If your partner’s snoring keeps you awake at night, then read on. Snoring can be much more than just an embarrassment. It may just be a symptom of a disease – sleep apnea.
But let us start at the basics – snoring. Snoring itself can be categorised into primary snoring, Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, and Sleep Apnea. If you have the third category, then that is something you have to address.
The cardinal symptom of Sleep Apnea is ‘heroic snoring,’ says Mohan Kameswaran, managing director, Madras ENT Research Foundation. You can hear the snoring outside the room in which the person is sleeping. These people have day-time fatigue and tend to doze off during the day.
Apnea happens when there is an obstruction to the breathing passage – either at the palate or the base of the tongue. When the air passes through the narrow passage, vibration of the soft tissues occurs and this causes the snoring sound. It can also be due to reduction in the tone of the muscles in the pharynx, Dr. Kameswaran details.
“A patient’s wife complains that her husband snores loudly. She notices that he even stops breathing briefly before he starts breathing/snoring again,” Ravi Ramalingam, managing director, KKR ENT Research Foundation, says. “He wakes up with a headache, has wild mood swings, is irritable and does not have the feeling of having rested even after a night’s sleep.”
There are two tests that can determine if a person has apnea – a polysomnogram and a dynamic MRI. Both tests monitor an individual while sleeping; while the former determines apnea episodes and irregularities of heart beat, the MRI finds out where the obstruction is located. For this, the patient has to check into a sleep clinic at night or he can be hooked up to an ambulatory device in his own bedroom.
Investigators, however, first rule out obesity, a main cause for both snoring and apnea. The reduction in the tonal quality of the pharyngeal muscles is generally related to lack of physical activity, obesity. “There is no doubt that obesity has a direct effect. The surface area has a direct bearing on the amount of air we need to breathe in. Larger surface means more air and if tone is low it means we are taking in less air,” Dr. Kameswaran explains.
Therefore, lifestyle modification is the best solution to the problem. “Get more exercise, modulate your diet – that is for the long run,” Dr. Ramalingam adds. Both doctors recommend that muscle relaxants and drugs that tend to induce drowsiness should be avoided for people with apnea.
Dr. Kameswaran adds that it is important to take care of apnea. “If you don’t do anything about it, it is a slow killer. It can impair the quality and longevity of life, even cause strain on the right side of the heart.”