Snoring is extremely common: 45 percent of American adults snore occasionally, and 25 percent are habitual snorers. While many consider it a mere nuisance, snoring is actually a sleep disorder that can be the sign of a serious medical condition.
What Causes Snoring?
When you sleep, your tongue, throat muscles and soft palate relax. If they relax too much, they can droop backward and block the airway, vibrating together when you breathe. This causes the telltale noisy sounds associated with snoring. The more the airway is obstructed, the louder the snoring will be.
There are several factors that increase the odds you will snore. 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, enlarged tonsils or adenoids as well as those who drink alcohol before bedtime.
The typical snorer is overweight, male and over the age of 40. Snoring tends to worsen with age. In some individuals, the airway becomes so obstructed that breathing is interrupted; this leads to a serious medical condition known as sleep apnea.
Tips for Quieting Your Snoring
If your snoring isn’t a complication of sleep apnea, implementing lifestyle changes may help eliminate the problem. Useful tips include:
- Sleeping on your side instead of your back
- Losing weight
- Avoiding alcohol before bedtime
- Treating allergies
- Eliminating tobacco smoke
If lifestyle modifications do not solve the problem, oral appliances that reposition the lower jaw may help. Another alternative is nasal breathing strips. Some individuals might benefit from surgical techniques such as:
- Pillar Procedure. Polyester filament is injected into the soft palate to stiffen it and reduce snoring.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). Excess throat tissue is surgically removed to enlarge the airway. This may include the uvula, soft palate, tonsils, adenoids and/or pharynx.
- Laser Surgery. Lasers are used to remove the uvula and excess tissue from the soft palate.
- Somnoplasty. Also known as radiofrequency tissue ablation, this procedure uses radio signals to shrink the tissue of the soft palate.
Snoring is a problem that affects a large number of adults; about 45 percent of people snore at least occasionally, and one in five American adults are habitual snorers. It’s no laughing matter either: snoring can cause a rift in the strongest of relationships because it robs the spouse of rest and can lead to a variety of problems ranging from resentment to separate bedrooms.
Not only that, but snoring may be hazardous to your health; it is often the sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breath during sleep. This prevents the sufferer from getting restorative sleep and causes daytime drowsiness, irritability, confusion and loss of memory. It increases the risk of automobile accidents and can lead to serious medical complications including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure.
There are many treatment options for snorers, including medical procedures and natural remedies or simple lifestyle changes.
Somnoplasty is a surgical procedure for treating snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It works by shrinking tissue in the upper airway, including the uvula, soft palate or base of the tongue using radiofrequency energy. This enlarges the throat and nose space, allowing for unobstructed breathing.
Somnoplasty is an outpatient procedure that relies on low levels of radiofrequency heat energy to shrink tissue. The patient is given a local anesthetic, and the entire procedure takes only 30 to 45 minutes. A thin, needle-like electrode is used to create lesions beneath the lining of the soft tissues in the throat. The body reabsorbs the lesions during the healing process, which takes from three to eight weeks.
Patients may be monitored overnight, but can usually return to their normal routines the next day.
This minimally invasive treatment method causes less pain than similar procedures used for upper airway obstruction and is considered a safe and effective treatment with fewer side effects and less risk of complication. Because a lower temperature is used and delivery of the radiofrequency energy is precisely controlled, there is considerably less pain involved, and the patient benefits from a quicker recovery time.
Side effects such as swelling and discomfort are common but short-lived, typically lasting no more than a few days. More serious complications such as pain, infection, bleeding and changes in the voice are rare.
More than one treatment may be needed for best results.
Coblation palatoplasty is a surgical procedure used to treat snoring and mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea. It is similar in concept to liposuction, and involves reducing the size and thickness of the soft palate and uvula.
The procedure is performed using a local anesthetic in an outpatient setting. Once the back of the mouth is numbed, a needle-like device is inserted into the soft palate and portions of the soft palate and uvula (and in some cases, the tonsils) are removed. Scarring from the operation stiffens the palate, reducing the vibrations associated with snoring.
Afterward, antibiotics and painkillers are prescribed, and it is recommended that you gargle with saline for about a week following meals in order to keep the wound clean. Physical activity should be limited for a day or two following the procedure. Drink plenty of liquids and work your way up from soft foods initially. Side effects are rare, but a little minor bleeding may occur in the first 24 hours. There may be some ear pain due to the proximity of a hearing nerve to the area being treated.
Injection snoreplasty is a minimally invasive nonsurgical treatment for patients whose soft palate vibrates during sleep, causing snoring. It involves injecting a material into the upper palate in order to stiffen the soft palate, reducing vibrations and minimizing snoring.
The best candidates for this procedure are those whose snoring is the result of a vibrating, or fluttering, soft palate. It will not work for individuals experiencing sleep apnea, or whose snoring is the result of tongue size or position. It works best in women displaying early snoring and in men who have no additional factors (e.g. airway blockages) contributing to their snoring. It is not generally recommended for treatment of snoring in children.
Injection snoreplasty is performed on an outpatient basis utilizing local anesthesia. The roof of the mouth is numbed with a topical anesthetic, and an agent (known as a sclerosant) is injected into the soft palate. The process takes approximately 45 minutes.
Most patients are able to return to work the following day. Some discomfort is normal for a few days following the procedure but is easily managed with pain relievers and throat lozenges. Snoring may continue for a few days but should lessen or disappear as scar tissue forms and the soft palate no longer vibrates. A temporary change in the voice may occur as the soft palate swells, and some patients may have difficulty swallowing. These symptoms should clear up within a few days or weeks.
Injection snoreplasty is considered a safe procedure. Other than allergic reactions in a few patients, there are no significant complications or side effects. Those whose snoring is a result of soft palate vibrations and who are not suffering from sleep apnea show a good reduction in snoring even years after undergoing the procedure, though in some patients repeat injections are necessary for maximum effectiveness.
- Changing your sleep position. Snoring occurs when the tongue and throat tissue sag down during sleep, blocking the airway. Sleeping on your back worsens this, so try sleeping on your side instead. If you have a tendency to roll over onto your back, try taping a tennis ball to the back of your pajamas to prevent this. Using a body pillow can also help you remain on your side. Try elevating the head of the bed a few inches, or prop yourself up using pillows.
- Losing weight. A majority of those who snore are overweight. Excess weight around the neck can narrow your airway and make you more prone to snoring. Losing 10 percent of your overall weight can make a big difference.
- Avoiding alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol acts as a muscle relaxer, reducing muscle tone in the back of your throat and making snoring more likely. You should restrict alcohol intake four to five hours before going to sleep.
- Quitting smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates the membranes of the nose and throat, leading to blocked airways and an increased risk of snoring.
- Maintaining a regular sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. An odd schedule can result in too little sleep, which leads to excessive tiredness. When you sleep hard, the muscles become more relaxed, leading to snoring.
- Keeping your nasal passages open. A stuffy nose can prevent air from moving freely, causing snoring. Try taking a hot shower before bed or rinsing your nose with a saline solution or Neti pot. Nasal strips may help keep your nasal passages open.
- Staying hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids to moisten your throat and palate.
- Using a humidifier at night. This will help prevent dry air from irritating the membranes in your nose and throat.
- Playing the didgeridoo. Learning to play this Australian wind instrument can strengthen the soft palate and throat, reducing the odds that you’ll snore.