Why We Snore
Why We Snore
Jason Hamilton (Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon) gives expert video advice on: Is snoring dangerous?; What over-the-counter treatments are available to minimize or eliminate snoring?; What medical treatments are available to minimize or eliminate my snoring? and more...
What is "snoring"?
Snoring is a loud noise that emanates from the nose or the throat and it's caused by vibrations that pass through the throat, the base of the tongue and through the nose. It's usually caused by either redundant or lax tissue in the throat area that becomes more relaxed when you sleep. Or it could be caused by a mechanical obstruction in the nose or throat itself. Snoring is similar to a sail in the wind that hasn't actually caught the wind yet. When the sail is vibrating and kind of making a loud, shaking noise before it actually is taut; snoring is very similar to that. When the tissues in the throat kind of relax at night when you're sleeping and air is forced through that obstruction, it makes that reverberation that makes the loud, snoring noise. When you're aroused, the muscles tighten and then the sail effectively has caught the wind and the snoring goes away.
How common is snoring?
Snoring is very common. Most adults, probably 90 percent of adults, have snored at one point in their life or the other. It's more common in men than women: probably about 50 percent of men are affected by snoring compared to about 25 percent of women. Snoring is more prominent in patients who are overweight, who drink alcohol or take sedatives. Snoring can also be prominent in patients who have allergies or nasal obstruction.
What are the causes of snoring?
Several things cause snoring. If you break them down anatomically, you can start in the nose. Most commonly in the nose, snoring is caused by a deviated septum, which is the cartilage and bone that separate your nose into right and left. Snoring can be caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids which are in the throat, that create a mechanical obstruction. A long palette or uvula, which is that little bell that hangs down in the back of the throat, can cause snoring. A large tongue can cause snoring as well. Really large redundant tissues from obesity can cause snoring, too.
Is snoring dangerous?
Snoring, in and of itself, the noise from snoring is not dangerous but it can be a sign that something more serious is happening. Snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, which is a disorder, apnea is defined as the sensation breathing for ten seconds or more and also a drop in your oxygen saturation at night. If you snore, this could be a sign that you may have sleep apnea, but everyone who has snoring does not have sleep apnea. It's a good idea if you snore, especially if it becomes a problem where you're tired in the day, you fall asleep while driving, or your loved one is really becoming annoyed with it, you can get it checked out by a larygologist to make sure you don't have sleep apnea.
What is "obstructive sleep apnea"?
Obstructive sleep apnea means that at night, when you are sleeping, your brain continues to send signals to your lungs that you should continue to breathe, but there's an obstruction either in your nose or your throat that blocks the air from getting to your lungs. When that happens, your heart and lungs themselves become very stressed because they can't get enough oxygen into the rest of your body. If this happens for a prolonged period of time, eventually your heart or lungs can fail and it can cause sudden death, arrhythmias or problems with your ability to maintain oxygen throughout the body.
Do I need to see a doctor about my snoring?
I think that anyone that feels that their snoring is becoming a significant problem at night should definitely see an otolaryngologist about that. For example, when they can't get enough sleep or if their loved one points out that they're concerned about their breathing at night. Or even if you have daytime sleepiness and you're finding it hard to maintain your energy level, you're falling asleep at work or when you're driving and you have a history of snoring.
What over-the-counter treatments are available to minimize or eliminate snoring?
Treatments for snoring, depending on if you have sleep apnea or not, vary widely. For patients who just have primary snoring, which means there's no component of sleep apnea, there's some over-the-counter remedies that work very well. There's Breathe Right strips that are placed over the nose to help increase the volume of air that comes through the nose. There's some throat sprays that help moisturize the throat, and there are some nasal sprays that help moisturize the nose as well, and help decrease snoring. There's also mouth guards, that are kind of like a bite block that they would wear for boxing or something like that, that kind of keep the jaws open and allow more air to come in as well.
What medical treatments are available to minimize or eliminate my snoring?
As far as medications go for snoring, medically, there's no real proven medicine that will stop your snoring. The snoring is usually due to some kind of mechanical obstruction, so something that unblocks that, even though it's not necessarily a surgical treatment, will improve the snoring. There's another form of apnea that is not obstructive, but comes from the brain, where the signals to the lungs are interrupted and you actually stop breathing; not because there's an obstruction, but because you have no signal for the brain. For those patients, there are medical treatments and stimulants such as Ritalin which are used to increase the excitement level in the brain so that you'll always continue breathing. So, your brain tricks itself into thinking you're awake. Surgical remedies for patients with obstructive sleep apnea are based on the anatomical location of their obstruction. Things like septal deviations can be treated with a septoplasty. People with enlarged tonsils or adenoids can be treated with a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. There are some minimally basic techniques such as coblation, which can shrink tissues in the base of the tongue. More radical procedures involve actually moving the jawbones forward to increase the air space in the back of your throat in terms of breathing.
What can I do to minimize or prevent snoring?
If you're overweight, you can improve your snoring by losing weight. If you drink alcohol, avoiding your intake, especially at night, can decrease your snoring as well. Sometimes simply sleeping on your side or on your stomach can decrease your snoring. Getting enough rest in general and monitoring your sleep hygiene can improve your snoring, too.