The Fatal Snore

Sat, Mar 19, 2011
An article titled ‘The Fatal Snore’ by Kate Robertson of Fairfax Media discusses the case history of Marshall Caliph, nicknamed ‘Foghorn’ by his friends. Apnoea is dangerous

Marshall suffered from sleep apnoea, to the extent that he had crashed his car several times after falling asleep at the wheel.  He had even been known to fall asleep mid sentence.

This appears to be a severe case of sleep apnoea, but as Professor Rob Pierce (the physician who treated Marshall and who was interviewed for the article) says, “One-third of the population snores at some time, at least intermittently, and conventionally it’s been thought snoring is a bit of a joke. But now we know it is a potentially serious medical condition…and we have to treat it seriously because with the epidemic of obesity, it’s becoming more common.”

The article cites the Austin Hospital’s Institute of Breathing & Sleep, which says snoring affects 3 in 5 Australians — a massive 60% of the population.  This is twice the estimated level of prevalence found in previous research.

Some patients with ‘sleep disordered breathing’ conditions such as apnoea stop breathing up to 100-plus times an hour, for at least 10 seconds at a time.  According to Professor Pierce, “These people have incredibly fragmented sleep, which impacts on many aspects of their daytime.  Impaired work performance, mental dysfunction, depression, relationship problems and a greatly enhanced risk of car accidents are just some of the results.  It’s probably a major cost factor in industrial and transport accidents.”

Unfortunately, this list of problems is not exhaustive.  Other conditions clearly linked to sleep disordered breathing include hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, metabolic retardation and consequent obesity, acid reflux, loss of libido, impotence, AD/HD, and even type II diabetes.  In many cases, people suffering from these conditions are actually suffering from an underlying (and often undiagnosed and untreated) sleep disorder.

Once again, the point to note is that snoring is not just an embarrassing or irritating noise.  It is ALWAYS an indication that something is wrong and that a more serious condition exists or is developing.  If you snore, or know someone who does … do something about it.

And take heart!  Treatment for snoring and sleep apnoea is NOT limited to only the surgical or Constant Positive Airway Pressure solutions mentioned in the article.  The Academy of Sleep Medicine now endorses ‘oral appliance therapy’ as first line treatment.  This form of treatment involves the custom fitting of specialised dental devices which sit comfortably inside the mouth and hold the patient’s jaw and connected tissue clear of the airway while they sleep.