Snoring Snoring

Snoring

Perhaps you’ve poked your sleeping partner in the ribs a few times to get him or her to stop snoring. Or maybe you’re the one being poked. You’re not alone. Over half of the adults in the United States snore at one time or another.

Snoring happens when the air that usually flows out of your mouth and nose is blocked during sleep. This causes the tissues at the back of your throat, at the top of your airway, to bump into each other and vibrate. Snoring can be self-perpetuating, and even worsen over time, because that “bumping” can cause trauma to those tissues, causing them to swell and compounding the blockage problem.

Symptoms

The noise associated with snoring is one thing; if it is accompanied by other symptoms, however, it make indicate sleep apnea, which can be a serious sleep disorder.

If you are experiencing any of these additional symptoms, visit your health care provider at St. Luke’s to determine if you have sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder:

  • Feeling extremely sleepy during the day
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing morning headaches or sore throats
  • Waking at night or in the morning gasping or choking

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Causes

Snoring can be caused by the natural anatomy of your mouth or nose, including:

  • Having narrow air passages
  • The thickness of your soft palate
  • The length of your uvula (the tissue that hangs from the soft palate in the back of your throat)
  • The size of your tonsils or adenoids
  • A deviated septum — when the partition between your nostrils is crooked

Illnesses or conditions, such as allergies or having nasal or sinus polyps, can cause a blockage that results in snoring. Smoking, being obese and drinking alcohol can also cause snoring. Smoking irritates the tissues of your nose and mouth, which can cause inflammation. Obesity often affects the layers of fat around the neck, which can narrow airways. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, weakening that natural defense against obstruction.

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Living Better

Practical solutions to snoring include elevating the head of your bed a little, or sleeping on an inclined pillow. If you’re a back sleeper, this position allows your tongue to fall backward into your throat; try sleeping on your side instead.

Over-the-counter nasal strips that you apply to the bridge of your nose can help increase the size of your nostril passages and hold them open.

If you have a cold or another respiratory condition, such as allergies, make sure it is kept under control so that your nasal passages are clear. Over-the-counter decongestants, both sprays for your nose and medicines, can have a boomerang effect, though, so don’t use them for more than a few days without consulting with your health care practitioner. However, a saline spray can be used regularly, as can saline nasal and sinus washes that you use at the sink or in the shower; these can be helpful in relieving congestion and keeping stuffiness under control.

Sedatives, which you might think would help you sleep better, have an adverse affect on snoring, since, like alcohol, they relax the muscles at the back of the throat. Avoid sedatives and don’t drink alcohol four to six hours before you go to sleep.

As with many other conditions, losing weight and stopping smoking will go a long way in helping you to stop snoring. Weight loss may decrease some of the extra tissue in your throat, and take pressure off your airways. If you stop smoking, you’ll stop irritating your throat and nose with the chemicals in smoke, so they can stop responding by being aggravated.

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Exams and Tests

Your physician at St. Luke’s will give you a physical examination and take a complete medical history. To find out more about your snoring pattern, you’ll answer questions about the frequency of waking during the night, what helps your snoring or makes it worse, whether you’ve noticed or been told that you stop breathing during the night or whether you wake up gasping either in the morning or at any time during the night.

Depending on your answers, your health care provider may recommend that you participate in a sleep study.

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Treatment

Lifestyle changes, including those given in Living Better, can help your snoring. Additionally, your doctor may recommend certain oral exercises that strengthen your tongue and throat muscles; these exercises are simple, repetitive motions that take little time and can be done easily at home.

An allergist at St. Luke’s can provide medication and remedies for any allergic symptoms you have that are causing snoring. Similarly, a dentist trained in preventing snoring may be able to provide you with an oral device that shifts your jaw and helps to keep the back of your throat open.

An appliance called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine may be recommended. Frequently used by people diagnosed with sleep apnea, this apparatus delivers air pressure through a mask you wear when you sleep; the continuous air pressure keeps your throat passage open.

As a last resort, if your snoring is so severe that you get no rest, surgery may be indicated. This is generally surgery to the back of your throat, eliminating extra tissue or removing tonsils or adenoids, but may center on the nose instead; for example, you may benefit from having a deviated septum straightened.

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