Most people are familiar with snoring – either you have snored or have been around someone who snores! This also means that you are familiar with the unpleasant sounds and disruption it often causes. According to the National Sleep Foundation, snoring affects 90 million people in the U.S. and 37 million people on a regular basis. It occurs when the muscles in the mouth, tongue (falls to the back of the mouth), relax which causes the throat to become narrow. The airways then become obstructed which restricts the flow of air through your windpipe. This causes the tissue in the throat to vibrate which produces the sounds we associate with snoring. The narrower the airways, the greater the vibration of the walls in the throat and thus, louder the snoring.
Some people might snore rarely or occasionally, and for others, it may be a chronic symptom of an underlying condition. There are specific symptoms to be aware of that could indicate that your snoring is a problem that should be evaluated by a doctor.
There are several factors that contribute to snoring including:
- Aging: the aging process can lead to a relaxing of muscles and tissue
- Anatomy: anatomical features of the nose and/or throat such as low palate (roof of one’s mouth), deviated nasal septum, large tonsils etc. can contribute to the narrowing of airways
- Sleep Position: the gravitational impact on the throat of sleeping on your back can cause loud snoring
- Alcohol Consumption: alcohol really relaxes the muscles so ingesting in the evening can trigger snoring
- Obesity: extra tissue in the back of the throat and fatty tissue around the neck can cause a narrowing of airways
Additionally, snoring could occur as a result of allergies or infection which cause an inflammation of the tissues in the nose and/or throat. These causes may contribute to temporary or recurring snoring.
Snoring could also be a symptom of an underlying sleep disorder. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50% of people who snore regularly, have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when one’s breathing is briefly and continuously interrupted during sleep. Symptoms include:
- Fatigue caused by lack of quality sleep
- Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks
- Sore throat
- Gasping for air at night
- Loud snoring that disrupts partners sleep
- Chest pain
The symptoms of sleep apnea are associated with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other health concerns so it is critical to see a doctor if you experience these symptoms.
Many people who snore are unaware that they do until someone else tells them. Partners often recognize the snoring because their sleep is disrupted by it! If your snoring is impacting sleep, or if you experience gasping or choking for breath during the night (symptom of sleep apnea); you should consult with a doctor. A doctor will conduct an initial examination and determine if you should pursue further consulting with a sleep specialist. It may be recommended to conduct a sleep test which monitors your sleeping and how snoring impacts the quality of your sleep. The results will determine effective treatment options for you which could include:
- Making lifestyle changes: doctors will first recommend making changes to your lifestyle and behavior. This includes not consuming alcohol before you sleep, not sleeping on your back, losing weight, treating allergies etc.
- Oral appliances: which are dental mouthpieces structured to fit your mouth. This helps position the jaw, tongue, and roof of mouth so that airways remain open and not collapsed
- CPAP: refers to continuous positive airway pressure which involves a mask and air pump. You wear the mask over your nose while you sleep and it provides air to the back of your throat which keeps it open. This is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea.
- Surgical procedures: there are different surgical options that include removing excess tissue in the throat, moving the jaw forwards, and septoplasty which is the procedure to correct a deviated septum.
Consulting with a sleep specialist will inform you of which option would be most effective to treat your specific snoring (and its underlying cause)!