DR H.J. Singh of Jalandhar, a sleep disorder specialist, answers readers questions:

Q Is snoring a disease?

A Snoring, mostly noticed amongst males, has been a matter of laughter as it is believed that the snorer is in a state of deep sleep. Few people are aware that snoring is a symptom of a malaise which, if not detected and treated in time, can lead to impotence, memory loss and even sudden death.

Q How is this disease known in medical parlance and how much common is it?

AThe medical term for the disease is “sleep apnoea syndrome”. People afflicted with it snore and in snoring sometimes cease to breath altogether for seconds even up to a minute. The cessation of breathing is known as “apnoea”. If the cessation period (apnoea) is of more than 10 seconds’ duration and if the total number of apnoeas cross 30 during an eight hour sleep, it calls for immediate treatment by a doctor.

Q What are the known symptoms of the disease?

A The common symptoms include restless sleep that does not refresh, nocturnal choking, feeling drunk in the morning and reduced libido. Nocturnal choking usually happens when patients wake up with the awareness that they cannot inhale, which is an alarming symptom that passes within seconds. Daytime sleepiness is the main symptom of the disease and it may be serious enough to ruin the patient’s life by making it impossible for him to work, drive or even complete a conversation. In some cases sleepiness results in road accidents.

Q What is actually this disease?

A The disease is more of a syndrome. Normally, during sleep, the muscles which control the tongue and the soft palate hold the airway open. If these muscles relax, the airway becomes narrower, which causes snoring and breathing difficulties. If these muscles relax too much, the airway can be completely blocked, preventing breathing. This is obstructive sleep apnoea.

Alcohol: Those who take sleeping pills or alcohol may find their passage walls thickening and the passage itself getting narrower.

Heredity: It has some familial pattern, probably seen in such families as have maxilla and mandible set backwards, leaving a narrow upper airway.

Hypothyroidism also predispose one to the disorder which narrows the upper airway.

Obesity is another cause of sleep apnoea. Persons with collar-sizes more than 17 inches are more prone to sleep apnoea.

Q Is this disease dangerous for heart patients?

A People suffering from heart and lung diseases and developing sleep apnoea are likely to get a cardiac arrest.

Q How do you diagnose sleep apnoea?

A The diagnosis consists of examining the patient for a full night period for anatomical defects, a check-up of the thyroid functioning and conducting a “sleep study”.

A serious problem treated with operations in which the patients lose fail may be treated with the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (C-PAP).