Many people regard snoring as not that serious a problem. For many this may be the case but there is a spectrum which runs from simple uncomplicated snoring to severely obstructed breathing at night. In the long term this can be a risk factor for significant health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure.
Snoring occurs because of vibrations in the upper part of the airway due to an obstruction caused by internal factors, such as extra large tonsils or poor muscle tone, or external factors, like compression of the airway due to excess fat around the neck. Other causes include heavy alcohol consumption or the use of sedatives.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can be a sign of a snoring problem. Doctors use a questionnaire called the Epworth sleepiness score to measure daytime sleepiness. This measures how often you are likely to fall asleep in certain situations such as in the car, watching television or in the middle of a conversation with a member of the family or a friend. If you have a particularly high sleepiness score then the doctor will arrange further investigations.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause and severity of the problem. A key factor in treatment is often losing weight. It may also be as simple as avoiding alcohol or sleeping pills, or more complex such as wearing a mask at night. The most common type used is called a CPAP mask. This allows a positive flow of air to be delivered to the airway during the night, causing the airways, which previously were at risk of collapsing and obstructing, to be kept open. The mask can be uncomfortable as it is tight fitting.
Some people snore because of an excess of soft tissue at the back of the throat. This can be trimmed with an operation called a uvuloplasty.
This can be done surgically using a general anaesthic, or under local anaesthetic using
another treatment called Laser Assisted Uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP). Here a laser beam is used to remodel the uvula (the tissue dangling in the back of the throat) and remove excess vibrating soft tissue.
In some cases snoring may have serious long-term consequences. If you have significant daytime sleepiness and your partner reports heavy snoring then consultation with the GP is advised.
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