Ear, Nose & Throat Care

By Dr Rekha Balachandran

Is snoring merely a misery for your bed partner or something more sinister? Read on to find out!

What causes it?

  1. Nose block due to any structural change in the nose, the presence of allergies or polyps.
  2. During sleep, the muscles in the throat become relaxed and our tongue also falls back, narrowing the airway. Drinking alcohol or the use of sleeping pills can reduce the tension in these muscles and contribute to snoring.
  3. Enlarged, bulky tissues in the throat from being overweight. Children especially have enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which make them snore.

Is it dangerous?

Since the muscle walls of the throat and tongue are relaxed during sleep, they can collapse completely, making it impossible to breathe. This is a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

This can lead to interruptions in breathing, which can last from seconds to minutes. Each time this happens, your brain sends signals to your body to wake up and breathe, restoring the airway temporarily. Frequent waking from sleep (even though we may not realize it) interferes with a normal sleep pattern causing more time to be spent in a stage of light rather than in deep restorative sleep that we need. It also puts a strain on the heart resulting in higher blood pressure with resultant increase in risks of heart attack and stroke.

What are the symptoms of Sleep Apnoea?

If you snore and have the following symptoms, it may be sleep apnoea.

  1. Feeling sleepy during the day and falling asleep during quiet activities like reading, watching TV or even waiting at a traffic light!
  2. Waking up in the morning feeling tired and with a headache
  3. Having accidents during work or near misses while driving
  4. Inability to concentrate and poor memory, hyperactivity for children.
  5. Needing to frequently use the toilet at night or bedwetting in children.

What should I do?

If you have the symptoms listed above, consult your doctor. An ENT doctor will usually do an endoscopic assessment of the nose and throat to look for any causes of obstruction. You will need to undergo a sleep study, which measures several body functions during a nights’ sleep.

How is it treated?

Depending on the severity of the OSA, several options are available. Lifestyle and diet modifications, losing weight and quitting smoking can help in mild OSA. Sleeping on your side rather than the back may also help to reduce the obstruction. Allergy treatment can clear up nasal block. If these measures don’t help to improve your symptoms or if your apnoea is moderate to severe, devices can help open up a blocked airway. These machines are called CPAP machines and they blow air into the throat and sometimes the nose, preventing collapse. In some other cases, surgery may be necessary.

Good sleep habits

Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good “sleep hygiene”.

Read our article next month where we outline some simple guidelines towards practising good sleep hygiene.

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