Q: Can acupuncture help with chronic snoring? My husband has done a sleep study, used nose sprays and had his uvula removed. Now, he snores even more. He quit smoking three months ago and does not drink very much.
A: Acupuncture has not been formally recognized as a treatment for snoring. However, some information suggests that if your husband’s snoring is due to nasal congestion from seasonal or chronic allergies, acupuncture might help. How it works isn’t clear, though it appears to help decrease the amount of nasal mucus present, allowing for improved air flow through the nose and throat. As a result, there’s less tissue vibration and a lower risk for snoring.
Understand, though, that acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone and that even though it appears to help with nasal congestion, it’s not a proven treatment. Acupuncture may work best when used in conjunction with Western medicinal approaches, such as allergy shots and decongestants.
Most of us snore only from time to time. But a quarter of the population snores regularly. In fact, a common complaint from these chronic snorers is a dry and irritated throat upon awakening. Factors that increase the risk for snoring include:
- Taking medications such as sleeping pills, muscle relaxants or sedating antihistamines.
- Drinking alcohol at or near bedtime.
- Sleeping on your back.
- Being overweight or, if you’re a man, having a neck circumference of greater than 16.5 inches.
- Suffering from nasal congestion, which often leads to more mouth breathing, more tissue vibration and more snoring.
- Growing older, which may cause a decrease in the muscle tone of the upper throat.
- Being male; men tend to have narrower air passages.
- Having an enlarged tongue base, adenoids or tonsils.
- Using pillows, which can increase the angle of your neck and partially block the airway.
- Having a family history of snoring.
- Being in the last trimester of pregnancy.
- Suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious health condition leading to interrupted breathing, irregular heart rhythms and decreased levels of oxygen circulating in the blood.
- Having a floppy soft palate that vibrates at night in those who breathe through their mouths.
Since your husband’s uvula has been removed and the results of his sleep study were normal, several of the above potential causes already have been eliminated. So, treatment for his chronic snoring needs to be aimed at other tissue areas that vibrate against each other. These include the soft palate (soft part of the roof of the mouth), throat, tonsils and adenoids.
Conservative measures to stop snoring target reversible causes. For example, strengthening the upper airways can make them less susceptible to collapse and vibration. One way to do this—and I’m not kidding—is to learn to play the Australian wind instrument the didgeridoo, as according to a small study published in the British Medical Journal. Other measures include elevating the head of the bed at least four inches instead of using a pillow, losing weight, sleeping on your side (although serious snorers will snore in any position), eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke, avoiding food and drink within three hours of bedtime, and increasing your level of fitness. For those with mild snoring, the use of internal nasal dilators may help, although they are often uncomfortable.
If the above techniques are unsuccessful, other options include:
- Dental appliances, such as mandibular repositioning or tongue-retaining devices.
- Soft palate implants.
- Tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy.
- Continuous positive airway pressure, for obstructive sleep apnea.
- Other types of surgeries as determined by an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose and throat doctor) or oral surgeon.
Please consider getting a second opinion from a physician or dentist who is experienced in the treatment of sleep disorders. For further information on snoring, visit www.sleepeducation.com.
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