Never flawless, the human body emits a range of auditory warning signals, some serious and others merely awkward. And whether these onomatopoeic creaks, pops, and whistles represent anything more than the banality of bodily function—like the sound of rushing air—should concern anyone of a certain age.
Of the most common variety, the deep lumbering vibrations of soft tissue of the mouth and throat prevent a good night of sleep for those who snore as well as their partners, sometimes even the neighbors. In an interview with Men's Health, Dr. Stacey Ishman, an otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins University, recommends weight loss as the answer, but says nasal sprays and strips might help to mitigate the problem.
But snoring could signal sleep apnea, a condition more serious than a restless night. Sleep apnea constricts airflow and oxygen to the body, raising one’s chances of developing diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, or stroke. Those who find themselves gasping for air should see a doctor, Ishman says, to be outfitted with a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, to prevent suffocating in your sleep. Snorers may also find that pillar implants or even reconstructive surgery helps to alleviate the problem.
Possibly serious, too, is the popping and cracking of knees and joints, which may indicate injury to tendons, misaligning joints, or just fluid shifts popping gas bubbles. When those sounds accompany pain, swelling, or locking, sufferers should see a doctor. Knee pain attendant with warning sounds may indicate a torn meniscus, while ankle pain may be a harbinger of arthritis or damaged tendons. Like most things, these problems worsen with age, experts say.
Less serious sounds include growling or gurgling from the stomach, an auditory side effect of the gastrointestinal tract contracting every couple of hours, sweeping away the debris of digested dinners. For anyone requiring an owner’s manual on the human body, this represents normal, routine function and is no cause for alarm. Yet, contrary to common belief a growling stomach indicates not hunger but satisfaction. Rather, the feeling of hunger indicates hunger, experts say.
And speaking of digesting, that loud, sharp popping from the jawbone may indicate a misalignment of the hinge or cartilage of the upper and lower jaw, or both problems at once. Although worrisome and discomfiting, the problem may require just a bit of tender care, as humans have done for ages before the advent of oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Experts recommend “babying” the jaw and avoiding hard foods requiring intense mastication like steak, from the speared mastodon or from the meat market. Unless accompanied by pain, the auditory warning signals may not indicate the more serious temporamandibular joint syndrome, known as TMJ.
Also no cause for alarm is the whistling of air moving through a constricted channel within the nose, which usually indicates congestion. Nasal saline rinses and steroid sprays may help to alleviate the auditory symptom.
Finally, the soft ringing, or buzzing, sound in the ears known as tinnitus tends to produce disquiet in the mind, and bothers many on a daily basis. But the warning sign is not one for insanity, but rather the brain misinterpretation of electrical signals as noise. Although without cause in the vast majority of all cases, suffers should visit the doctor should the condition persist in one ear only, as it might indicate an infection or inner ear disorder. Earplugs should be worn when exposed to loud noise, which may trigger the effect.
Generally, medical experts agree that most bodily noises should be taken seriously only when accompanied by pain and discomfort, and, of course, the loss of mobility or other functioning.