Snoring is the sound created by vibrations of the soft palate when breathing is partially obstructed during sleep. Snoring is often a sign that the airway is partially blocked, usually by soft tissue in the throat. The flow of air causes the soft tissue to vibrate, which generates noise from the mouth or nose. While a common and usually harmless condition, it may sometimes indicate a serious health problem. Loud and habitual snoring can disrupt sleep and be irritating to sleep partners, resulting in relationship tensions. It is more common in men than women, and occurs more often in older people and those who are overweight.
What Is The Relationship Between Snoring And Sleep Apnea?
Everyone thinks they don’t snore, although their partner may beg to differ. The reality is that everyone snores sometimes. You’ll snore if you have congestion from a cold or allergies. You’ll snore if you sleep on your back rather than your side. You’ll snore at times when you’ve had a little too much to drink.
But snoring isn’t necessarily sleep apnea. Snoring is the vibration of tissues in the back of the throat as air passes them. That’s why it occurs more frequently when the person sleeps on his or her back, as that allows the tissues in the throat to sag backwards into the airway and vibrate.
Sleep apnea involves full blockage of the airway. The soft tissue causes can be the same, but the degree of impedance in the airway is far greater. In sleep apnea, when the airway becomes blocked, the brain senses this disruption in the oxygen supply and it wakes the person up. While the person may not even realize this has happened because they instantly fall back asleep, it can happen dozens of times per night. Every time this happens it impacts the quality of your sleep. Whereas snoring can be an occasional nuisance that merits attention and treatment for the sake of your partner, sleep apnea is a health condition that requires intervention.
Causes Of Snoring
When a person sleeps, throat muscles relax and vibrate as air passes through blocked passages, resulting in the sounds of snoring. A blocked airway passage may be caused by the following conditions:
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Sleep apnea
- Tonsillitis or adenoiditis
- Mouth and jaw abnormalities
People who are obese may suffer from airway constriction because there is more fat tissue in the back of their throats.
Symptoms Of Snoring
Snoring can disrupt sleeping patterns and deprive the individual, and any sleep partners, of proper rest. Symptoms can vary depending on the cause, and may include:
- Noise during sleep
- A sore throat in the morning
- Dry mouth
- Restless sleep
- Gasping or choking during the night
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain during the night
Snoring that disrupts sleep may cause excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. Heavy snorers, especially those that experience gasping or choking, may suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where snoring is frequently interrupted by periods of completely obstructed breathing.
Who Is At Risk To Start Snoring?
Snoring is really just simply vibration of the tissues in your throat as air flows past. Nearly everyone snores now and then, for instance when you’re congested. But for others it can become a chronic problem. Sometimes this can be a sign of more serious health issues, such as sleep apnea, but often it’s just a source of serious irritation for your partner over on the other side of the bed.
There are some risk factors that make it more likely you’ll be a habitual snorer:
- Being a man — Men are both more likely to snore and to develop sleep apnea than women.
- Having a congenitally narrow airway — Sometimes it’s just luck of the genetic draw; some people are born with a long soft palate, or overly large tonsils or adenoids. These factors narrow the airway, leading to snoring.
- Being overweight — Being overweight or obese causes the tissues in the back of your throat to become larger and more prone to blocking the airway in obstructive sleep apnea or to just interfere with airflow leading to snoring.
- Drinking alcohol — Alcohol tends to relax the throat muscles, allowing them to sag into the airway.
- Nasal problems — If you have a deviated septum or other structural problems with your airway, or even if you’re prone to chronic congestion, you’ll snore more.
- Genetics — Obstructive sleep apnea and chronic snoring have a genetic predisposition.
What Health Risks Are Related To Snoring?
Occasional snoring is common and nothing more than a nuisance to others. But chronic snoring, usually associated with some degree of sleep apnea, can put you at risk for more serious health issues:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Daytime sleepiness
- Frequent frustration and anger
- Greater risk of high blood pressure, heart problems, and stroke
- Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents due to lack of sleep
- In children with obstructive sleep apnea, learning or behavioral problems
Diagnosis Of Snoring
When investigating the cause of snoring, it is important to determine whether or not it is an isolated problem or if it is related to another more serious medical condition. Snoring is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. X-rays or CT scans are often used view and measure the width of oral and nasal passages and to detect any abnormalities. Individuals may be referred to a sleep specialist who performs various diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Some evaluations often involve overnight monitoring of breathing and other body functions during sleep.
Treatment Of Snoring
There are several treatment options available, ranging from home remedies to surgical intervention. Simple changes in lifestyle, combined with over-the-counter medications, may be sufficient to alleviate minor cases of snoring. These methods may include:
- Losing weight
- Quitting smoking
- Sleeping on your side or stomach
- Nasal dilators or nasal strips
- Decongestant medication
When snoring interferes with normal breathing during sleep, nasal corticosteroid sprays may be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the nose and relieve congestion. Additional methods of treatment may include:
- Corrective Mouthpieces
- Injection Snoreplasty
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
In severe cases, corrective surgery may be recommended to remove the excess tissue from the nose or throat and open upper air passages to facilitate breathing. Surgical treatment may include:
- Thermal Ablation Palatoplasty
- Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy
- Genioglossus and Hyoid Advancement
- Septoplasty and Turbinate (Conchae) Surgery
A rhinoplasty may also be performed as a treatment. While most people associate rhinoplasty with the physical appearance, it is also used to help correct breathing problems caused by an abnormal shape of the septum and nasal cavity, which may cause snoring and sleep-related issues.
What Happens If My Snoring Goes Untreated?
While your chronic snoring may not lead to heart problems and behavioral issues, it certainly will impact the person sleeping with you. This can lead to tension in your relationship if you choose not to do anything about your snoring. After all, if the person next to you in bed is losing sleep due to your nightly snoring, they’re going to suffer the sleep deprivation and the potential health problems associated with it. For you, if your snoring is a sign of occasional or chronic sleep apnea, not treating it can lead to a variety of serious health problem.
How Can I Prevent Snoring?
Snoring is usually caused by vibrations of the soft palate caused by abnormal airflow through the nose and the mouth. Any obstruction within the nasal passage or in the oral cavity can lead to snoring. Patients can minimize snoring by avoiding alcohol at night, sleeping on their sides, maintaining appropriate body weight, and treating any sources of nasal or oral obstruction.
To learn more about snoring and available treatment options at the Daneshrad Clinic, call 310.453.6500. We proudly serve patients from Santa Monica, Torrance, Los Angeles and surrounding areas, including Brentwood, Malibu, Culver City, Marina Del Rey, Venice, Pacific Palisades, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and Palos Verdes.