Can Snoring Indicate Major Health Issues in Adults?

Continuing our video series, Dr. Jerome Hester explains “Can Snoring Indicate Major Health Issues in Adults?”

Although society’s attitude toward snoring is usually somewhat humorous, this can be a major issue for individuals. Aside from the fact that it itself can happen and cause couples not to be able to share the same bed, it also may be a sign of a much more serious health issue. Snoring occurs routinely when the soft tissues of the airway, especially the roof of the mouth or what’s known as the soft palate, vibrates due to narrowing of the airway and therefore vibration of that tissue as air passes by it. The most common time for this relaxation to occur is when one gets into deeper sleep. At that time soft tissues in the body, including muscles, generally relax.

It is likely to be true that almost any adult can snore occasionally in certain indications such as perhaps when they’re extremely fatigued, had an extra glass of red wine with dinner, or have a bad cold. However, any individual that is a routine snorer, snoring most nights, should really be evaluated. About 80% of those individuals will be found to have sleep apnea, and sleep apnea has a myriad of very serious medical side effects and potential complications, some of which are even life-threatening.

An individual who denies any other symptoms of sleep apnea but just snores still is at risk for this very real diagnosis. On top of that, more recently there have been at least one or two studies that have demonstrated individuals who have only primary snoring, who have a normal test for sleep apnea, who still show an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, snoring itself may actually be its risk by itself. Any individual who snores routinely should have a sleep study. A sleep study is a diagnostic test ordered by your physician that can either involve a night stay at a sleep center or can actually be taken home and performed in your own bed. This will measure whether or not there is significant enough obstruction to provide the diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea.

It is very important to do this before treatments are initiated because the type of treatment that may be safe for that individual who’s snoring and also the predicted success rates of treatments vary on whether sleep apnea is present or not, and if it is present, the severity of sleep apnea. If, in fact, a sleep study is normal, and the patient does not have sleep apnea and still wishes to have their snoring treated, there are a variety of mechanisms to treat that, both non-surgical and procedural. The non-procedural treatments include the use of CPAP, which is typically used for sleep apnea, even mild to moderate sleep apnea, where positive-pressure air is used to stent the airway open.

There are other options now available that are slightly less invasive but are based on the similar techniques, and then there are devices known as dental devices or mandibular repositioning devices similar to a teen’s orthodontic retainer that is used instead to pull the lower jaw slightly forward to open the airway. These have the benefit of not being invasive but do have to be worn each night to prevent the snoring. There are office-based procedural treatments that can involve using heat energy to tighten the tissue, using implanted devices that will strengthen and tighten the tissue, or even surgical treatment that basically removes the redundant tissue to relieve the snoring. All of which have their place in the treatment of snoring but really demand an evaluation to determine whether any other issues are present in order to maximize their potential for success.