Snoring is the noise produced by rattling of the soft tissues of your upper airways as air moves through them as you sleep. When you’re awake your muscles hold the airways firmly open during breathing and the airflow is usually smooth and quiet. But during sleep, muscle tone falls and the airways can rattle more, especially when breathing in.
Snoring is more common if you are overweight (especially in men with thickset necks), because the weight of soft tissue in the neck tends to push the airways closed. This means you need to make more of an effort to drag air past this obstruction into the lungs. This dragging results in turbulence and snoring. Other factors include particularly narrow or weak airways, older age (where the tissues become thinner and weaker), obstruction or congestion of the airways (inflamed tonsils, chronic nasal congestion) and sedative medicines, which reduce muscle tone.
Men are more likely to snore as they tend to have thicker necks, but there are many contributory factors and women and children may snore too, particularly during respiratory infections and after the menopause.
The more intense the snoring the more likely it is to affect your health. Heavy snoring means you’re not breathing efficiently. Some people find their airway becomes completely blocked during each effort to breathe in, and they effectively stop breathing. This problem is known as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea or OSA.
It causes oxygen levels to fall in the blood, which eventually wakes you up enough to restore muscle tone slightly and overcome the obstruction. All this means that you constantly dip in and out of the lighter levels of sleep and never reach restorative deep sleep. As well as tiredness it can put significant strain on your heart and cardiovascular system.
Simple lifestyle factors such as losing weight and regular exercise to improve your muscle strength and tone can help reduce snoring. Sleeping on your back can trigger it as your tongue falls backwards, so strategies that keep you on your side (such as sewing a tennis ball into the back of a pyjama shirt to prevent rolling) can help. Speak to your pharmacist about products to ease nasal stuffiness. If you breathe through your mouth you may find devices which hold the mouth open such as chin strips helpful – your dentist can explain these to you.
If snoring causes serious problems your GP may be able to offer more advice, but there is no easy solution. Some people benefit from further investigation by a sleep clinic, but you may wait months to see someone.
Q My eyes are always dry, what can I do?
Dr Trisha says: Tears constantly wash, lubricate and nourish the outer surface layer of your eye. Many factors from illness to central heating can interfere with this system, so dry eyes are common, especially in later life. Thyroid disease, allergies and auto-immune conditions, as well as medications such as blood pressure drugs can cause dry eyes and oestrogen-only HRT increases the risk of dry eye by 70 per cent.
Get your eyes checked by your optician and talk to your doctor if you have other symptoms such as a dry mouth. Artificial tears may give you temporary relief but need to be applied frequently. Wear wrap-around glasses to help prevent your tears evaporating. If you’re still struggling you can have your tear ducts blocked to stop them draining the fluid away from your eyes, but this should be a last resort.
Ask Dr Trisha about your health problems by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.