Snoring is a common problem that affect people at any age and sex. Although it occurs more frequently in men than in women and more likely in people who are overweight. Snoring has a tendency to worsen with age. Forty-five percent of adults snore occasionally.
Occasional snoring is usually more social and not a medical problem. However, the habitual snorer not only disrupts the sleep patterns of those close to them, but also disturbs their own sleep. Habitual snorers snore whenever they sleep and are often tired after a night of what seems like quality rest. Medical assistance is usually needed for habitual snorers to get a good night's sleep.
What Causes Snoring?
The physical obstruction of the flow of air through the mouth and nose is the cause of snoring. The walls of the throat vibrate during breathing, resulting in the distinctive sounds of snoring. Air flow can be obstructed by a combination of factors, including:
- Obstructed nasal airways: Partially blocked nasal passages require extra effort to transfer air through them while sleeping. This can pull together or collapse the non-rigid soft and dangling tissue of the throat, resulting in snoring. Some people snore only during allergy seasons or when they have a sinus infection. Deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum (a structural change in the wall that separates one nostril from the other) or nasal polyps can also cause obstruction and sleep problems.
- Poor muscle tone in the throat and tongue: Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse and fall back into the airway. This can result from deep sleep, alcohol, and some sleeping pills. Normal aging causes further relaxation of these muscles and increases the potential for snoring.
- Bulky throat tissue: Being overweight can cause bulky throat tissue. Also, children with large tonsils and adenoids often snore.
- Long soft palate and/or uvula: A long soft palate or a long uvula (the dangling tissue in back of the mouth) can narrow the opening from the nose to the throat. When these structures vibrate and bump against one another during sleep, the airway becomes obstructed causing snoring.
What Are the Health Risks of Snoring?
Habitual snorers can be at risk for serious health problems. Obstructive sleep apnea is an illness that is often associated with chronic snoring. This condition creates several problems, including:
- Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway. Serious cases can have total blockage episodes hundreds of times per night.
- Frequent waking from sleep, even though he or she may not realize it.
- Snorers with obstructive sleep apnea sleep lightly to try to keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
- Blood oxygen levels are often lowered, which 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 persons quality of life. Prolonged suffering from obstructed sleep apnea will result in higher blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.
What Snoring Treatments Are Available?
If you occasionally snore, you can try the following behavior changes to help treat the problem:
- Lose weight and improve your eating habits.
- Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before you go to bed.
- Avoid alcohol, heavy meals, or snacks at least four hours before you sleep.
- Establish 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.
If none of the above mentioned behavioral changes help snoring, talk to your doctor. Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors) offer a variety of treatment options that may reduce or eliminate snoring or sleep apnea.
There are more than 300 devices on the market to help prevent snoring; however, none of these devices address all of the underlying anatomical problems that cause snoring (such as nasal obstruction and being overweight). Surgery may be needed to correct physical problems. Snoring and sleep apnea surgeries include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A surgical treatment that tightens and restructures the flabby tissues in the throat and palate. This is often prescribed for people who have moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea.
- Laser-assisted uvula palatoplasty (LAUP): A laser procedure removes the airway obstruction. This treatment is performed under local anesthesia in a doctor's office and is intended for snorers and for people with mild obstructive sleep apnea.
- Somnoplasty: This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses radio frequency energy to shrink excessive tissue in the palate, uvula, and tongue tissue. This treatment can also be used to relieve nasal obstruction.
- Genioglossus and hyoid advancement: This is a surgical treatment for sleep apnea which prevents the collapse of the lower throat by pulling the tongue forward.
- Septoplasty and turbinate surgery: This is a surgical treatment to reduce the resistance to the flow of air through the nose.
- Tonsillectomy: Removing the tonsils and adenoids may be needed to prevent snoring, particularly in children.
Additional Treatments for Snoring
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): A patient may be fitted with a nasal mask which forces air through the upper airway. The air pressure is adjusted so that it is just enough to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep. The pressure is constant and continuous. This should help the person breathe better and sleep through the night.