Care to take up a brass instrument? Scientists have discovered that the practice, which exercises the muscles of the upper airways, can help to prevent snoring.

Wind musicians are not prone to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is characterized by obstruction in the upper airways. During sleep, the muscles of the body relax. Since the airway of the throat is made up of collapsible soft tissue walls, breathing can be obstructed and cause loud snoring.

Researchers are suggesting that playing brass instruments like the trumpet or trombone could prevent the collapse of the soft tissue as it strengthens the airway muscles.

Scientists in India conducted lung function testing in a group of 130 participants, wherein half the group were wind instrumentalists, and the other half – the control group – did not play. They were also required to answer the Berlin questionnaire, a known method to assess the risk of OSA.

Based on the results of the questionnaire, the relative risk for developing OSA was 0.18 for the instrumentalists, with a relative risk of less than one indicating a lower risk as compared with the control group. The researchers did not however observe any significant difference between the two groups in the results of the lung function test.

Snorers are usually advised to lose weight, to stop smoking and to sleep on their side. More effective treatment for OSA is expensive and often invasive, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and oral appliances, surgery like nasal surgery or tonsillectomy, neurostimulation and radiofrequency ablation, in addition to medication.

"The findings of our small study present an interesting theory on preventative measures or treatment in sleep apnea," said Silas Daniel Raj, one of the authors of the study. "If the findings are confirmed in larger groups, wind instrument playing could become a cheap and non-invasive method of preventing sleep apnea in those at risk of developing the condition." 

The research was presented at the Sleep and Breathing Conference 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.

Photo: Ethan Prater | Flickr

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