What Causes Snoring?
The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the
free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose.
This area is the collapsible part of the airway (see illustration)
where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula.
Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate
45% of normal adults snore at least occasionally, and 25% are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and those who are overweight, and it usually grows worse with age. Dallas seems to have more than its share of snorers, possibly due to the severity of allergies here and the large number of overweight people.
More than 300 devices are registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as snoring cures. Some are variations on the old idea of sewing a sock that holds a tennis ball on the pajama back to force the snorer to sleep on his side. (Snoring is often worse when a person sleeps on his back.) Some devices reposition the lower jaw forward; some open nasal air passages; a few others have been designed to condition a person not to snore by producing unpleasant stimuli when snoring occurs.
But the truth is that if anti-snoring devices work, it is probably because they keep you awake. For the most part though, they simply don't work.
Is Snoring Serious?
Yes, both socially and medically. Snoring can cause embarrassment and disrupt the sleep of loved ones, many of whom choose to sleep separately from their partner. This can cause immense strain on a relationship. But snoring is also a medical issue because it disturbs sleeping patterns and deprives the snorer of appropriate rest. When snoring is severe, it can cause serious, long-term health problems, including obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
When loud snoring is interrupted by episodes of obstructed breathing, it
is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Serious episodes last more than 10
seconds each and occur more than 7 times per hour. Apnea patients may
experience more than 100 such events per hour. These episodes can reduce
blood oxygen levels, causing the heart to pump harder.
The immediate effect of sleep apnea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep his muscles tense in order to maintain airflow to the lungs. Because the snorer does not get a good rest, he may be sleepy during the day which can impair job performance and make him a hazardous driver or equipment operator. After many years with this disorder, elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement may occur.
People Who Snore May Suffer From:
- Poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat. When muscles are too
relaxed, either from alcohol or drugs that cause sleepiness, the tongue
falls backwards into the airway or the throat muscles draw in from the
sides into the airway. This can also happen during deep sleep.
- Excessive bulkiness of throat tissue. Children with large tonsils
and adenoids often snore. Overweight people have bulky neck tissue, too.
Cysts or tumors can also cause bulk, but they are rare.
- Long soft palate and/or uvula. A long palate narrows the opening
from the nose into the throat. As it dangles, it acts as a noisy flutter
valve during relaxed breathing. A long uvula makes matters even worse.
- Obstructed nasal airways. A stuffy or blocked nose requires extra
effort to pull air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the
throat and pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat, and snoring
results. So, snoring often occurs only during the hay fever season or
with a cold or sinus infection.
- Deformities of the nose or nasal septum, such as a deviated septum
(a deformity of the wall that separates one nostril from the other)
which can cause such an obstruction.
Can Heavy Snoring be Cured?
Heavy snorers, those who snore in any position or are disruptive to the family, should seek medical advice to ensure that sleep apnea is not a problem. The specialists at The Snoring CenterSM will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate and neck. A sleep study (either in a laboratory environment or at home) may be necessary to determine how serious the snoring is and to determine if the patient has sleep apnea.
Self-Help For the Light Snorer
Adults who suffer from mild or occasional snoring should try the following self-help remedies:
- Adopt a healthy and athletic lifestyle to develop good muscle tone and lose weight.
- Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills and antihistamines before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol for at least four hours and heavy meals or snacks for three hours before retiring.
- Establish regular sleeping patterns.
- Sleep on your side rather than your back.
- Tilt the head of your bed upwards four inches.