Vibration of the walls of the throat and the soft palate causes the snoring sound.
Any narrowing or obstruction of the airway causes air to need to move through it faster, therefore causing vibration.
Snoring is common and can be considered “normal” to a degree, however it may be a social problem or disturb the sleeping partner.
More severe airway obstruction causes apnoea (stopping breathing for more than 10 seconds). If this happens too frequently it causes poor quality sleep and increases the risks of hypertension, heart disease , stroke etc. The hallmark of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) is excessive daytime sleepiness, and in fact there is a mortality rate from falling asleep at the wheel.
In my practice, snorers are evaluated by means of history and examination of the airway.
Weight loss and reduction of alcohol are recommended as these factors are directly correlated with snoring.
If OSAS is suspected, a sleep study is done to confirm.
If there are any major airway obstructions noted, then these may need to be corrected with nasal sprays or possibly surgery.
If not, and weight and alcohol are not factors, then an oral gum guard device is recommended to stop the jaw falling back, which can eliminate snoring in some.
The odd brave patient can recommend the use of ear plugs for the sleeping partner.
What causes snoring?
Snoring is due to vibration of the soft palate and pharyngeal walls due to obstructed airflow.
What are the modifiable lifestyle factors to alleviate snoring?
Snoring is directly correlated to being overweight and to alcohol consumption. Losing weight and reducing alcohol intake may alleviate or cure snoring.
Is there anything else that can be done?
If an obvious obstructive cause is identified this can be treated or removed surgically.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome? (OSAS)
OSAS is due to severe obstruction of the airway, causing poor sleep, obstructive episodes and excessive daytime sleepiness. It will need to be correctly diagnosed and characterised by a sleep study. It will need treatment by either a CPAP (continuous positive airways pressure device or by surgery to remove an obstruction to the airway.