The products: Over the years, inventors have patented hundreds of gadgets to combat snoring. If necessity breeds invention, it's safe to say that lots of people desperately need a quiet night's sleep. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 37 million Americans snore habitually, which translates to millions of bleary-eyed partners and probably billions of nights spent on the couch.
None of those gadgets has managed to stop the roar coming from our bedrooms, but there's another option -- antisnoring throat sprays, available over the Internet and at drugstores everywhere. The sprays typically contain a mixture of oils such as menthol and peppermint along with water, alcohol and glycerin.
There's no shortage of sprays from which to choose. One Internet site lists 18 brands, such as Snorix, SnoreStop and SnoreBGone. The Healthy Skeptic and Mrs. Skeptic recently tried Snore Relief Cool Mint Throat Spray from Breathe Right, the same company that makes those Band-Aid-like nasal strips.
Following the instructions, we each took three sprays 30 minutes before bedtime. The spray was minty and a bit numbing, not unlike a throat lozenge. The 2-ounce bottle, good for about 90 sprays (30 nights), costs nearly $14.
The claims: Most throat sprays claim to ease snoring by lubricating the tissue in the throat. As the Breathe Right website explains, greasing up the throat will "minimize vibrations and control the snoring sound." Another product with a similar name goes much further. According to its website, Snorelief is "one of the most exciting breakthroughs in the health care industry in recent years."
The bottom line: In our one-night trial of Snore Relief, Mrs. Skeptic snored louder than usual. No one's complaining, but it was enough to wake up anyone within a 3-yard radius. Oddly, Mrs. Skeptic herself slept through it. (The Healthy Skeptic doesn't snore. Ever. No matter what anyone says.)
The professional verdict isn't much better. Throat sprays are almost completely useless against snoring, says Dr. Craig Schwimmer, medical director of the Snoring Center in Dallas and a spokesman for the American Academy of Otolaryngology. There's no reason to think that lubricating the throat would have any effect on snoring, Schwimmer says. People snore because their throat muscles become so relaxed that they sag into the airway and rattle with every deep breath, not because their throats need a lube job.
According to Schwimmer, throat sprays do have one potential benefit: The menthol and other oils might help clear up nasal congestion that can turn up the volume on snoring. People who are stuffy because of colds or allergies have to breathe extra hard to get air at night, which means their snoring tends to be a little louder than usual. Dr. Derek Lipman, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Portland, Ore., and author of "Snoring from A to ZZZZ," says there's no evidence that throat sprays can do anything more than bring very minor relief to congested snorers.
There's plenty of evidence, though, that many snorers need much more than a spray. By Lipman's estimate, 15% to 20% of heavy snorers briefly stop breathing during sleep, a condition called sleep apnea. Among other things, apnea robs people of deep sleep and greatly increases the risk of heart disease.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep and feeling groggy even after a full night's sleep. People who think they might have this condition need to see a doctor, Lipman says.
In Lipman's opinion, trying to treat a serious snoring problem with a throat spray is a little like "taking Tylenol for a brain tumor." Even if symptoms eased a bit, he says, the threat remains.
Is there a consumer product you'd like the Healthy Skeptic to examine? E-mail the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.