomandibular joint connecting the hyoid bone to the skull is important and keeping it in balance helps in avoiding snoring,” says Dr Cussell.

Mouth breathing
The most healthy type of breathing, which helps in eliminating snoring is breathing through your nose. When nasal breathing is not possible due to allergic rhinitis, deviated nasal septum, enlarged adenoids, nasal obstructions or polyps, our bodies automatically adopt mouth breathing and that in turn predisposes the upper airway to collapse, which results in snoring.

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