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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
New vaccine 'could cure snoring'
Man snoring
One British sleep expert believes further studies are required
American scientists say they have developed a cheap, pain-free injection to stop people snoring.

The "snoreplasty" procedure involves injecting a chemical called tetradecyl sulphate into the fleshy soft palate at the back of the throat.

I would not advise people to undergo this treatment until further studies have been carried out

Professor Neil Douglas
But the chairman of the British Sleep Foundation, Professor Neil Douglas, warned that similar breakthroughs in the past had produced only short term improvements.

He believes traditional methods such as losing weight, avoiding alcohol and the use of a specially adapted dental shield will prove to be more effective.

Snoring occurs when airflow vibrates across the soft palate tissue which becomes relaxed during sleep.

The snoreplasty technique, detailed in the New Scientist magazine, destroys some of these tissues to form scar tissue which subsequently stiffens the soft palate to reduce vibration.

It is understood the procedure, which was developed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, USA, can reduce the loudness of snoring from 11 decibels to 2 decibels.

The average cost of the treatment per patient is currently about $35.

In trials about a quarter of the 27 patients treated so far relapsed after about a year but were successfully retreated.

Snoring statistics
40% of the middle-aged population snore
50% of men snore
40% of women snore
2%-4% of severe snorers suffer from sleep apnoea
70%-75% of snorers are overweight
In the past severe snorers have undergone an operation whereby portions of the soft palate are cut away.

But trimming the palate can cause irreparable damage and there have been at least seven deaths in America following the procedure.

Professor Douglas, who is based at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said: "This latest technique is one method of stiffening the palate and there is some logic to that.

"The problem is that these things do not usually work long-term and there have been several similar treatments in the past which have been abandoned because the effects have been so short-lived."

"In most cases of snoring there is more involved than just the soft palate.

"This method is preferable to trimming the soft palate but I would not advise people to undergo this treatment until further studies have been carried out."

Sleep survey

Meanwhile, the results of a sleep clinic survey, carried out in the UK and Ireland, were being unveiled at the British Sleep Society's (BSS) annual conference in Cambridge on Wednesday.

Delegates from around the UK were attending the three-day event to discuss a range of sleep disorders, which affect up to a quarter of the population at any one time.

Common sleep disorders include:

  • insomnia
  • narcolepsy - a neurological disorder causing people to fall asleep without warning
  • sleep walking
  • epileptic fits during sleep
  • sleep apnoea - a problem caused by constricted airways and characterised by snoring

BSS chairman Neil Stanley said the importance of sleep disorders was often underestimated in the UK despite often contributing to road accidents, errors at work, difficulties at school and personal problems.

The results of the sleep clinic survey will enable the BSS to identify the availability of services for patients and the training and professional needs of staff.

See also:

17 May 01 | Scotland
Sleep clinics seek support
18 Jun 99 | Health
Step forward in snore war
18 Mar 99 | Health
Sleep disorder causes car crashes
23 Mar 99 | Health
Scientists solve snoring riddle
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