Snoring: A Nuisance or Something More?

With serious conditions ruled out, many snorers can find relief at the pharmacy.

Man snoring with his wife in bed
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Snoring occurs when the flow of air to the lungs is disturbed during sleep, usually due to a blockage or narrowing of the airway in the nose, mouth, or throat.

As a result, the tissues of the airway vibrate and rub against the back of the throat, resulting in a noise that can be described as soft, loud, raspy, harsh, hoarse, or fluttering. Snoring can occur nightly or intermittently, and many snorers are unaware that they snore.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, snoring affects an estimated 90 million adults in the United States occasionally and an estimated 40 million regularly. Although snoring affects both genders, it is more common among men and those who are overweight. Snoring also tends to increase with age in both men and women.

[See Top Recommended Snore Aids.]

Snoring is often considered a mere nuisance, but it can be an indication of obstructed breathing or a condition such as sleep apnea that requires medical evaluation and treatment in order to avoid serious health consequences. Pediatric patients who snore may have a problem with their tonsils and adenoids, or they may have sleep apnea, and should be referred to their primary health care provider for further evaluation.

Risk Factors for Snoring

The cause of snoring can't always identified. Risk factors that can increase this tendency include:

• Male gender

• Being overweight or obese

• Having a narrow airway

• Having a low, thick soft palate or enlarged tonsils or adenoids

• Consumption of alcohol, which relaxes the throat muscles

• History of smoking

• Having nasal problems such as a deviated septum, nasal polyps, or nasal allergies

• Use of sedatives or antihistamines before bedtime

• Poor muscle tone in throat

• Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea

It is important to note that although obese or overweight people are at greater risk of snoring, it can also occur in people of normal weight.

Treatment

Most people who snore are unaware of their snoring and learn about it from the observations of others. When counseling a patient on the various anti-snoring products on the market, pharmacists should determine the frequency and severity of their snoring as well as inquire whether the patient is experiencing daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, headaches, or interrupted sleep throughout the night.

[See Trouble Sleeping? Ask Yourself Why.]

Pharmacists should encourage patients to consult their primary health care provider when warranted. In particular, patients who exhibit symptoms of sleep apnea should always consult a physician for further evaluation and appropriate treatment.

The nonprescription products available for reducing the incidence of mild snoring include drug-free nasal dilator strips such as Breathe Right Nasal Strips (GlaxoSmithKline) that open up the nasal passages. Throat rinses and sprays are also available. These formulations work by lubricating the tissues of the throat, which minimizes vibrations, thereby eliminating or reducing the incidence of snoring. Patients with sleep apnea should avoid using these products and should always seek proper treatment from their primary health care provider.

There are also a number of oral appliances that maintain an open, unobstructed airway in the throat during sleep. Studies have found that custom-made oral appliances are more effective than OTC devices.

Patients who suffer from episodes of mild-to-moderate snoring may also benefit from nonpharmacologic measures such as weight loss, smoking cessation, changing sleeping positions (like sleeping on one's side instead of one's back), avoiding alcohol intake before bedtime, and treating nasal congestion due to colds and allergies to increase airflow.

[See Top Recommended Nasal Decongestants.]

Final Thought

Patients should seek medical care if the degree and frequency of snoring negatively impacts their quality of life, and should be encouraged to discuss sleep apnea with their primary health care provider.

Note: This article was originally published on July 10, 2012 on PharmacyTimes.com. It has been edited and republished by U.S. News .