Snoring is a noise produced during sleep that originates in the back of the throat or nose. Snoring occurs when the tongue and other muscles in the back of the throat relax while sleeping, which narrows or blocks the airway. Mouth-breathing causes the uvula and palate to vibrate against the back of the throat, producing the snoring sound. Swollen or infected tonsils and adenoids, blocked nasal passages, or a deviated septum can also narrow the airway and lead to snoring. Other common causes of snoring include obesity, some medications, and alcohol consumption before bedtime.
Snoring can also be a sign of a more serious problem, known as obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and muscle in the back of the throat completely obstruct the airway and breathing is momentarily halted. Patients with sleep apnea typically stop breathing many times a night before the brain prompts them to wake up and start breathing again. Most patients don’t fully awaken or realize this is occurring all night long, but they wake up feeling unrested and tired through out the day. Daytime fatigue causes decreased alertness and productivity, not to mention the dangers of falling asleep while driving or performing other important tasks. Left untreated, long-term complications of sleep apnea include high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, heart failure, anxiety and depression.
Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a physical examination with particular emphasis on weight, blood pressure and airway constriction in the nose, throat and lungs. In many cases, a sleep test will be recommended at a sleep laboratory. The sleep study monitors several functions while you sleep and can help identify the exact cause and severity of the sleep apnea.
Conservative measures for alleviating mild apnea include sleeping on your side (not on your back) and avoiding alcohol or sedatives before bedtime. In mild cases, treatment may consist of nasal decongestants, inhaled steroid preparations or oral mouth devices that force the jaw forward and prevent the tongue from falling back and obstructing the throat. For more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This device straps onto your face and generates pressurized air, keeping the airway open during sleep. CPAP can often cure sleep apnea. Sometimes surgery can decrease the severity of sleep apnea, but rarely results in a cure. The most common procedures to treat sleep apnea or snoring include a tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, deviated septum repair (septoplasty), or surgery on the palate and uvula.