Snoring occurs when air does not flow smoothly through the air passages, or when the soft tissues or muscles in
your throat vibrate during sleep. Snoring occurs in all age groups. The largest affected group however, is the
middle aged population. Snoring may be associated with long term health problems such as an increased risk of
heart attack or stroke. Many snoring remedies have been suggested but few have been shown to be effective.
What is snoring? Snoring is a noise generated by vibration of the soft or floppy parts of the throat during sleep.
The noise is made by the walls of the pharynx – the part of the throat at the back of the tongue which is held open by several small muscles. These muscles relax when we go to sleep, narrowing the airway and partially choking off the air passage so that breathing in makes the pharyngeal walls vibrate, which makes the noise of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring.
Should snoring be treated? Although many people snore, less than 5% of people have sought help from their
doctor for snoring. However, if your snoring is a concern to you or others you should definitely seek help. The first step is to discuss it with your own doctor. It is a good idea to take your sleeping partner, if you have one, to the doctor with you, to fill in the gaps regarding what happens to you when you are asleep. Your doctor may suggest a referral to a specialist in sleep disorders.
What tests are available to investigate snoring?
The specialist will take a detailed history and examine your chest, heart, blood pressure, nose and throat. A test to investigate snoring and rule out more serious things like sleep apnea is usually recommended before undertaking any treatment. This is called a sleep study and is performed in a special sleep unit with a number of private, quiet, single rooms. Simple non-invasive equipment is used to measure your sleep and breathing. Sleep studies done in your own home may be an alternative in some cases.
A number of medical treatments offer varying degrees of success in treating snoring. Some of these may not have been studied to see if they remain effective in the long term. Nasal CPAP treatment is the best treatment for sleep apnea and is also very effective for snoring but many people find the mask and pump inconvenient. CPAP needs to be worn every night. For instance, Mandibular Advancement Devices are similar to mouth guards but push the jaw forward to make a larger airway. They are not effective for everyone and require fitting by a dentist or oral surgeon.
At the same time, operations on the nose may be helpful if nasal blockage causes mouth breathing or airway collapse. Making sure you have a clear nasal airway is usually the first line of treatment. Also, procedures that stiffen the palate may be used to treat snoring. These may involve lasers, microwaves or injections of chemicals that cause scarring of the palate. Some initial results show promise but long-term studies have not yet been completed. Operations on the throat may be painful. They are done by an ENT surgeon. On the other hand, operations that create larger airways by removing some tissue at the back of the throat, usually called a UPPP, were popular but work only in some people and long-term results have been disappointing. An ENT surgeon specializing in sleep apnea surgery should be consulted before undergoing this type of surgery. Also, operations on the tongue or palate may be recommended where these are the cause of an abnormally small airway. Another example of operation is tonsillectomy. This is a common operation for snoring children and is often effective. In adults with large tonsils, it may also help.
Unproven treatments for snoring
Many remedies which claim to cure snoring have not been properly tested. Good scientific studies have either not been done or have not shown consistent improvements. Vitamin and oil sprays designed to lubricate the throat and reduce noise make claims that have not been scientifically proven. Herbal or enzyme treatments designed to treat allergies may be partly effective if this is a problem, but will not work for everyone. Additionally, mouth guards designed to stop mouth breathing have not been shown to be effective. There are also nasal dilator strips may help to keep nasal passages open but will not usually stop snoring by themselves.
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