What causes snoring? 6 possible conditions
Snoring is an annoying but common phenomenon. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), up to 45 percent of American adults snore and 25 percent do so on a regular basis. (AAO). Snoring is more common in men, and it can worsen with age.
Certain lifestyle changes can decrease snoring, and your partner is sure to appreciate that. However, some people require medical treatment if their snoring is related to a sleep disorder. Always ask your doctor if you are concerned about frequent snoring.
Snoring occurs when the tissues in your airways relax and rub against one other. Airflow is constricted, and that causes the infamous vibrating sound. Snores can vary in volume depending on how restricted the air is in the windpipe. Because they can cause nasal congestion and throat inflammation, colds and allergies are common triggers of snoring.
Sometimes, the anatomy of your mouth is enough to cause those annoying snores. Enlarged tissues and tonsils can restrict airflow. Patients with these oral features generally produce mild snores. Being overweight can also cause snoring because excess fat builds up on your neck and constricts your airways when you lie down.
A more serious cause of snoring is sleep apnea. This occurs when you stop breathing in your sleep for more than 10 seconds at a time. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment.
In children, snoring is often caused by obstructive sleep apnea. According to Johns Hopkins, enlarged tonsils are often the underlying cause. A child with obstructive sleep apnea may show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, sleepiness, or other behavioral problems during the day. (Johns Hopkins) If your child frequently snores, tell your doctor or pediatrician.
A physical examination can help your doctor determine whether your snores are related to abnormalities of the mouth. In some cases, this is all that is required before the appropriate treatment can be determined. This is particularly true if your snoring is mild.
However, severe cases may require other diagnostic tests. Your doctor may use X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to check your airway for abnormalities, such as a deviated septum. He or she may order a more in-depth study of your sleep patterns, called a sleep study. This requires you to spend the night at a clinic or sleep center. Sensors placed on your head and other parts of your body record your heart and respiration rates, oxygen levels in your blood, and leg movements.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your snoring. The AAO doesn’t recommend over-the-counter devices for snoring because they don’t treat the source of the problem. Common professional treatment measures include:
- dental mouthpieces: to position your tongue and soft palate and keep your airway open
- palatal implants: braided polyester strands are injected into your palate to stiffen it and reduce snoring
- surgery: your surgeon tightens and trims excess tissue in your airways
- laser surgery: your doctor uses a laser to shorten your soft palate and remove your uvula
- masks (CPAP machines): to direct pressurized air into your airway to eliminate sleep apnea and snoring
Corrective surgical procedures are often permanent solutions, while masks and mouthpieces must be used on an ongoing basis. Your doctor will likely recommend regular follow-up appointments to check your progress.
Mild cases of snoring may be improved with a few lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy weight can help your body immensely, and it can even help you snore less at night. Other potentially effective changes include:
- going to sleep at the same time every night
- sleeping on your side
- applying nasal strips to the bridge of your nose before bed
- treating ongoing nasal congestion
- avoiding alcohol before bedtime
- not eating before bed
- elevating your head by four inches with an extra pillow
Snoring can affect both you and your partner in a number of ways. Frequent snoring increases your chances of experiencing:
- sleepiness during the day
- difficulty concentrating
- vehicle accidents due to drowsiness
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- heart disease and stroke
- relationship conflict
The successful treatment of your snoring depends on its cause. Sleep apnea can be treated, but it often requires ongoing checkups. Many people snore more with age. This means that you may not snore now, but you may start to as you get older. It is important to discuss frequent snoring with a doctor.
- Snoring. (2012). American Academy of Otolaryngology. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/snoring.cfm
- Snoring. (2010, May 25). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/snoring/DS00297
- Snoring. (2012, August 29). National Institutes of Health.Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/snoring.html
- What is snoring? (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Health Topics. Retrieved July 23, 2012, from http://www.hopkinschildrens.org/snoring.aspx
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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