DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Over the past few years, my 57-year-old husband’s snoring has gotten much worse. It’s to the point that I have to either wear earplugs or move to a different room. Any suggestions?
— Sleep-Deprived Susan
DEAR SUSAN: Snoring is a common problem that often gets worse with age. Around 37 million Americans snore on a regular basis, according to the National Sleep Center.
Snoring occurs when the airway narrows or is partly blocked during sleep, usually due to nasal congestion, floppy tissue, alcohol or enlarged tonsils. But you and your husband also need to know that snoring can be much more than just an annoyance. It can also be a red flag for obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition in which the snorer stops and starts breathing during sleep, increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia and hypertension. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 34 percent of men and 19 percent of women who snore routinely have sleep apnea or are at risk for it.
Sleep experts suggest you start with these steps.
>> Open a stuffy nose: If nasal congestion is causing your husband to snore, over-the-counter nasal strips such as Breathe Right might help. Or, if allergies are the cause, try saline nasal sprays.
>> Elevate his head: Buying a foam wedge to elevate his head a few inches can help reduce snoring, or buy him a contoured pillow to lift his chin and keep the tongue from blocking the back of his throat as he sleeps. Also check out Nora (smartnora.com), a wireless snoring device that slides under the pillow and gently moves the head to a different position when snoring is detected. This, they say, stimulates the relaxed throat muscles and opens the airway.
>> Sleep on side: To prevent back sleeping, which triggers snoring, place a pillow against your husband’s back to keep him from rolling over. Or check out the Night Shift Sleep Positioner (nightshifttherapy.com), a device that’s worn around the neck that vibrates when you roll onto your back.
>> Avoid alcohol: Alcoholic beverages can relax the muscles in the throat and constrict airflow. Avoid them three to four hours before bed.
>> Lose excess weight: Fat around the neck can compress the upper airway and impede airflow and is often associated with sleep apnea.
>> Quit smoking: Smoking causes inflammation in the upper airways that can make snoring worse.
MORE HELP IS AVAILABLE
If these lifestyle strategies don’t make a big difference, your husband should see his doctor, a sleep specialist or an otolaryngologist who might recommend an overnight study to test him for apnea.
The gold standard for moderate to severe sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, device. This involves sleeping with a mask and is hooked up to a machine that gently blows air up your nose to keep the passages open.
If these don’t work or are intolerable, surgery is an option. There are procedures that remove excess tissue in the nose, mouth or throat. A newer procedure called hypoglossal nerve stimulation uses a small device implanted in the chest to help control the movement of the tongue when it blocks the airway.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.