By Dr. Alok Banka
Snoring is one of the most embarrassing, health issues that we face. People who snore are usually the butt of jokes. It also causes strain in relations between a husband, a wife and even their children; but emotional reaction aside, the fact of matter is that loud habitual snoring may be caused by a very dangerous ailment called obstructive sleep apnea. Over a long period of time, this condition could even be life-threatening.
Snoring causes a lot of problems for an individual. It disrupts the sleep cycle for the snorer as well as people around the snorer. The snores of some people have been clocked at 111.6 decibels which is louder than the sound made by the jet engine of a transatlantic airplane!
If the patient does not undergo treatment for snoring, studies say that they are at increased risk for getting an early heart attack and/or stroke. It also causes increased psychological and social problems to the snorers.
Some people who are regular snorers may not need intensive medical treatment for snoring and can be cured of it by just losing weight, abstaining from smoking, and change the position that they sleep in. However, if this does not work, there are other forms of treatment for snoring. There is a device called ‘mandibular advancement splints’ which are usually used to prevent snoring in cases of mild to moderate snoring. There is the CPAP machine. But for more advanced cases, surgical procedures are necessary. Primary among them is uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. Radiofrequency ablation is also used as a treatment for snoring.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous affliction that is accompanied by snoring. A person suffers from sleep apnea if he stops breathing for a period of time. That is, after an exhale, there will be a longer than usual pause – maybe up to ten seconds or so, - and then he suddenly starts breathing again – all in their sleep. The risks of obstructive sleep apnea include stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, heart disease, and decreased libido. It also causes daytime drowsiness which can affect relations, cause accidents, and negatively affect productivity. Sleep apnea is caused by the obstruction of the upper airway due to excess tissue, enlarged tonsils, or a large tongue. It is also caused by the muscles of the airway collapsing due to relaxation while the person is asleep and also the position of the jaw. The symptoms are many, and include feeling tired and sleepy upon waking up even after a full night’s sleep, daytime drowsiness, problem with mental function, poor judgment, excess weight, large neck, frequent urination at night, decreased libido, and morning headaches.
Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea are behavioral modifications, CPAP machine, and oral appliances. There are also surgical alternatives in extreme cases. These are similar to those offered for snoring problems. They are uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), hyoid suspension, genioglossus advancement (GGA), and maillomandibular advancement (MMA).
Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous condition and usually the individual is not aware that he suffers from this problem. Hence, it is important that people in the family who notice this condition brings it to his/her attention and encourages them to seek medical attention. Both apnea and snoring result in a poor quality of sleep, which in turn results in poor health. It is important that people who have either of these conditions meet with a qualified and experienced ENT specialist to correctly diagnose and then treat their condition.