Sometimes it can sound like a train rumbling through the house, shaking the walls so hard it sucks the dust off the curtains.
Snoring can be such an embarrassing problem that most people would rather not talk about it. But it's a problem that is keeping a lot of unhappy people awake each night.
About 45 percent of adults snore at least occasionally but one in every four adults is a habitual snorer. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and overweight people and it usually grows worse with age. Snoring occurs when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose.
The Somnoplasty procedure delivers radio frequency beneath the surface layer of the soft palate, heating the tissue enough to create a lesion. Over the next four to six weeks, the treated tissue shrinks and tightens and snoring is lessened or ceased.
While having a habitual snorer in the house can be a long-standing family joke, it can also become a serious problem. It disturbs the sleeping pattern of the snorer, spouse and other family members in the home and when snoring is severe, it can cause serious health problems, such as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when a snorer stops breathing for a short period of time on and off throughout the night.
After many years with sleep apnea disorder, elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement can occur, as well as the immediate effect of having an unrestful sleep and feeling drowsy in the daytime. Snoring can also adversely affect marriages and other relationships.
"We've seen marriages on the brink because of this so it can be very serious," said Dr. Kurtis Waters, an otolaryngologist/facial plastic surgeon at Brainerd Medical Center. "Snoring is very socially disruptive. Most snorers won't sleep in a hotel room with their family because they snore loudly. Or maybe the fishing buddies don't want you to come back up to the cabin in the Lake Of The Woods because of your snoring."
People who snore may suffer from:
-- Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat. When muscles are too relaxed, either from alcohol or from drugs that cause sleepiness, the tongue falls backwards into the airway or the throat muscles draw in from the sides into the airway. This can also happen in deep sleep.
-- Excessive bulkiness of throat tissue. Children with large tonsils and adenoids, for example, often snore. Those who are overweight have bulky neck tissue, too. Cysts or tumors could also cause bulk, but they are rare.
-- Long soft palate and/or uvula. A long palate narrows the opening from the nose into the throat. As it dangles, it acts as a noisy flutter valve during relaxed breathing. A long uvula makes matters even worse.
-- Obstructed nasal airways. A stuffy or blocked nose requires extra effort to pull air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat, pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat and results in snoring. So for some people, they may only snore during the hay fever season or if they have a cold or sinus infection.
While there are ways for snorers to help themselves stop snoring so loudly, habitual snorers usually need to seek medical treatment to stop snoring and to undergo a sleep study to find out if they're suffering from sleep apnea.
Somnoplasty is a relatively new, quick and painless treatment to stop snoring and only became available in the Brainerd lakes area six months ago through Dr. Waters at BMC. Before then, Somnoplasty patients had to travel to the Twin Cities to relieve their snoring.
The procedure involves a Somnus device with a small electrode that is placed in the soft palate of the mouth and delivers a radio frequency, which heats the tissue. A lesion is created in the soft palate. Patients remain awake during the procedure, which usually lasts about 20 minutes on an outpatient basis under a local anesthetic, and they will experience some minor swelling. Within three to six weeks, the lesion heals and tightens up the tissue in the soft palate. The tightening of the tissue causes the person to stop snoring. Often a person may have to go back for 1-3 additional treatments to make sure the obstructive tissue is sufficiently reduced. Somnoplasty can also be used to tighten the nasal and tongue tissues that may be causing snoring.
For Sue, a 47-year-old mother of two from Brainerd, the Somnoplasty procedure has been a lifesaver. She underwent the procedure performed by Waters at BMC last fall, going back twice for additional treatments. Her snoring had gotten so bad that for the past four years she's slept in the family's basement recreation room while her two children and husband slept on the third floor of their Brainerd home.
"It's really embarrassing," said Sue, who asked that her last name not be printed. "My family complained even three floors away that I was keeping them awake."
Sue's snoring was so embarrassing for her that she was terrified to fall asleep on airplanes and wasn't comfortable sleeping in hotel rooms. An embarrassing moment came last year when she was staying overnight at an area hospital and woke up to hear a hospital worker closing her hospital room door, telling a co-worker he couldn't believe it was a woman who was snoring that loud.
After undergoing Somnoplasty, she's now stopped snoring, although she snores occasionally when she has had a cold. She went on vacation with her sister for four days and was happy to discover she never snored at all. Plus, she's moved back to a bedroom upstairs with her family.
Sue sleeps a lot better now and has lost 15 pounds since the treatments. She said her weight loss can only be attributed to feeling more restful throughout the day.
Waters said the Somnoplasty is not always the cure-all to end snoring for everyone, but once all other home remedies are tried, it can provide much needed relief.
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