Frequently Asked Questions
What Causes Snoring?
Snoring is the sound made by air passing through irregularities and narrowing in the throat and/or windpipe. Snoring can occur when someone breathes in or breathes out. Snoring may have many causes:
- Snoring is often related to physical obstructive breathing during sleep. This physical obstruction occurs when the muscles of the palate, the uvula, and sometimes the tonsils relax during sleep, and act as vibrating noise-makers when the air of breathing moves across them.
- Excessive bulkiness of tissue in the back of the throat as it narrows into the airways.
- A long palate and/or uvula.
- Deformities of the nose or nasal septum. Deviated septum is a common term for the deformity of the wall inside the nose that separates one nostril from the other.
- Large tonsils and adenoids can cause snoring in children.
- Alcohol or drugs may relax muscles too much so that 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.
- A stuffy or blocked-up nose may cause snoring for some people who do not snore otherwise. This may occur during hay fever season or during a cold or sinus infection.
- Cysts or tumors could be present, but these are rare.
Is Snoring Serious?
Yes, snoring is serious both socially and medically. Socially, snoring can cause embarrassment. It can disrupt the sleep of loved ones, many of whom choose to sleep separately from their partner, which can cause immense strain on a relationship. Snoring is also a medical issue, because it disturbs your sleeping patterns and deprives you of appropriate rest. When snoring is severe, it can cause serious, long-term health problems, including sleep apnea.
Can Snoring Be Cured?
The majority of snorers can find relief. If you are a heavy snorer, or have been told you are a heavy snorer and you may think you are suffering from sleep apnea, you deserve a thorough examination of your nose, mouth, palate, throat, and neck. Studies in a sleep laboratory will determine how serious the snoring is and what effects it has on your health. Treatments may include lifestyle changes, breathing aid devices and medications.
If you suffer from mild or occasional snoring, you may want to try these 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.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea occurs when you regularly stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of times in an hour that your breathing stops (apnea) or becomes very shallow (hypopnea). Apnea episodes may occur from 5 to more than 100 times an hour.
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea - the most common type is due to an obstruction in the throat during sleep. Bed partners notice pauses approximately 10 to 60 seconds between snores. It occurs when the muscles of the throat relax, thus obstructing the free flow of air in and out of the nose and/or mouth. Obstructive sleep apnea can result from many causes, including being overweight, defects in the airway such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, an unusually narrow throat, and other factors. Men are affected by the condition more often than women, and most cases are diagnosed in those over age 40 (although children can suffer from sleep apnea as well).
- Central sleep apnea - occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the muscles that control breathing. This form of the condition is rare in otherwise healthy people, usually occurring only in people who are seriously ill with other conditions, particularly injuries to the brain stem, which controls breathing.
- Mixed sleep apnea - a combination of the other two forms.