Understanding Why You Snore And The Treatments Available

You may have been told by a roommate or spouse that you snore. Since you can't hear yourself snore, you have to take their word for it. When it begins to affect your sleep, it's time to take a look at what's causing it and stop it before it gets worse. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 90 million adults snore at some time in their lives. Learn what causes your snoring and what treatments are available. Don't let snoring ruin another good night's sleep.

What Causes the Snoring Sound?

As you enter a deep sleep, the muscles and tissues in your mouth relax. Your tongue, roof of your mouth and tissues in your throat can shift as you move around in bed. Sometimes the tissues may partially block your airway, vibrating as you inhale and exhale. The more your airway is blocked, the louder the sound will be. Your partner may nudge you to move, which changes the position of the soft tissues, and the snoring may go away. In severe cases, the snoring occurs no matter what your position in bed.

Factors that Impact the Snoring

Several factors determine whether you will snore or not, and how loud and persistent the sound will be:

  • The anatomy of your mouth - You are more prone to snoring if you have a thick soft palate. Being overweight can thicken tissues in the throat. An elongated uvula, the small piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat, can obstruct the airway and cause snoring.
  • Alcohol - Alcohol relaxes the tissues even more and reduces your body's natural response to an airway obstruction.
  • Airway obstructions - Nasal congestion or a deviated septum in your nose can reduce the amount of air getting into your respiratory tract, which may trigger snoring.
  • Sleep apnea - This is a condition where the tissues in your throat either partially or completely block your airway, causing you to snore and wake up several times each night.

Treatment Options for Snoring

The goal of treatment is to clear your airway so there is no need for forced breathing that generates the snoring sound. Treatment ranges from simple appliances to surgery that opens up your airway.

  • Nasal strips - These are plastic strips that attach to the outside of the nose, keeping it open for a clearer airway. They may have some benefit if you have a deviated septum which constricts your airway.
  • Oral appliances - These devices are worn in the mouth when sleeping to keep your tongue and soft palate from blocking your airway.
  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) - This mask pumps air into your airway, keeping it open while you breathe. Normally used to treat sleep apnea, it also prevents snoring by moving the tissues that may obstruct your airway.
  • Oral surgery - A surgeon will trim excess tissue from your soft palate and throat to prevent airway obstruction. This is done under general anesthesia as an in-patient.
  • Laser surgery - This accomplishes much the same as the traditional surgery above, but is done with a laser and as an out-patient.

Snoring can be treated successfully. When it begins to bother your sleep or the rest of your partner, contact an ear, nose and throat doctor to discuss your options.