Woman staring at man snoring

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“If you see something, say something” was coined after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The message was simple: if something seems wrong, let the authorities know right away. New York advertising executive Allen Kay came up with the phrase because he wanted to create something positive in the days after the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Lives have been saved by responsible citizens acting according to the maxim.

Now, there’s a new take on the phrase: If you hear something, say something.

This can save lives, too – one at a time. We’re talking about snoring. It can be a sign and a precipitator of life-threatening effects on the heart. The snorer may not know they snore. If you’re the snorer’s partner listening to the nightly cacophony, say something. You could save a life.

What Creates The Snoring Noise?

When we sleep, the muscles and tissues in the nose, sinuses, mouth, and upper throat relax. Air has a smaller passage into and out of the lungs. As air travels through the space, it causes noisy vibration of the relaxed tissues. The narrower the airway, the more tissue vibration, and the louder the noise.

Snoring can be light – not enough to wake you or the snorer. If the snorer is getting a good seven to nine hours of sleep per night without tossing and turning, the snoring is unlikely to threaten the individual’s health.

Mouth anatomy, alcohol consumption, nasal problems, sleep deprivation, and sleep position affect snoring. Risk factors for snoring include being male, being overweight or obese, and having a family history of sleep apnea.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Raucous snoring is often associated with the sleep disorder. The following symptoms may indicate OSA:

  • Snoring is so loud it disrupts your sleep
  • Seeing your partner have pauses in breathing
  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Morning headaches

OSA is characterized by loud snoring with pauses. The pauses may wake the snorer with a loud snort. People with OSA may have these episodes five times per hour of sleep.

OSA puts the snorer at risk for high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and stroke. Daytime sleepiness can increase the risk of a motor vehicle accident. In children, there may be behavior problems, especially aggressiveness or learning problems.

Annoyed by snoring
If you’re the snorer’s partner listening to the nightly cacophony, say something. You could save a life. (© WavebreakMediaMicro – stock.adobe.com)

Evaluation starts with a careful history and physical. The physician will want to speak with a snorer’s partner or the parent of a snoring child. Imaging – x-ray, CT scan, or MRI – may be used to check the structure of the airway.

A sleep study may be done to assess brain waves, blood-oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, sleep stages, and eye and leg movements. Many sleep studies can be done at home.

What’s The Treatment For Sleep Apnea?

Treatment starts with lifestyle changes: weight loss, avoiding alcohol close to bedtime, treating nasal congestion, avoiding sleep deprivation, and avoiding sleeping on the back.

Additional treatments may include:

  • Nasal decongestants, such as steroid sprays, may be helpful.
  • Oral appliances may be needed to advance the position of the jaw, tongue, and soft palate.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a mask over your nose and mouth for delivery of air during sleep.
  • Upper airway surgery – excess tissue may be removed or the jaw moved forward.

What Can A Snorer’s Partner Or Parent Do?

  • Encourage weight loss
  • Help your snorer adjust to sleeping on their side
  • Raise the head of the bed
  • Avoid alcohol and sedatives before sleep
  • Strive for a quiet, cool, dark environment
  • Use ear plugs
  • Use a white-noise machine
  • Sleep in separate rooms

About Dr. Faith Coleman

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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