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Snoring can be more than a noisy annoyance

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March 19, 1997
Web posted at: 7:50 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Linda Ciampa

Editor's note: This story is part three of a week-long series on sleep deprivation's impact on society.

(CNN) -- Snoring is a problem as old as sleep itself, and it has been immortalized as the butt of countless family jokes. But for some snorers, it is no laughing matter.

As many as 40 percent of adults, most of them men, snore. Sleep apnea, a related disorder in which people literally stop breathing in their sleep, affects about 28 million Americans.

Snoring happens when a person's throat muscles relax during sleep, and he or she tries to breathe through a too-small opening in the back of the throat. This causes the soft palate to vibrate and make that familiar noise.

"Snoring has a huge spectrum, and I think that's the key variable you need to keep in mind," said Dr. David White of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Some people, it's just making noise -- it may upset their spouse or the guy next door, but it has very little clinical impact. In other people, it indicates that they're dramatically working to breathe. It indicates they have sleep apnea."

Sleep apnea causes unwanted dozing

Frank Tosti

Frank Tosti of Tauton, Massachusetts, knows about the potentially dangerous consequences of sleep apnea.

"It's scary as hell when it happens to you," Tosti said.

Tosti snored for 40 years before his condition worsened and he developed apnea. The sleeping disorder caused him to doze off during the day -- sometimes in the middle of a conversation, at work and, on two occasions, in the car.

"We had three of our grandchildren in the back seat. They were singing and the radio was blasting and he went off the road," said his wife, Irene. "He said he was all right. I was going to drive, but he said I'm fine, I'm fine. The next day I called the doctor."

Bulldogs aid researchers

dog research

Research is in the works for potential clinical treatments for snoring.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are studying whether the chemical serotonin can help English bulldogs, whose facial structure causes them to snore and suffer apnea. Lab tests show serotonin seems to help keep the bulldogs' throats open during sleep.

Researchers at Stanford are testing another experimental treatment for snoring, the so-called somnoplasty technique in which excess tissue at the back of the throat is bombarded with radio waves.

Until a new treatment emerges, snorers can try special pillows, nose rings and even an alarm clock that wakes the snoring sleeper.

somnoplasty

Experts advise trying lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, sleeping on one's side and avoiding alcohol at night.

Medical treatments include dental devices that can hold the tongue or jaw forward, air pressure devices and surgery.


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