Snoring is the term used to describe noisy breathing during sleep. It can range from a mild rattling sound to an extremely loud noise that affects anyone in proximity of the sleeper. Snoring may affect as many as 90 million American adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation. People of all ages and both genders may snore. It can occur every night or intermittently. Men who are overweight are most at risk, and snoring often becomes more serious as people age.
During sleep, the muscles in the throat relax, the tongue falls backward and the throat becomes narrowed and “floppy.” As the walls of the throat begin to vibrate, it produces the characteristic snoring sound. Aging tends to increase the relaxation of the throat muscles. Other causes of snoring include abnormalities of the nose and throat, like enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, or a deviation of the nasal septum (bone between the nostrils). Alcohol and some medications can increase the risk of snoring, and people who are obese are at greater risk of snoring, especially if they have considerable fatty tissue in the neck.
Snoring can disrupt the sleep of both the patient and his/her bed partner. This can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and daytime fatigue. Snoring has also been linked to problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and various forms of heart disease. Approximately one-half of those who snore actually have sleep apnea, a condition in which they stop breathing multiple times each night. Snoring can also cause a chronically dry mouth at night, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
In some cases, simply changing sleep position may make a difference – snoring is more common when people sleep on their backs. Obesity often contributes to snoring, and losing weight may be helpful. Other lifestyle treatments may include smoking cessation and limiting or avoiding alcohol. Oral appliances, a breathing treatment called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) and/or surgery may be used to treat severe snoring and sleep apnea.
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