Snoring – causes, treatments and everything else you need to know
Everything you need to know about snoring
What is snoring?
Snoring is the snorting or rattling noise that people make during sleep. For some, it is limited to short individual snorts. For others their snoring is consistent during all points of their sleep and occurs every night. Similarly, some people’s can be quiet while others can be head in the next room.
Snoring in itself is a perfectly normal occurrence. Around 40% of men and 24% of women snore. This make it very common and nothing to be ashamed of. Not only is snoring common, but it is usually harmless. In the majority cases, it has no impact on the snorer’s sleep quality. Therefore, the majority of snorers do not need to take action to prevent or cure it.
However, there are two main reasons where this may not be the case:
- Your snoring is disturbing others. If you are regularly disturbing the sleep of somebody else, then finding a solution would be advisable.
- Their snoring is a symptom of a more serious problem, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). Do you regularly feel tired, wake up unrefreshed, or have been told you choke or stop breathing during your sleep? If so, ou may have OSA. You can read about the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea here. While snoring in itself is harmless, Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is not and should be investigated as soon as possible.
What causes snoring?
Soft tissue in your airways vibrates as air passes over it, causing snoring. Soft tissue in the nasal passages, soft tissue (the soft layer at the top back of our mouth), the base of your tongue or your tonsils or your uvula can all cause snoring.
However, air is passing over this tissue all the time you are breathing – so what causes snoring to start during sleep?
While you are asleep, your muscles relax. This causes the tissue to loosen further, making it even soften and more susceptible to vibrations. The vibrations are the source of the noises.
Similarly, the loosened muscles reduce the size of your airway. This means air passes through the airway more quickly for the same amount of air. This also increases the vibrations and leading to snoring. Often illnesses such as a common cold can cause snoring to worsen, as they further restrict the airway.
Often snoring worsens with age, as more tissue develops, and muscles weaken.
What can make snoring worse?
There are many factors that can affect the severity of somebody’s snoring. They include:
- Weight – being overweight can both increase the amount of soft tissue around the throat. It can also increase the weight on the throat during sleep, causing it to narrow further. Typically a person who is obese, and/or has a neck size above 17 inches, is more likely to snore. Often they will snore more loudly and more frequently than somebody of average weight.
- Smoking – smoke causes inflamation in the airway, restricting the airflow and increasing the likelihood of snoring.
- Alcohol – alchohol relaxes the muscles and makes the tissue in your throat and mouth more prone to vibrations.
- Allergies – any allergy that results in rhinitis (runny nose) will cause the nasal passages to become inflamed. This restricts them, making snoring more likely.
The dangers of snoring
Snoring in itself is usually harmless. However, if you experience any or all of these other problems, then it could be more serious:
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Lack of concentration
- You have been told you choke or stop breathing during sleep
- You have a BMI above 25
- Have a recessed jaw or deviated septum
All of the above increase the chances that your snoring may be a symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. OSA is a sleep disorder where the person’s airway closes regularly during sleep. These regular interruptions disrupt sleep, causing the person to wake up feeling unrefreshed and often tired throughout the day.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is most known for its short-term impact of causing the sufferer to feel tired. This often makes them irritable and lack concentration. We all know how bad we feel after a bad nights sleep. For those with OSA this is every night. Despite this, many with the condition are unaware that this is happening.
However leaving OSA untreated can have serious long-term consequences. It significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease, among other health problems. The tiredness it causes also puts them (and others) at risk of a car accident through lack of concentration, or falling asleep at the wheel.
If you suspect you may have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea, it is recommended that you have a sleep study. OSA is treatable, so the sooner you have a test conducted, the sooner you can start sleeping properly. You can read about the different ways to take a sleep study here.
How to stop snoring
There are several different methods to help reduce or prevent snoring.
If your BMI is above 25, you are likely to notice a reduction in the intensity of your snoring if you are able to lose weight. It may even prevent it entirely.
Stopping (or at least reducing) your smoking or alcohol consumption can lead to a reduction in the severity of your snoring.
Regular exercise can strengthen the neck muscles, therefore reducing the likelihood of the tissue in your airway softening excessively. It may also help reduce any fatty tissues around the throat and neck area.
Should the above not provide an improvement, then there are several devices that may be of benefit.
For your partner rather than yourself! If you are confident your snoring is not a symptom of OSA and is not causing any sleep problems of your own, then wearing ear plugs may help your partner sleep without interruption or distraction.
There are numerous different anti-snoring devices available, which have vastly varying success rates. Here is a list of the most popular and successful options. If you have found a solution not listed here, then you may find it does not have the desired effect.
- Nasal Strips – these strips are stuck on the outside of the nose, and gently pull the nostrils open to allow greater airflow. This reduces the speed in which air has the travel through, and minimises the pressure changes in the airway between inhalation and exhalation. You can find out more about nasal strips here.
- Nasal Dilators these are tubes inserted into the nostril. The end result is the same as the strips, but they work by pushing the nostrils open from the inside, rather than pulling from the outside. Most find the Strips more comfortable of the two.
- Nasal Sprays – nasal sprays look to reduce inflammation and blockages in the nasal passages, and therefore like the strips allow for increased airflow. They are particularly useful for snoring causes by colds and allergies. You can find out more here.
- Mandibular Advancement – these devices go in your mouth, similar to a gum shield. They hold the lower jaw a few millimetres further forward, opening up the throat a little to improve the airflow. They can also treat some cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. The most expensive option initially, but it has the highest success rate. You can find out more here.
Are there any other medical solutions for snoring?
Nasal irrigation flushes out the nose and sinuses, allowing for greater airflow. In addition, they typically use a salt solution to reduce inflammation, again allow more space for air to travel through. If you have persistent nasal or sinus problems (rhinitis, block nose, etc) then nasal irrigation is likely to significantly reduce these problems. You can find out more about nasal irrigation here.
You may find anti-histamines can reduce inflammation in the nose and throat caused by allergies. You can also find decongesants beneficial for short-term rhinitis. If you have frequent nasal or sinus problems then you may want to consider nasal irrigation (see above).
Surgery is becoming less frequent as a cure. It typically results in several weeks of pain and discomfort while recovering, and any improvement is often limited to a number of months before it returns. It is therefore only considered an option if snoring demonstrably affects your life and/or health, and you have exhausted all other options.