In the simplest terms, snoring is the sound generated by obstructed breathing, and it is exceedingly common.
Ranging from soft snuffles to harsh rasps and snorts, nearly everyone snores, even babies. Among adults, it’s estimated that 45 percent snore at least occasionally, and 25 percent are habitual snorers.
Snoring can result from benign environmental and anatomical conditions such as nasal congestion or a deviated septum or be a major red flag for more serious medical conditions such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA.)
While many treat snoring as a laughable, temporary nuisance, it should not be ignored. It is considered a sleep disorder and a reliable indicator / symptom of a wide spectrum of health concerns.
THE ANATOMY OF SNORING
Snoring is the sound that occurs when air can’t flow easily through the mouth or nose. When air is forced through an obstructed area, soft tissues in the mouth, nose, and throat collide and vibrate. The vibrations make a rattling, snorting, or grumbling sound.
Snoring volume varies from person to person based on the severity of the obstruction and their anatomy. The average snorer reaches between 50 and 65 decibels, equivalent to the volume of a normal conversation. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the loudest snore ever recorded measured approximately 111.6 decibels, equivalent to a jet flying 100 feet above your home.
When investigating the cause of snoring, it is important to determine whether snoring is an isolated problem or if it is related to another more serious medical condition.
Snoring is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. X-rays or CT scans are often used to view and measure the width of oral and nasal passages and to detect any abnormalities.
Individuals may be referred to a sleep specialist who performs various diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Some evaluations often involve overnight monitoring of breathing and other body functions during sleep.
WHAT CAN CAUSE SNORING?
In general, airflow may be obstructed by any one or combination of the following:
- Nasal congestion from a cold, flu, sinus infection or allergies
- Nasal obstruction
- Weak muscles in the tongue and throat
- Enlarged tonsils, adenoids, or other obstructions such as a tumors or cysts
- Excessive tissue around the throat due to obesity
- Structural factors:
- A long, soft palate
- A long uvula
- Small chin, overbite, or high palate
- Use of drugs or alcohol that act as respiratory depressants
- Lying on your back while sleeping
NASAL CONGESTION & OBSTRUCTION / CAUSES
Nasal obstruction or congestion can be a significant contributor to snoring, impaired sleep, and sleep-disordered breathing. In fact, allergies and nasal congestion are considered among the main causes of snoring and impaired sleep.
During sleep, your body instinctively tries to breathe through the nose. A stuffy or blocked nose requires extra effort to pull air through it. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat that pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat, and snoring results.
Sometimes, however, your nose and / or sinuses are too obstructed or congested to breathe through at all. Your body’s reflexive remedy is to breathe through the mouth. Once you begin breathing through your mouth, the muscles in your throat might relax past a certain degree and cause you to start snoring.
Common biologic causes for nasal congestion include:
- Chronic sinusitis
- Sinus infection
- Cold or flu
- Certain medications, such as high blood pressure medicine
Common anatomical factors which can contribute to nasal obstruction or congestion include:
- Deviated septum (crooked cartilage within the nose blocks the airway)
- Enlarged turbinates (bony structures within the nasal cavity)
- Nasal polyps (benign growths within the nasal cavity)
- Enlarged adenoids (block the back of the nasal passage)
- Nasal tumors (benign or cancerous)
Common environmental factors which can contribute to nasal obstruction or congestion include:
- Sleeping in the supine (on the back) position.
- Environmental irritants, such as smoke or dust
NASAL CONGESTION & OBSTRUCTION / SYMPTOMS
Snoring can disrupt sleeping patterns and deprive the individual, and any sleep partners, of proper rest. Symptoms of snoring can vary depending on the cause, and may include:
- Restless sleep
- Gasping or choking during the night
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Dry mouth
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Sore throat upon awakening
- Headaches upon awakening
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain during the night
- Getting up frequently to urinate during the night
NASAL CONGESTION & OBSTRUCTION / TREATMENTS
There are numerous treatment options available to alleviate nasal congestion and snoring, ranging from home remedies to surgical intervention. Knowing the cause of your nasal congestion will determine the best treatment for you.
- Avoid known allergens.
- Use nasal and sinus irrigation options with a saline solution or distilled water.
- Use nasal breathing strips.
- Use a humidifier. Moist air helps keep nasal passages open.
- Blow your nose before going to sleep. Try to keep mucous from building up by keeping the airway as clear as possible prior to bedtime.
- Use steam to open nasal airways. A hot shower before bed can reduce symptoms. Breathe the steam in slowly.
- Hydrate with water.
- Quit smoking / tobacco use.
- Lose weight.
- Sleep on your side or propped up with pillows.
Depending on the cause and severity of your nasal congestion, your doctor may prescribe:
- Topical nasal steroids or antihistamine spray
- Oral antihistamines or steroids
- Antibiotics (if a bacterial infection is present)
- Corrective mouthpieces
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
If conservative treatments for snoring due specifically to nasal obstruction or congestion are unsuccessful in alleviating symptoms, surgical treatment may be recommended.
- Balloon Sinuplasty
- ClariFix® Cryotherapy
- Endoscopic Sinus Surgery
- LATERA® Nasal Implant
- Turbinate Reduction
Some people are more likely to snore than others. People with bulky throat tissue or an enlarged soft palate are more at risk for snoring, as are those who experience frequent nasal congestion, have a deviated septum, nasal polyps, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Additional risk factors may contribute include:
– Gender. Men are more likely to snore or have sleep apnea.
– Weight. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to snore or have obstructive sleep apnea.
– Age. Snoring is more common as we age because muscle tone decreases, causing airways to constrict.
– Drinking alcohol. Alcohol relaxes your throat muscles, increasing the risk of snoring.
– Heredity. Family history is a potential risk factor for OSA.