Your Partner's Snoring
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Your Partner's Snoring

It's not just a nuisance. It can lead to hearing loss or insomnia.

The Problem with Snoring

Do you find yourself retreating to the living room couch because your spouse's loud snoring is keeping you up at night? If your spouse won't see a doctor about his snoring for his own health's sake, maybe he will for yours. New research suggests that partners of chronic snorers can experience noise-induced hearing loss and loss of sleep that greatly affects their daytime productivity.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic's sleep disorders center in Arizona found that when spouses were treated for chronic snoring, both partners' quality of life improved significantly within six weeks of treatment. The Mayo Clinic researchers studied more than 50 couples in which one partner had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common cause of chronic snoring. When a person has sleep apnea, a disorder often covered by insurance, airflow stops periodically while they are sleeping because their upper airway collapses. The person then gasps or chokes for air as breathing resumes. The snorer's condition was treated with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a simple air pump device which pumps a steady pressure of room air to the person's nostrils throughout the night. The pressure acts as a pneumatic splint keeping the airway open. This stops the snoring and airway collapse and allows the person to sleep quietly. The researchers also found that these spouses reported feeling much less sleepy during the day.

A second Canadian research study suggests that bed partners of chronic snorers could be at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. The study looked at only four couples, but it did find that long-term snoring -- the range was 15 to 39 years -- caused significant hearing loss in the ear reported to receive more exposure.

Such results provide extra incentive for spouses who are suffering from "secondhand snoring" to convince their partners to seek medical help. Karl Doghramji, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, notes that spouses have always played a key role in getting patients to see him.

"I would say that a minimum of 40 percent of sleep apnea patients I see are brought in by the urging of a spouse, usually a wife," Dr. Doghramji says. "Often, she is concerned about what the snoring is doing to her -- its loudness can aggravate her own sleep problems, such as insomnia, and it may lead to sleeping in a separate bed, which interferes with intimacy."

 

"On the other hand, I also have seen couples in which the spouse claims not to be affected by her partner's snoring," Dr. Doghramji says. "More likely than not, there is a subtle disruption of sleep that she is not even aware of."

What You Can Do

If your spouse is a consistent snorer, encourage him to see his healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, stopping the use of alcohol and sedatives, and avoiding meals right before bedtime often can improve the situation or cure snoring altogether. These can be difficult changes to make on one's own, and a healthcare professional often can provide helpful guidance. A doctor can also determine whether your spouse should be evaluated for sleep apnea.

Dr. Doghramji says that, according to the statistics that are currently available, anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of chronic snorers have evidence of sleep apnea. He strongly recommends that a snorer be evaluated for this condition if he or she can answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Do you feel groggy or sleepy during the day? Do you notice that you have problems concentrating?
  • Do you have high blood pressure or any form of cardiovascular disease? Because sleep apnea causes a loss of oxygen, it can aggravate these conditions.
  • Does your bed partner tell you that you choke or gasp during sleep?

A sleep test called polysomnography, which monitors a person in a specialized lab over the course of an entire night, is needed to make a definitive diagnosis. But once it's diagnosed, sleep apnea can be treated with a number of different strategies. Some people get good results with the CPAP machine, while others may use a specially fitted dental appliance that opens the airway. In still other cases, minimally invasive surgery can be done to remove tissue that could be blocking the airway.

Left untreated, sleep apnea will not only continue to wreak havoc with your sleep, but it can also lead to significant health consequences for your partner. Research has suggested an association between sleep apnea and a number of potentially serious conditions: high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, impotency, headaches, and depression.

Dr. Doghramji admits that it can be difficult to get your snoring partner to seek help, especially when the noise is affecting you more than him. Once your partner is aware of the real medical consequences, however, he may be more likely to agree to an evaluation.

"Get him to go on the Web and look at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine site (www.aasmnet.org), and see that this is a real condition," Dr. Doghramji advises. "I've often said that wives are our best ally in diagnosing sleep apnea."

 

Sources: Journal of Otolaryngology, Vol. 32, No.3, 2003 (June 2003) and Chest, 2003;124:942-947 (September 2003)

From the National Women's Health Resource Center. Copyright 2003-2004 by the National Womens's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC). All rights reserved. Reproducing this content in any form is prohibited without written permission. For more information, please contact info@healthywomen.org.

 
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