More than one-third of all adults snore. Snoring occurs when there is a partial obstruction to the free flow of air through the mouth and nose.
The unpleasant and often annoying sound associated with snoring occurs in a sleeping individual when loose structures in the throat, such as the uvula (the skin tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat) and soft palate vibrate as air passes over them during breathing.
Efforts to force air through the narrowed passageway contribute to the sound of snoring. Snoring can get worse when the muscles in the back of the throat are too relaxed, either from drugs that induce sleep or alcohol consumption. Snoring can also be caused by a large uvula and soft palate, nasal congestion, a deviated septum, or other obstructions in the nasal and pharyngeal airways.
Other anatomical indications are proportionately smaller jaw and/or overbite, and/or a thick neck. In children, large tonsils and adenoids can be the cause of snoring. Too much weight can aggravate the problem. Pregnant women snore because of a narrowing of the airway and increased weight.
Can Snoring Be Serious?
Primary snoring (snoring not caused by apnea) itself is not life-threatening and does not cause chronic fatigue in the sleeper. Snoring can, however, be serious for both social and medical reasons.
Socially, it can cause fatigue and extreme annoyance in other household members, as well as sleepless nights for a bed partner. This may lead to isolation of a bed partner and can even disrupt a marriage. It is estimated that as many as 40 percent of adults snore, and the majority of snorers are men over forty.
Medically, snoring can be the precursor of obstructive sleep apnea, which has been linked to heart failure, high blood pressure, and stroke. On its own, snoring has also been linked to type II diabetes.
Sleep apnea usually interrupts loud snoring with a period of silence in which no air passes into the lungs. Eventually, the lack of oxygen and the increase in carbon dioxide will awaken you, forcing the airway to open with a loud gasp. In children, snoring may increase the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Ask Your Physician or Dentist about Snoring
You may not be aware of your snoring but your bed partner is! Seeking professional advice can help you both, because snoring not only causes disruption in sleep, but it can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.
If your child snores, speak to your pediatrician about the problem. Nose and throat problems as well as obesity may be the cause. Treating these conditions could help your child sleep better at night and ensure that his or her mental and physical development stay on track.
Treatment of Snoring
If losing weight and changing sleep position don’t help, we may suggest:
- Surgery to remove excess tissue in the back of the throat
- Laser surgery to remove some excess tissue from the uvula and soft palate
- Somnoplasty: a radio frequency signal used to reduce the volume of tissues in the soft palate or tongue
- Strips implanted in the soft palate to stiffen it
- CPAP: this involves positive air pressure applied through a pressurized mask over the nose
- Oral appliance therapy: dental appliances are specially constructed much like a sports guard or certain orthodontic appliances that will either hold the tongue forward or advance the lower jaw forward to open the airway in the back of your throat
What You Can Do For Yourself
To prevent or lessen snoring, try this:
- Lose weight if you are overweight: excessive pounds are the most likely cause of snoring. Any weight loss will have positive effects.
- Sleep on your side, not on your back.
- See a physician if you have chronic nasal congestion or obstruction.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before you go to bed. Alcohol and sedatives can relax the muscles in the back of the throat and lead to snoring. In addition, they can increase the duration of apneic events by dulling the brain’s activity that signals you to awaken and restart to breathe.