Snoring is a very common condition. Approximately 25% to 50% of men and 25% to 30% of women snore routinely.1 Snoring occurs when the flow of air from the mouth or nose to the lungs is disturbed during sleep, usually by a blockage or narrowing in the nose, mouth, or throat (airway). This condition causes the tissues of the airway to vibrate and knock against the back of the throat, resulting in a noise that can be soft, loud, raspy, harsh, hoarse, or fluttering.1 Whereas snoring can be considered a nuisance, sometimes it may progress to a more serious sleeping disorder known as sleep apnea, which requires medical intervention.
A variety of factors can contribute to a patient's likelihood of developing a tendency to snore.1 Gender is one of them, as stated above. Age also plays a role; snoring occurs most often in middle- aged people. One study showed that the risk of snoring among men increases until ages 50 to 60, then decreases afterwards. Heredity, being overweight or obese, and jaw abnormalities also can cause snoring. Smoking is another risk factor. Even children exposed to secondhand smoke have been shown to have an increased risk of becoming snorers. In addition, chronic nasal congestion during sleep can cause the disorder.
Although some of these factors cannot be overcome, a person can take several steps to alleviate the condition.1 If a snorer is overweight, for example, losing weight can help reduce the narrowing of the airway and possibly diminish or eliminate snoring. Breathing problems, such as from nasal congestion, can disturb air flow and could lead to snoring, so prompt treatment of these problems can bring relief.
Patients should be encouraged to sleep on their sides instead of their backs, and to get an adequate amount of sleep each night, to help lessen snoring. Also, it has been suggested that the use of alcohol and certain sedating medications may make snoring worse, so patients should be advised to use them sparingly. Also, several OTC products can reduce snoring (Table).
Because snoring is the major symptom of sleep apnea, patients should be aware of certain signs and when to seek medical guidance regarding a snoring condition. Patients should consult their health care providers if they experience any of the following:
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in the northern Virginia area.