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Is snoring a serious medical problem?

Depending on the severity, yes. Chronic snoring is the first classification of a scale of sleep disordered breathing syndromes. These syndromes are classified in accordance with their severity:

  • Chronic Snoring
  • Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)

Understanding Snoring

In the US alone, roughly 90 million adults are affected by snoring. Almost everybody snores now and then, but habitual snoring could be more than just a nuisance for your partner. It can lead to impaired sleep quality as a result of frequent sleep disruptions, and it can also be a sign of a more serious illness.

Though snoring can affect all ages and both genders, snoring tends to affect men and overweight people more frequently. It is also found to worsen with age, though lifestyle changes can help to alleviate it.

For habitual snorers, snoring surgeon may prescribe medical devices or even surgery to fix the problem at its root and allow them to regain a good night's sleep again.

Causes of Snoring

According to snoring doctors, snoring occurs when respiratory airflow through the nose and mouth is blocked. This could be due to:

  • Aging – Snoring worsens with age as throat muscles tend to get loose overtime.
  • Alcohol, smoking and drugs – Certain substances and medications cause throat muscles to relax.
  • Extra throat tissue – This usually affects people who are overweight or pregnant, have enlarged adenoids and tonsils, as well as elongated soft palates and uvulas.
  • Obstructed nasal passageway – Anything that hinders breathing normally, such as allergies, congestion from flu and sinus infections, and nasal deformities (e.g. a deviated nasal septum), can cause snoring.
  • Sleep deprivation – Lack of sleep results in further throat relaxation, which induces snoring.
  • Sleeping position – Sleeping on your back causes the throat to narrow, resulting in louder snores.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is characterized by regular periods of slowed or stopped breathing at night. It occurs when the airway is intermittently blocked during sleep, resulting in pauses in breathing. It is a serious disorder that requires immediate medical intervention.

Consult a snoring doctor at the onset of these symptoms:

  • Loud snoring that disrupts the sleeping of others
  • Intermittent pauses breathing
  • Choking or gasping in sleep

Sleep Apnoea Diagnosis

To diagnose sleep apnoea, the doctor will conduct a physical evaluation as well as various tests to monitor breathing patterns and other bodily functions while the patient is asleep.

Tests include a nocturnal polysomnography, where breathing patterns, oxygen levels, arm and leg movements, and heart, lung and brain activities are monitored while the patient sleeps. Portable monitoring equipment can be used, but the nocturnal polysomnography is preferred for a more precise reading.

Home sleep testing is also available. In this case, the doctor provides a testing kit that the patient can administer at home. Tests usually involve monitoring breathing patterns, airflow, heart rate and oxygen level. Sleep apnoea is often identified by a drop in oxygen while sleeping, and a rise in oxygen upon awakening.

Treatment for Sleep Apnoea

Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and quitting alcohol, smoking and drugs, are strongly recommended by specialists to improve milder cases of sleep apnoea.

If the sleep apnoea is severe, however, other treatment options such as medical devices and surgery may be recommended. They include:

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) – The most common sleep apnoea treatment, CPAP involves a mask, which will be worn over the patient's nose or mouth during sleep. The mask, which is attached to a machine, will help keep the airways open to regulate continuous airflow.
  • Dental Devices – This is basically a custom-fit mouthpiece that keeps airways open by moving the lower jaw forward. This will allow the muscles at the back of the throat to relax, and keep the tongue from blocking airflow.
  • Surgery – Surgery is required to correct sleep apnoea if the patient has enlarged tonsils, structural deformities, or a constricted throat caused by mandibular problems. The most common surgical procedures are:

    • Nasal surgery – Corrects deformities in the nose area
    • Mandibular maxillomandibular advancement surgery – Corrects facial problems and throat blockages
    • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) – Widens the airway at the throat by removing soft tissue from the palate and back of the throat

If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to life-threatening conditions like high blood pressure and other cardiovascular illnesses. It also affects the quality of life as a result of disrupted sleep and insufficient oxygen flow.

Snoring may be a relatively harmless thing, but if left unchecked or untreated, could worsen and lead to serious medical conditions and an impaired quality of life. ENT Specialist, Dr Lau Chee Chong at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre provides highly effective ENT treatments and diagnostic services for both adults and children to help them manage their sleep breathing disorders better. Call 6235 9535 to book an appointment today.

Complete Range of ENT Services

Our Singapore ENT clinic specialises in the end-to-end management of all ear, nose, and throat conditions while keeping the best ENT practices in mind.

We offer comprehensive care for the diagnosis and treatment of simple and complex ENT conditions ranging from allergies, ear infections and tonsillitis, to hearing disorders and ENT cancers in both adults and children. Our general and paediatric ENT services also include sinus and snoring surgery to treat obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), sinusitis, breathing disorders and congenital abnormalities.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Allergies
Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear and Hearing Disorders
Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sinus and Nasal Disorders
Screening, Diagnosis, and Management of ENT Cancers
Diagnosis and Treatment of Throat Disorders
Contact Information
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Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510

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