Snoring causes such distress that sufferers are resorting to surgery that may be neither helpful or necessary

At least one third of Britain's estimated ten million snorers are female. Women tend not to seek treatment however, often because they are too embarrassed -and also, specialists think, because their (male) partners sleep more soundly, and are less likely to complain. (Men are more prone to snoring, it is thought, because of their sex hormones: more of their body fat is around the neck).

Every so often, a "miracle cure" for snoring comes along, among them the "Halt-a-Snor", a mail-order device with a strap under the chin to stop the jaw falling open; a range of nasty electronic gadgets to wake the culprit up; and, from California, an electrode which, inserted into the soft palate, melts "snore-causing tissue". Most have only limited success.

The latest treatment is a laser operation on the back of the throat which is performed under local anaesthetic and which can, it is claimed, eliminate the problem rapidly, permanently and almost painlessly. The operation, called "revolutionary" in the blurb, is being heavily promoted by the private health sector: both the Harley Medical Group (which has designated this week National No Snoring Week), and Bupa, which runs a snore clinic at its hospital in Manchester, claim it has a cure rate of 80 to 90 per cent, with "almost everyone" reporting some improvement.

In fact, this operation (which costs about pounds 700 done privately) is not that new. Called Laser Assisted Uvula Palatoplasty, or LAUP, it was developed by a French doctor, Yves Kamani, in the 1980s, caught on initially in Europe and the US but has been available in some NHS units for two or three years. The laser is used to shorten an overly long soft palate and to trim the uvula, the small fleshy protuberance which hangs down from the soft palate; the aim is to unblock the airways and cut out the vibrations which cause snoring. No controlled clinical trials have been done to evaluate LAUP, or to back up the success rates quoted. Sometimes it works only temporarily.

Although the only side-effect of LAUP is described as a "sore throat", post-operative pain can be considerable. According to one sleep specialist, some patients found swallowing agony for about a week afterwards, even with painkillers.

Laser treatment for snoring can be carried out in outpatients, taking about 20 minutes. It does not work for everyone, because not all snoring is caused by vibrations of the soft palate alone. Snoring occurs when the muscles that hold the throat open relax during sleep and disturb the air flow; tongue, tonsils and adenoids may be the cause.

Snoring may also be connected to obstructive sleep apnoea, a potentially serious breathing disorder which results in excessive daytime sleepiness. Heavy, habitual snoring should be properly investigated and assessed by a sleep specialist.

Losing weight, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes can all help; a dental splint which keeps the throat open at night is a common first line of treatment. In many cases where a couple seek help, the problem is emotional: someone who has tolerated a partner's snoring for years may suddenly find it unbearable if the relationship is in trouble.

Those who do not wish to abandon their mate to the spare room could try a traditional remedy, although it sounds almost as cruel: sew a tennis ball into the back of her (or his) pyjamas (if they are worn). It just might deter her from sleeping on her back, and thus prevent her jaw from dropping open.

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