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It is estimated that snoring affects more than 40 million Americans, or approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population. While habitual snoring can seriously strain the patient's intimate relationships, it can also have serious consequences on the snorer's health.

For many years, snoring was considered more of a nuisance then a true medical concern. Recently, snoring has been shown to be associated with significant medical condition such as hypertension, heart attacks, and heart burn.

Funny stories about snoring abound. A national TV news program featured a story about a snorer or who was fined for breaking the local community's antinoise ordinance. It is not uncommon to find patients who consult a physician with snoring problems are frequently sleeping in separate beds, if not in separate rooms, from their spouses. It is not uncommon for snoring to result in a significant degree of marital strain as a result of the loss of this intimate part of their relationships.

According to Dr. Knight Worley, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Touro Infirmary, snoring occurs when the floppy tissue in the airway relaxes during sleep and vibrates. Most snoring is caused by an enlarged soft palate and uvula at the back of the mouth, although the tongue, tonsils, adenoids and congested nasal passages can also contribute to the sound. The level of snoring can be aggravated by excess weight, alcohol intake and smoking.

Snoring may be associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a serious disorder in which the snorer stops breathing several times an hour during sleep. Sleep apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 obstructed events per night. Many patients with sleep apnea spend as much as half their sleep time with blood oxygen levels below normal. During their obstructive episodes, the heart must pump harder to circulate the blood faster. This can cause irregular heartbeats, and after many years it leads to elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement.

An ear, nose and throat specialist can determine whether you are a simple snorer or if you have a more significant breathing disorder. A careful examination and an overnight sleep test are the accepted methods of evaluating your snoring.

Snoring can be treated through nonsurgical approaches such as weight loss and other lifestyle modifications or the use of an oral appliance to reposition the jaw during sleep. Other effective strategies for the prevention of snoring include elevating the head of the bed and using elastic strips on the nose that dilate the nasal passages. Snorers should also avoid alcohol and other sedating drugs especially at bedtime.

There are over 300 devices in the U.S. Patent Office claiming to eliminate snoring. Overall, success rate of these devices is rather low.

A variety of traditional surgeries are available to reduce the excess tissue located on the soft palate. The surgical treatment is aimed at removing tissues responsible for the vibrating activity that produces the snoring sound.

Dr. Worley says an exciting new treatment, radio-frequency ablation of the offending soft tissues, is now available. This new procedure gently reduces the tissue in the soft palate and uvula, and does so without the pain associated with conventional and laser-assisted surgeries. This new procedure can be done under local anesthesia in the doctor's office and typically takes less than 30 minutes.

So if you are creating sonic booms in your bedroom, see your physician and find out how you can get a good night's sleep and have your partner move back into your bed. Remember, snoring means obstructed breathing, and this can be very serious. It's not funny, and it's definitely not hopeless.