What is snoring?

Snoring is a common sleep disorder that can affect all people at any age, although it occurs more frequently in men and people who are overweight. Snoring has a tendency to worsen with age. Forty-five percent of adults snore occasionally, while 25% are considered habitual snorers.

Occasional snoring is usually not very serious and is mostly a nuisance for the bed partner of the person who snores. However, the habitual snorer not only disrupts the sleep patterns of those close to him, he also disturbs his own. Habitual snorers snore whenever they sleep and are often tired after a night of what seems like quality rest. Medical assistance is usually needed for habitual snorers to get a good night’s sleep.

What causes Snoring?

During sleep, a person’s body naturally relaxes. The tongue and lower jaw may drop back against the back of the throat and partially block the airway. The body reacts to this by trying harder to breathe; this increased surge of air causes the soft tissues at the back of the throat to vibrate, which creates the snoring noise.

What Are the Health Risks Associated With Snoring?

Habitual snorers can be at risk for serious health problems. Obstructive sleep apnea is an illness that is often associated with chronic snorers. This condition creates several problems, including:

  • Long interruptions of breathing (more than 10 seconds) during sleep caused by partial or total obstruction or blockage of the airway. Serious cases can have total blockage episodes hundreds of times per night.
  • Frequent waking from sleep, even though he or she may not realize it.
  • Snorers with obstructive sleep apnea sleep lightly to try to keep their throat muscles tense enough to maintain airflow.
  • Blood oxygen levels are often lowered, which causes the heart to pump harder and blood pressure to rise. The result is a poor night’s sleep, which leads to drowsiness during the day and can interfere with the persons quality of life. Prolonged suffering from obstructed sleep apnea will result in higher blood pressure and may cause enlargement of the heart, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.

How is snoring diagnosed?

People who snore heavily should see a sleep specialist to find out if the snoring could be causing episodes of sleep apnea. All snorers have a partial block of the upper airway. But people with sleep apnea have episodes of upper airway obstruction where the airway is completely blocked for a period of time, usually 10 seconds or longer.

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed or ruled out with a polysomnogram (sleep study). A polysomnogram of a person who snores but does not have sleep apnea will show:

  • Snoring and other sounds occurring often and for long episodes during sleep
  • No associated abrupt arousals, lowered amount of oxygen in the blood, or cardiac disturbances
  • Normal sleep and respiratory patterns during sleep
  • No signs of other sleep disorders

What Snoring Treatments Are Available?

If you occasionally snore, you can try the following behavior changes to help control the problem:

  • Lose weight
  • Avoid tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and antihistamines before you go to bed
  • Change sleep positions — rolling over to one side may help a person who only snores when on his back. Some doctors recommend putting a tennis ball in a sock, and pinning the sock to the back of the person’s pajama top
  • Wear a dental appliance to bed — some snorers may benefit from an oral appliance that repositions the tongue or the jaw so that airflow is not restricted.

If none of the above mentioned behavioral changes help, talk to your doctor. Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors) offer a variety of treatment options that may reduce or eliminate snoring.