A new study shows that snoring can trigger a vicious cycle. (Illustrative photo: tommaso79, Shutterstock, NTB scanpix)

Snoring prevents the body from repairing damage to the pharynx

Snoring triggers a vicious cycle that can cause sleep apnoea and difficulty swallowing, according to Swedish research.

People who are loud snorers can damage and weaken the muscles in their upper airways, called the pharynx.

And that can have serious consequences, according to Swedish researchers.

The body is usually good at repairing injuries, but snoring poses a problem for patients. Two studies show that the vibration caused by snoring seems to make it difficult for the body to repair the snoring damage.

This triggers a recurring cycle that is created and exacerbated by snoring and can lead to swallowing difficulties and the serious condition of sleep apnoea for the snorer.

Muscle in the soft palate of a healthy person (A) and of a person with sleep apnoea (B). (Photo: Umeå University)

And these dysfunctions increase other risks, such as cardiovascular disease.

Unfamiliar to doctors in Norway?

Harald Hrubos-Strøm is a senior consultant in the ear-nose-throat department at Akershus University Hospital.

He collaborates with researchers from Norway, Finland and Iceland to study how doctors can better diagnose sleep apnoea and tailor treatment to the individual patient.

Hrubos-Strøm believes the vicious cycle that snoring contributes to is a critical factor for the development of sleep apnoea. The Swedish research is helping to increase our understanding about what happens when people get apnoea events while they sleep, he says.

Hrubos-Strøm thinks it is especially exciting that the Swedish researchers could document that the patients had poorer swallowing function.

“The connection between sleep apnoea and impaired throat function is probably little known among Norwegian clinicians,” he tells forskning.no.

The body is trying to make repairs

The Swedish researchers found injuries to the nerves and muscles of the upper respiratory tract of the snorers and patients with sleep apnoea, according to a press release on the research at Umeå University.

The researchers also observed that people who snore and have sleep apnoea had lost nerves and muscle mass in their palate, which is the partition between the mouth and the nasal cavity.

The researchers found signs that the body was simultaneously trying to repair these injuries without success.

The muscle fibres had developed in an abnormal way, according to the press release.

Better treatment?

"As we get a clearer picture of snoring's effects, our chances of finding a way to support the body in repairing the damage are increasing," researcher Farhan Shah said in the press release.

Now the researchers have started a new experiment where they are trying to do just that.

They have begun to grow muscles and nerve cells in the laboratory. First, they’ll expose the cells to harmful vibrations and then try to treat the cells with substances known to help make repairs.

Other studies from a research group in Brazil show that training the muscles in the pharynx can improve snoring, says Hrubos-Strøm.

He believes we will see studies in the future where researchers treat snorers by combining training exercises and the substances being tested in Umeå.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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