Whether it’s a soft drone or loud foghorn, snoring is arguably one of the most annoying sounds anyone has to endure. 

Luckily, neither you nor your husband have to live with the snoring forever. Neurologist and sleep physician Dr Lim shares some ideas to help deal with the problem in order to get a good night’s rest.

Sleep on your side instead of on your back. Doing so causes the tongue to fall forward instead of backwards into the back of the throat, which tends to block the air passage. Without this blockage, there is less snoring.

Try not to drink alcohol close to bedtime, as this relaxes the upper air passage muscles and amplifies your snoring. 

Are you taking sleeping pills or other medication containing muscle relaxants? This can relax the upper air passage muscles and increase your snoring.

If you are overweight, try to lose the extra kilograms. When people gain weight, the fat accumulates around the neck and trunk, and this leads to difficulty breathing. Excess fat around the neck contributes to snoring and in severe cases, OSA.

You may have simple upper air passage problems like a blocked nose due to common allergies. These can exacerbate your snoring too, so make sure you get treated. Allergies can be treated with medications such as antihistamines and avoidance of the allergens.

Besides allergies, nasal blockage can also be caused by nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum (for example, a broken nose). And these can worsen your snoring problem. This type of structural blockage may require surgical correction, so see a doctor if this is the case.

According to Dr Lim Li Ling, snoring may be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). This is a potentially serious medical condition associated with excessive daytime sleepiness, increased risk of accidents, depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease and even increased mortality.

If someone has OSA, says Dr Lim, there is insufficient oxygenation of blood and the air passages are significantly blocked, which is what triggers the snoring sounds. This causes stress on the body as it struggles to breathe and get enough oxygen; there is a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, and an increase of stress hormones.

Seek medical attention if your snoring is associated with daytime sleepiness, tiredness or poor-quality sleep (where you do not wake up refreshed), or if you already have risk factors like high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. The latter three conditions are associated with OSA, of which snoring is a symptom.

If you or Hubby does have OSA, consult a sleep specialist; you might want to consider breathing machines or surgery. 

Breathing machines such as the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines, are the most immediately effective treatment for severe OSA. They deliver a column of air through a nasal mask. The air is forced through the blocked air passages and into the lungs, and the patient is thus relieved of laboured breathing through the narrowed air passages.

If well tolerated, such machines eliminate snoring and effectively treat OSA. As the machines vary in model, make and complexity of function, you can expect to pay anything from below $1,000 to about $2,500 for the device.

Where the physical obstruction is clearly identifiable and likely the only cause of your snoring or OSA – for example, large nasal polyps or large tonsils blocking the airway – you may need upper airway surgery.

However, since there tends to be multiple levels of obstruction (for example, in the nose, throat, small jaw, etc), surgery is only reserved for carefully selected patients (they must be fit for surgery and their OSA must not be severe).

Such patients would also require a comprehensive pre-surgical evaluation by an expert trained in surgery for snoring or OSA. The cost of surgery depends on the complexity of the procedure, and can cost up to several thousand dollars. Image: Corbis

Dr Lim Li Ling is a neurologist and sleep physician at the Singapore Neurology & Sleep Centre at Gleneagles Medical Centre. The medical centre is located at 2007 Singapore Neurology & Sleep Centre, Gleneagles Medical Centre, 6 Napier Road, #04-19, Singapore 258499. Call 6473 2377 or 6473 9257 to book an appointment or email enquiries@neurologysleep.com.sg for further enquiries.

This article was originally published in Simply Her February 2011.