Snoring is noisy breathing that occurs through the nose and mouth during sleep. Chronic snoring occurs nightly regardless of the sleeper's position and independant of other health issues.
Snoring occurs when the soft tissues in the throat vibrate and flutter and air does not flow smoothly through the air passageways. Snoring is caused by a multitude of causes. This includes a deviated nasal septum, enlargement of the tongue, an elongated uvula, floppiness of the soft palate and excessive throat tissues.
Snoring is a common problem affecting up to 75 million Americans. Estimates vary; however, it is felt that approximately 45% of all adults snore occasionally, and 25% snore habitually. Snoring affects mostly men and overweight individuals.
Snoring can cause great distress for the bed partners of snorers, leading up to 80% of couples to end up sleeping in different rooms. Usually snoring causes sleep loss for the individual and their sleep partner. This sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences. Snoring has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Sleep deprivation also causes daytime sleepiness, low energy, decreased productivity, memory loss, nightmares, reduced sex drive and morning headaches.
Snoring may also be a sign of OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea). If a patient is a loud snorer with pauses in their breathing they may be experiencing sleep apnea. These pauses in breathing occur when the tissues of the soft palate, tonsils, uvula and throat relax during sleep. This cuts off the supply of oxygen to the body causing the body to work harder to perform its normal functions.
There are three types of sleep apnea - obstructive, central and mixed. The most comon is obstructive sleep apnea. This is a result of an obstruction of the airflow through the nose and mouth. Central sleep apnea is less common and is caused by a disruption of the signals in the brain. The third type is a combination of obstructive and central.
If the patient is experiencing significant symptoms a polysomnography (sleep study) will be ordered to determine oxygen levels and heart function during sleep.
There are numerous factors that influence snoring:
- If you are overweight, the tissues in the throat have less tone and more chance of vibration during breathing.
- Age is a factor. As we age, the throat muscles weaken and the tissues sag and flutter.
- An elongated uvula can restrict airflow and increase vibrations as you breathe.
- Enlarged tonsils and relaxed soft palate can narrow the airway.
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum or allergies can restrict airflow through the nose.
- Alcohol and sedating drugs can cause relaxation of the muscles of the throat and become floppy.
Click on our Snoring Video to review a demonstration video on what causes snoring.