Snoring is a common condition that occurs to men and women of all ages, although it occurs more often in men and in people who are overweight. While snoring can be a mild disorder, it can also be the sign of a dangerous medical condition.
Snoring generally gets worse as we get older. Forty-five percent of adults snore occasionally, while 25 percent are “habitual” snorers. Occasional snoring is usually not very serious and does not occur throughout the entire night.
Habitual snorers not only interrupt the sleep of those close to them, they also disturb their own. Habitual snorers snore whenever they sleep and are often tired when they wake up. They usually need medical help to get good sleep.
What are the causes of snoring?
Snoring occurs when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is physically obstructed (blocked). Air flow can be blocked by several different factors, including the following:
- Long soft palate and/or uvula
- A long soft palate (roof of the mouth) or a long uvula (the dangling tissue in the back of the mouth) can narrow the opening from the nose to the throat, partially blocking the airway. When one breathes, these structures vibrate and bump against one another and a snoring sound is produced
- Obstructed nasal airways
- People who have partially blocked nasal passages have to make an extra effort to transfer air through them. This can pull together or collapse the soft and dangling tissue, resulting in snoring. Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Defects of the nose, such as a deviated septum (the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps (inflammatory growths) can also cause obstruction
- Poor muscle tone in throat and tongue
- Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the lower airway.
- Bulky throat tissue
- In children, large tonsils and adenoids are often a source of bulky tissue in the throat and the resultant snoring. However, in adults, being overweight is the more common cause of bulky throat tissue, and can result in snoring
Care and Treatment
How is snoring treated?
Weight loss is the single most effective way to reduce snoring.
Recovery depends on the correct diagnosis and a treatment approach that includes medical and surgical treatments.
- A patient can be fitted with a nasal mask that provides continuous or modified positive air pressure (CPAP) through the nose to the throat. This should help the patient breathe better and sleep throughout the night
- Nasal steroids and other allergy treatments
- Dental appliances
- Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy
- Removes this excess tissue from the back of the throat and nose. This is commonly used for children and in select adult patients.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)
- Tightens and rearranges redundant tissues in the throat and palate. This is often prescribed for patients who have moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea.
- Laser-assisted uvula palatoplasty (LAUP)
- A laser procedure that removes an airway obstruction. This treatment is performed under local anesthesia in a doctor's office and is intended for snorers and for cases of mild obstructive sleep apnea.
- A minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to shrink excessive tissue in the palate, uvula, and tongue tissue. This treatment can also be used to relieve nasal obstruction.
- Genioglossus, hyoid, or maxillomandibular advancement
- Surgical treatments for sleep apnea that position the tongue forward to keep the lower throat from collapsing during sleep.
- Hypoglossal nerve stimulation
- Involves placement of a device similar to a cardiac pacemaker that synchronizes tongue movement with breathing. This gently moves the tongue forward to keep the lower throat from collapsing during sleep.
- Septoplasty and turbinate surgery
- Reduces the resistance to the flow of air through the nose.
What steps can I take to control my occasional snoring?
If you occasionally snore, you can try the following behavior changes to help control the problem:
- Lose weight and improve your eating habits.
- Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before you go to bed.
- Avoid alcohol or snacks at least four hours before you sleep.
- Try to keep regular sleeping patterns. For example, try to go to bed at the same time every night.
- Sleep on your side rather than on your back.
- Tilt the head of your bed up four inches.
- Talk to your doctor or sleep specialist.
When to Call the Doctor
What are the health risks of snoring?
Habitual snorers are at risk for serious health problems. For instance, obstructive sleep apnea is an illness that affects many chronic (long-term) snorers.
Obstructive sleep apnea creates several problems, including the following:
- Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds in adults) caused by partial or total blockage of the airway. People with serious cases of obstructive sleep apnea can have hundreds of total blockage episodes a night. This can cause the patient to wake up frequently without even realizing it
- Snorers with obstructive sleep apnea have a harder time getting deep restful sleep because deep sleep relaxes their throat muscles and leads to more blockage of airflow.
- Blood oxygen levels are often lowered in people with obstructive sleep apnea. This causes the heart to pump harder and blood pressure to rise. The result is a poor night's sleep, which leads to drowsiness during the day, and can interfere with the person’s ability to drive and work. Obstructed sleep apnea over a long period of time can lead to high blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke