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Did you know...

45% of normal adults snore at least occasionally, and 25% are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males, and it usually grows worse with age.

     More than 300 devices are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as cures for snoring. The presumption was that a person could be trained or conditioned not to snore. Unfortunately, snoring is not under a person's control. If these devices actually work, it is probably because they keep the snorer awake.

An anonymous wit once said: "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone..."

What is Snoring?

     The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This is the collapsible part of theairway where the tongue and the upper throat meet the soft palate and the fleshy structure (uvula). When these structures strike against each other and vibrate during breathing, snoring occurs.

What Causes Snoring?

     People who snore have at least one of the following problems:

         *Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat muscles. Flabby muscles allow the tongue to fall backwards into the airway or allow the throat muscles to be drawn in from the sides of the airway. This occurs in some people when they relax in the deep-sleep stages, or when the person's muscle control is too relaxed from drug or alcohol use, which causes sleepiness.

          *Excessive bulkiness of throat tissues. Large tonsils and adenoids, for example, commonly cause snoring in children. Overweight people also have bulky neck tissues. Cysts or tumors could be present, but they are rare.

          *Excessive length of the soft palate and uvula. A long palate may narrow the opening from the nose into the throat. As it damages in the airway, it acts as a flutter valve during relaxed breathing, and contributes to the noise of snoring. A long uvula makes matters even worse.

          *Obstructed nasal airways. When a person has a stuffy or blocked-up nose, he must strain to inhale air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in his throat, in teh collapsible part of the airway, and it pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat. So snoring occurs even in people who would not snore if they could breathe through their nose properly. This explains why some people snore only when they have a cold, hayfever, allergies, or sinus infection. Also, deformities of the nose or nasal septum frequently cause this problem. Deviated septum is a commmon term for a deformity inside the nose in the wall that separates one nostril from the others.

Is Snoring Serious?

     Yes, it distrubs the sleeping patterns of the snorer, so he may not sleep restfully. It has been shown that heavy snorers develop high blood pressure at a younger age than non-snorers.

     The most serious form of snoring is known as obstructive sleep apnea, when loud snoring is known as interrupted by frequent episodes of totally obstructed breathing. This is serious if the episodes last more than 10 seconds each and occur more than 7 times per hour. Your physician may recommend a laboratory sleep study to evaluate your symptoms. Apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 obstructed events per night, and many spend as much as half their sleep time with blood oxygen levels below normal. During their obstructive episodes, the heart must pump harder to circulate the blood faster. This can cause irregular heart-beats, and after many years, lead to elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement. The immediate effect of this oxygen starvation is that the person must sleep in a lighter stage and tense his muscles enough to open his airway to get air into his lungs. Because snorers with severe sleep apnea are often unaware of it, a laboratory sleep study may be the only way to discover it.

     Snoring is also disruptive to family life. It makes the snorer an object of ridicule and causes other household members sleepless nights. Snorers become unwelcome roommates on vacations or business trips.

     People with obstructive  sleep apnea may spend little of their nigh-time hours in the deep-sleep stages that are essential for a good rest. Therefore, they awaken unrefreshed and are sleepy much of the day. This constant fatigue may cause problems if they drive a car, operate machinery, or conduct other activities requiring good concentration.

An ear, nose and throat specialist is a physican concerned with the medical and surgical treatment of the ears, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck.

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