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Scientists hopeful of minimising adverse health effects linked to snoring

UMEÅ, Sweden: Researchers have recently reported that the recurrent vibrations caused by heavy snoring can lead to injuries in the upper airways. This could result in swallowing dysfunction and render individuals more vulnerable to developing obstructive sleep apnoea. The findings will help identify people at high risk of developing this severe condition and aid in working out novel treatment strategies.

The study was conducted at Umeå University in Sweden and focused on the processes behind vibratory damage and healing of the upper airway tract. “Besides the disturbing effects, constant snoring can be a significant health risk. Nonetheless, there are indications that our research will guide towards early preventive measures and in the long term also enhance healing of damaged tissue caused by snoring,” said lead researcher Dr Per Stål, a senior lecturer in the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Umeå University.

According to the study, the neuromuscular injuries in the upper respiratory tract in snorers and sleep apnoea patients could be seen at both the structural and molecular level. Besides noting a correlation between snoring and swallowing dysfunction, the research team was able to observe a link between nerve damage and obstructive sleep apnoea. In the study, people who constantly snored heavily and had sleep apnoea displayed a loss of nerves and muscle mass in the soft palate. The body’s attempt to heal the damaged tissue was disturbed and resulted in an abnormal muscle structure. Furthermore, the research team found that muscle fibres in the soft palate also lacked certain structural proteins or the organisation of the proteins was disturbed. These proteins are responsible for stabilising the organelles of the muscle cell and supporting cellular structures related to energy production and muscle fibre contraction.

Although the researchers documented the presence of a neurotransmitter typically associated with healing and regeneration of neurons, the body’s attempt to heal the injuries was thwarted by the recurrent snoring vibrations. This suggests that snoring both causes damage and impedes healing of injuries.

The research group is currently experimentally growing muscles and nerve cells at the Laboratory of Muscle Biology at the university. The cultured cells will be exposed to harmful vibrations and oxygen desaturation in order to assess the damage. Thereafter, the cells will be treated with substances known for their role in cell repair and regeneration. The researchers hope that the experiments will generate extensive data that can contribute to novel treatment strategies for vibration damage.

The study, titled “Desmin and dystrophin abnormalities in upper airway muscles of snorers and patients with sleep apnea”, was published online on 14 February 2019 in Respiratory Research.

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