Snoring is a disturbing noise you make while sleeping. The sound occurs when the air flow is obstructed and unable to move freely through your nose and mouth during sleep. The obstruction is due to a vibration of the tissues of your respiratory system, mostly the uvula and the soft palate.
Snoring is a common nuisance; it is estimated that nearly 60% of men over 50 and 40% of women over 60 years old snore in the United States. Although snoring affect both men and women, it is more common in men; after menopause, however, the risk increases considerably in women. Snoring is not an acute health problem, but when it is loud, it may be a sign of serious medical condition such as cardiovascular disease or obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, researches indicate that snoring can be associated with a risk of stroke.
“Ordinary” snoring – Snoring is a respiratory sound (breath sound) issued while sleep due to obstructed air movement during breathing. Minor snoring produces a light sound that does not disturb your sleep or that of your sleep partner. Sometimes, however, the sound is so loud that it can affect your health and prevent other people from falling sleep. That harsh sound is caused by a vibration of the uvula and the soft palate when the airflow is blocked. A minor snoring can reach a sound level up to 60 dB (60 decibels). In severe cases, the noise can reach up to 100 decibels. In this case, the snoring becomes a problem not only for you (the snorer) but also to the person who shares your bed with you. The sound can even disrupt the sleep of other members of the family.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea – This type of snoring is characterized by a snoring associated with breathing pauses or cessation. Repeatedly, you issue interrupted snoring followed by a gasping for air, which tends to awake you. Most of the times, you are not aware of any of these awakenings and have a feeling of poor sleep quality. You can complain of morning headaches, concentration difficulty and excessive daytime drowsiness. If the disease is not treated, over the years, you may suffer from chronic respiratory failure or cardiovascular disorders. In addition, the condition can weaken your immune system and worsen other health problems you already have.
Snoring Causes and risk factors
Snoring occurs when you are forced to breathe through your mouth due to a nasal blockage. It usually occurs on inspiration (drawing of air into the lungs), but it can also occur during expiration (emitting air from the lungs). In general, any obstacle impeding a smooth airflow between your nose and larynx can cause snoring. The most common causative factors include:
- Rhinitis or nasal congestion
- Sleeping on your back
- Age – relaxation of your respiratory system tissues due age
- Consumption of alcohol or tranquilizers
- Anatomical abnormalities of your airways
- Tonsillar hypertrophy – inflammation of your tonsils or tonsillitis
- Being overweight – extra weight tend to weaken the structures of the throat
- Deviated Nasal Septum – a polyp that produces a slender outgrowth on a mucous membrane.
To diagnose snoring, your doctor will ask you questions about your medical conditions. Your physician can also talk to your Partner or a family member living in the same house as you; they are more able to give a concrete explanation of your snoring problem because you cannot control the noise when you sleep.
Certain information such as sleep pattern, daytime napping and frequency of your nighttime awakening are also important in the diagnosis. Your doctor may also evaluate your body mass index (BMI) and your neck circumference. In addition, he / she can refer you to an otolaryngologist. The specialist will examine your mouth and your nasal cavity to determine if the problem is related to an abnormality of these organs. If those tests reveal physiological problems, other medical interventions may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
The treatment of snoring depends on its cause, severity and complications associated with it such as sleep apnea. If you have a mild snoring, losing weight and changing some behaviors such as quitting smoking, sleeping on the side and avoiding consumption of alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, is enough to eliminate or reduce the snoring. However, these means are not always effective.
Conventionally, treatment of snoring has several methods, the most common include:
Medications – In the case of nasal congestion, your snoring can be treated using decongestant medicines. In some chronic cases, the doctor may prescribe you a steroid nasal spray. Another method approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is the use of nasal strips (Breathe Right ® Nasal Strips or Air Plus ®); those products increase the opening of the nostrils and thus help you breathe easily through your nose.
Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) – uvulopalatoplasty is a laser surgery frequently used to treat snoring. The surgery is performed under local anesthesia. The procedure consists of removing a small portion of the soft palate and the uvula. Most of the times, the results are as effective as those of conventional surgery.
Radio frequency ablation (RFA) – RFA is a recent less invasive open surgery used in the treatment of snoring. During the procedure, under local anesthesia, your surgeon introduces an electrode into the soft palate and passes a low-intensity radiofrequency signal into the tissues to shrink them; this decreases the vibration of the throat structures and eventually stops the snoring.
Surgical removal – In more severe cases, surgical removal of a part of the soft palate or uvula (sometimes both) is used to expand the nasopharyngeal airway. Usually, the surgery is done under general anesthesia. The hospital stay is one to two days and often followed by a convalescence period of one to two weeks. The operation can be a little painful, but effective in almost all cases.
The following preventive measure can help you prevent or control snoring:
- Treat all nasal congestion
- If you snore or at risk, avoid any use of alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese; this can eliminate not only snoring but also sleep apnea
- If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) syndrome, use a positive pressure ventilation (PPV) during sleep.
- Avoid eating right before going to bed; sleeping preferably on an empty stomach
- If possible, sleep on your side.
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