Approximately 30-40% of the adult population may snore. In mild to moderate cases it may disrupt one’s own or your partner’s sleep. But in more severe cases it can lead to sleep deprivation which affects you during the day or cause problems to a relationship due to sleep disturbance.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is result of vibration of the airway behind the tongue. During the day, the muscles at the back of the throat (the tongue, walls of the throat, and the uvula) are taught enough to hold the airway open, but during sleep these muscles relax and these muscles become floppy. The airway behind the tongue becomes narrower as the muscle support loosens. This extra narrowing leads to impairment of airflow whilst breathing in, and causes the walls of the throat to vibrate, producing the characteristic sound of snoring. Certain factors can increase the likelihood that one will snore. These are:
- Environmental influences such as alcohol consumption, or sedatives (sleeping tablets) which make the airway muscles floppier or smoking which can cause the neck to swell.
- Conditions that contribute to obstruction elsewhere in the airway such as a cold or hayfever.
- The physical thickness of the neck can narrow the airway all the time (even during the day), and make it more likely to vibrate at night. The commonest cause of this is obesity in the neck.
- Factors that narrow the airway during sleep e.g. lying on the back, which causes the weight of the jaw and neck to push the tongue backwards.
There are several options to reduce the symptoms of snoring. The correct advice can often be provided once you have been assessed and in some cases after you have had a diagnostic sleep study. The following are suggestions which may reduce snoring.
Using dental appliances which work by advancing the lower jaw in sleep. These are best in cases where a sleep study confirms snoring alone or mainly positional (on the back) milder sleep apnoea.
Sleeping position: If the sleep study confirms that snoring is predominantly when the snorer is on his/her back, symptoms may be remedied by changing your sleeping pattern. You may want to try sewing a tennis ball (or similar) into the back of pyjamas.
Surgery: If these simple measures do not work then surgery may be an option. An ENT specialist can remove enlarged tonsils, straighten a broken nose, or remove nasal polyps if these are the cause of snoring. The back of the throat can also be tightened or the excess soft tissue that contributes to the vibration causing snoring can be removed. It is currently not possible to predict those who will benefit from surgery, and most ENT surgeons recommend a sleep study to see how much the snoring is interfering with breathing before deciding if an operation is appropriate.