Most patients who turn to breathing strips as a cure for snoring are doing little but wasting money, say most dentists and physicians who work with sleep apnea and its related disorders.
Made popular by professional athletes, these adhesive strips press down on the bridge of the nose and pull the nostrils open, without decongestants or antihistamines. Packaged in 10-strip and 30-strip packs, they sell for about 50 cents each.
"Breathing strips may open the upper airways, but snoring originates in the lower airway and they have absolutely no effect on this area," says Sheldon Seidman, D.D.S., a general dentist who works in downtown Chicago. "The strips do not address the vibrations that occur from excess tissue in the upper throat."
CNS of Bloomington, Minnesota, sold $86 million of the strips in 1996, but flat U.S. sales and inventory problems in foreign countries depressed revenue to $67 million in 1997. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved CNS to market the product for general improvement in nasal breathing. Later, the administration approved the product for relief from snoring, nasal congestion, and a deviated septum, a problem in the nose cartilage that can obstruct breathing.
"Most people snore because of vibration of tissue in the throat, palate and uvula -- not due to problems in the nose," says Dr. Seidman. "The vast majority of patients who try them come back to the office and say they had no effect on their snoring."
Several other types of appliances are recommended by dentists and physicians to combat snoring. Some recommend breathing masks in which snorers wear continuous positive airway pressure - CPAP masks while sleeping. The mask blows a continuous stream of air through the nose, keeping passages open. Also recommended are plastic mouthpieces that pull the lower jaw forward a number of millimeters and locks it forward while patients sleep. Some devices are specially fitted to hold the tongue in place throughout the night.
Behavior modification is the first step recommended by professionals, including losing weight, smoking cessation, avoiding alcohol consumption before going to bed, and not sleeping as much in the supine position (on the back), where air passages can become blocked. Surgical procedures are more frequently performed to relieve patients of their snoring habits.
In severe cases, airflow to the lungs is completely blocked for up to 90 seconds at a time. The resulting oxygen deprivation increases the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke. Other problems include early morning headaches, impaired concentration and impotence. Snoring is believed to cause a poor night's rest, which means the next day is sluggish and sometimes non-productive. Some research suggests that people who snore are more prone to become involved in traffic accidents.
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