UMEÄ, Sweden — Those with snoring issues may suffer from serious tissue damage in the muscles and nerves of the soft palate (the fleshy area in the back of our mouths), which can cause problems with swallowing and contribute to sleep apnea in the future, according to a recent study.
Researchers from Umeå University in Sweden say early intervention treatment strategies may have tremendous beneficial effects in the healing and prevention of sleep apnea.
For the study, the authors examined eight patients battling snoring problems for years, along with 14 patients who snore and suffer from sleep apnea, and 18 non-snoring people. All subjects were examined with overnight sleep registrations used to detect sleep apnea. Swallowing function disorders were recorded using a video radiographic technique.
The participants’ soft palate tissue samples were analyzed for muscle and nerve lesions. The results of this analysis revealed extensive damage in nerves and muscles in those who snore. Researchers confirmed that the damage was related to the degree of swallowing disorders and the severity of sleep apnea.
“The nerve and muscles injuries seem to contribute to the collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Most likely, the damage results from the recurrent snoring vibrations the tissues are exposed to,” says lead author Farhan Shah, a PhD student in the university’s Department of Integrative Medical Biology during the time of the study, in a release.
The soft palate nerves of the snorers and the sleep apnea patients consistently showed fewer nerve fibers, as well as supporting cells that assist in nerve fiber regeneration and survival. Shah also found changes in muscle fibers from nerve damage, changes that cause muscle weakness and had only been found in people with genetic muscle diseases.
“Continued research is needed to see if treatment that prevents damage to nerves and muscles could cure or at least prevent further deterioration in snores and sleep apnea patients. It would be a big win because sleep apnea is a major public illness,” says Shah.
The study was a dissertation presented by Shah at Umeå University.