Could snoring be the sign of a bigger problem?

Although snoring is often harmless it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious health problem. Here respiratory consultant Dr Brendan Mallia Milanes explains how to find out whether your snoring is simply a nuisance to your partner or a potential risk to your health that needs treatment. 

Interracial couple on the bed man snoring and disrupting woman

Snoring is common and thought to affect around half the adult population at some time in their life. Snoring, though often disruptive to the bed partner, is not usually a serious symptom and can often be managed by keeping your weight in check, sleeping on your side, stopping smoking and reducing your alcohol intake. Snoring is caused by an increase in air turbulence in the nasal and/or upper airway passages. The causes may vary from nasal congestion to loss of muscle tone in the upper airways.

When snoring is due to loss of muscle tone in the upper airways it may be associated with breath holding or missed breaths during sleep. Breath holding is termed “apnoea”. If there is significant apnoea at night then this may be due to the condition Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). This is often associated with daytime sleepiness or an irresistible urge to fall asleep during the day, especially when inactive. There may also be mood change, irritability and difficulty concentrating. OSA is often linked to weight gain and is often seen in patients with cardiovascular disease or difficult to control high blood pressure.

It is important to obtain a diagnosis so that timely and appropriate treatment is carried out if necessary. Imperial Private Healthcare has launched a new sleep service which offers a one-stop clinic for a fast diagnosis of OSA with specialist advice on further treatment. Patients can access the service within days. The service involves a consultation and medical examination by the Respiratory Consultant in an evening clinic. This is immediately followed by an overnight stay during which the patient undergoes a specialist diagnostic sleep study at Imperial Private Health Care. The overnight stay allows the patient to be monitored non-invasively during sleep and to investigate their breathing pattern, oxygen levels, heart rate and nasal airflow. This determines the presence and severity of OSA.

The study is scored by a sleep physiologist and interpreted by the consultant. On the morning after the study the consultant will discuss the study of results and treatment options with the patient and will refer on for treatment if necessary.

The management of OSA firstly involves lifestyle changes, most importantly weight loss, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake. Depending on the severity of OSA the consultant may refer onward for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. This is a portable machine that delivers pressurised air via a face mask to prevent collapse of the upper airway during sleep. As a result snoring and apnoea are eliminated, leading to better sleep quality with an improvement in daytime sleepiness and other associated symptoms of OSA.

Certain patients may have undiagnosed OSA which may lead to unexpected complications if they ever need general surgery. The anaesthetist or surgeon may therefore wish to screen for this to start CPAP in a timely manner before surgery.

Imperial Private Healthcare has close links with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust Sleep Centre with staff working across both departments. The NHS Sleep Centre has received a British Thoracic Society Award in recognition for its outstanding work. Imperial Private Healthcare therefore offers fast access to investigations and expert advice with the aim of improving patient sleep quality and well-being.

For more information please visit our obstructive sleep apnoea page on our website, or contact us via imperial.private.healthcare@nhs.net or on +44 (0) 203 311 7700