Snoring is a sound produced by the vibrations of the tissues in the nose and throat when breathing during sleep. Snoring is more common in men than women, and may increase with advancing age. Normally when we breathe, air flows in and out in a steady flow from the nose or mouth to the lungs. During sleep the area at the back of the throat, nose or mouth may narrow and when air passes through this narrow opening the surrounding tissues vibrate producing sounds of snoring.
The most common cause of snoring is nasal passage obstruction caused from nasal septum deviation, allergies, sinus infections, swollen turbinates (nasal concha) and enlarged tonsils. It may also be seen in children who breathe through their mouth.
Your doctor evaluates snoring by taking a completed medical history and performing a physical examination. You may be asked about your snoring and sleep pattern and the presence of any sleep problems. Body mass index (BMI) and neck circumference are estimated. Your physician may examine your throat, nasal and oral cavities to determine narrowed oral and nasal passages. If a sleeping problem is suspected then a sleep study can be performed.
Many reliable and effective methods of treating snoring have been developed.
- Continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) – This is a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth. Air is gently blown from the mask to keep the airway open during sleep. This is a highly effective method of treatment; however, some patients may not tolerate sleeping with the mask.
- Oral appliance therapy – This treatment involves the selection and fitting of a specially designed oral appliance enabling the airway to stay open without any obstruction in the throat. These are custom-made appliances and are proven to be highly effective.
- Palatal stiffening procedures – These are second line treatment procedures to stiffen the palate or roof of the mouth and may involve palatal implants, injection snoreplasty and radiofrequency procedures.
- Surgery – Tonsillectomy, Adenoidectomy and Nasal Surgery (Septoplasty, Turbinate Reduction) are some of the commonly performed surgeries in children. Other surgical procedures may include weight reduction surgery (bariatric surgery and cervicofacial liposuction), tongue reduction surgery, maxillomandibular advancement, anterior inferior mandibular osteotomy with hyoid suspension and surgery of the soft palate (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, laser-assisted uvuloplasty and somnoplasty).
- Bi-level positive airway pressure (BPAP) devices – These are commonly used by people who are unable to adapt to using a CPAP. This is an automatic device that adjusts the air pressure while sleeping. It provides more pressure during inhalation, and less pressure during exhalation.
- Behavioural therapy – Doctors may advise patients who snore to reduce excess weight, develop better muscle tone, adapt a healthier lifestyle and eating habits (no heavy meals and no calorie rich food) and participate in daily exercise. It is also recommended to avoid alcohol consumption, quit smoking, and avoid intake of tranquilizers, antihistamines and sleeping pills before bedtime. Establishing regular sleep patterns, sleeping on the side rather than on the back, and elevation of the head of the bed are also useful options.
A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, good eating habits and appropriate treatment with recommended medical or surgical options can greatly improve the quality of life of patients with snoring.