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Snoring occurs when you have difficulty circulating air freely through your nose, mouth, and throat during sleep. When these passageways are restricted or narrowed, the air being forced through them causes the tissue of the palate (roof of the mouth) and throat to vibrate. The sound varies with the degree of the obstruction. The result of this turbulent airflow is the non-melodious sounds of snoring.
The first order of business is to understand the different types of snorers:
Nose snorers. Humans are hardwired to breathe through the nose as that organ is what filters and humidifies air entering our bodies—it is most common to breathe through our noses when sleeping. Nasal snoring is due to swelling in the nasal cavity (often caused by allergies) or a deviated septum. When the nasal cavity is constricted or obstructed, the air is forced through these narrow passageways, causing the tissues to vibrate and ZZZZZZZ.
Mouth snorers. Sometimes people with restricted nasal passageways breathe and thus snore through the mouth, even though the problem originates with the restricted nasal passages. Generally, those whose snores emanate from the mouth are reacting to the relaxation of soft tissue at the back of the mouth, which creates the restriction of airflow through the passageway. This restriction leads to the vibration of the soft tissues that causes the snoring.
Here is an explanation of the different soft tissues:
The Soft Palate. This muscle goes from the roof of the mouth to the back part of the mouth. While the soft palate is attached to the bones at the front and sides of the mouth it really is hanging free at the base of the mouth. Thus it can move forwards and backwards to open or close the connection between the nasal passageway and the mouth. When you are breathing, the soft palate moves forward to allow the passage of air. When eating or drinking it moves backward to prevent anything that is being ingested from entering the nasal cavity. For instance it allows salad and iced tea to go down your throat.
Uvula. The little ‘ball’ that hangs down at the back of the mouth is called the uvula. It helps the soft palate perform its jobs.
Tongue. As you know from a lifetime of experience, the tongue is not anchored tightly in the mouth. Rather, it freely moves around in order to aid in the tasks of swallowing and speaking.
Snoring is a Common Affliction
As anyone who snores and/or sleeps with a person who ‘saws logs’ can surmise – this affliction is common. Indeed, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO) 45 % of normal adults are occasional snorers and 25 % suffer from habitual snoring. Snoring typically worsens with age because the muscles in the nose, mouth and throat lose tension. As the air passageway become even more easily restricted, snoring increases in frequency and volume. Perhaps this is one of the reasons of midlife marital malaise!
In all seriousness heavy snoring might be more than a nuisance to all within earshot. It can be an indication of obstructive sleep apnea. One in three men, and approximately one in five women who are habitual snorers, suffer from this malady to some degree. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which causes you to temporarily stop breathing for short periods of time while you sleep, is a serious sleep disorder as well as a risk factor for health issues such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
Anything that prevents you from breathing freely through your nose can cause snoring. Culprits include:
Risk factors for snoring include:
To diagnose whether your snoring poses a threat to your health the doctor will ask about your medical history, go over your symptoms and talk to your partner for specifics about your snoring. If warranted your doctor will request an imaging test–x-ray, scan, or magnetic resonance imaging. The purpose is to examine the structure of your airway for problems such as a deviated septum.
If your issues are severe, a sleep study might be ordered. This is conducted at home or if necessary at a sleep clinic. The study, called a polysomnography, and conducted by a team of specialists, involves an in-depth examination of your sleep habits. In-depth meaning, you are connected to several devices so that your brain waves, blood oxygen level, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep stages, eye and leg movements can be observed and recorded overnight.
Diagnosing Your Snoring Disorder
There are two types of snoring – Primary and Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Primary. This is the best type to have, as it’s not associated with the more serious sleep apnea. Related to blockages of air passages in the nose and throat, primary snoring is characterized by loud respiratory breathing. There is no pausing or cessation of breathing. A polysomnography will show normal breathing and sleep patterns. Those with this disorder do not suffer from insomnia or excessive fatigue, as their snoring doesn’t wake them during the night, as is the case with OSA-caused snoring.
Sleep apnea. Derived from the Greek language, “apnea” translates to “without breath.” During sleep you might stop breathing partially or completely. This stoppage can last for several seconds or minutes. You fall back asleep and the process repeats.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea affects 18 million people—most commonly men, those who are overweight, and people over 40. But it can strike anyone. There are three types of sleep apneas, which can be diagnosed by a polysomnography.
Symptoms of snoring include:
In cases where OAS is not involved, if you are diligent with making and maintaining lifestyle changes such as promptly treating breathing problems such as a stuffy nose caused by a cold or allergies, using a nasal dilator (nasal strips) and raising the head of your bed 4 inches to 6 inches by placing bricks under the legs of the bed, you have a very good prognosis.
If you suffer from mild or occasional snoring, that is, snoring not associated with obstructive sleep apnea, upper airway resistance, insomnia, or an underlying disease, then behavioral remedies will usually suffice. Try avoiding:
Here are some top tips to help prevent snoring:
Treatment for snoring depends on the level of upper airway narrowing. If tests determine you do not have serious snoring issues or OAS, the doctor will likely recommend behavioral changes such as:
If tests conclude that you have OAS, surgical treatments include:
Non-surgical options include:
Here are some promising alternative treatments outlined by the Mayo Clinic to limit or prevent snoring:
Numerous over-the-counter products are available such as:
While many report success, there is no scientific proof any of these are effective.
You and/or your partner can determine if a doctor visit regarding your snoring and snoring related-issues (i.e.: disruption of sleep) is warranted. See a doctor if you:
When you see your doctor, it’s good to have a list of things you want him or her to know as well as questions you’d like answered. For example:
Ask questions, such as:
For more information, please see:
National Sleep Foundation
Sleep Education – a sleep health information resource by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
The Comprehensive Guide to Sleep Deprivation
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