Snoring is a highly common problem that afflicts many Americans.  It is estimated that 90 million adults snore in the United States.  As many partners will readily attest, snoring isn’t something that just impacts the individual: it also frequently interferes with partners’ ability to get a good night’s sleep.  And it can actually signal a serious sleep disorder, which studies have shown can result in sudden death and increased risks of heart attacks.

Fixing your snoring problem can do more than just ensure you sleep well at night: it could help prolong your life.  Let’s go through some of the common causes of snoring, and what you can do to fix the problem.

Husband with sleep apnea is keeping wife awake

Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Diagram of person without sleep apnea
Diagram of person suffering from sleep apnea

Snoring is most frequently associated with obstructive sleep apnea.  The single most common sleep-related breathing disorder, OSA is characterized by the problem that leads to snoring: partial or complete obstruction of the upper airway while asleep.  However, the kind of snoring that occurs in connection with OSA is unique: it’s intermittent, broken up by gaps of silence followed by loud gasps (when the person suffering from OSA goes without breathing for too long, he or she will start gasping for air).  

Aside from loud snoring, one key symptom of sleep apnea is excessive sleepiness and fatigue during the day.  Due to the sleep disruption that OSA causes, adults or even adolescents suffering from OSA may fall asleep for very brief periods if they stop to sit or rest.  In extreme cases, they may even fall asleep briefly during conversations.  

The side effects of sleep apnea can be serious!  OSA is associated with a range of issues, including:

  • Reduced concentration and memory loss
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Reduced executive function
  • Frequent mood swings and increased irritability
  • Reduced libido

There are a number of factors that can increase the risk and severity of OSA, including:

  • Weight gain.  Increased fat deposits in the face and neck can increase pressure on the upper airway, restricting your breathing.  
  • Smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.  This can constrict breathing, contributing to the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Use of alcohol or sedatives.  Having a drink or using a tranquilizer, especially before bedtime, relax the muscles in your throat more than usual, which can increase the severity of OSA.  
  • Having a higher neck circumference may mean your airway is naturally constricted, which can make you more susceptible to developing OSA.  
  • Being a middle-aged male.  Sleep apnea is much more common in older adults, and men are two to three times more likely than women to suffer from OSA. 
Doctor treating sleep apnea

Treatments for Snoring from Sleep Apnea

If you or your partner is suffering from sleep apnea, the best long-term approach is to go after the root cause of the airway blockage. Making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and losing weight can do a lot to reduce or eliminate obstructive sleep apnea.

However, many cases of OSA can’t be reversed with lifestyle changes. With that in mind, there are several available treatments that can address the symptoms or underlying causes so that you can go back to getting a good night’s sleep.

CPAP to treat snoring

CPAP

The continuous positive airway pressure machine is probably the best known response to chronic snoring. The machine includes a motor that delivers a constant stream of pressurized air through a tube into a mask worn by the user. This pushes against any blockages in the airway that cause snoring, allowing the user to sleep peacefully and quietly.

While the CPAP tends to be the first response to chronic snoring, it has a number of downsides that are worth considering.

  • Internal and external irritation. Using a CPAP means wearing a mask overnight for seven or more hours straight, which can cause rashes or sores on the face. And the constant inflow of air can cause issues within the airway, including severe dry mouth, nosebleeds and nasal congestion.
  • Physical discomfort. The CPAP mask requires several straps to hold in place, and many users report that overcoming the discomfort and claustrophobia is challenging.
  • Feeling bloated. A properly functioning CPAP machine is going to pump the user with air overnight, meaning that when the user is likely to feel fairly bloated when he or she wakes up.
  • General inconvenience. A CPAP machine is relatively large and bulky, and traveling with it is difficult. In addition, cleaning a CPAP requires the purchase of a separate machine. In addition, the CPAP requires electricity. If power is lost, the CPAP is no longer a viable option.
Oral appliance for sleep apnea

Oral Appliances

Much like a retainer or other device for use in orthodontistry, a special appliance is custom designed for the individual user.  Strongly resembling the mouth guard used by athletes, it gently pushes the tongue down and/or the jaw forward to open the airway.  This sort of appliance is also frequently used in TMD treatment.

Laser treatment for sleep apnea

Laser Treatments

Treatment of the soft palate to remedy sleep apnea usually involves surgical removal of a portion of palatal tissue.  However, recent advances in laser technology allow for the use of lasers to tighten the tissue of the soft palate.  The effects from a single Nightlase treatment can last up to a year, and many patients experience immediate results after a single treatment.

Vivos Sleep Apnea & TMJ Appliance

Vivos Oral Appliance Therapy

The treatments related to obstructive sleep apnea generally involve addressing the loose tissue of the soft palate. In contrast, the Vivos oral appliance stimulates bone growth in the mouth and nasal passageways. The inside of the upper airway is enlarged and the jaw is moved forward. The overall process takes between 9-18 months; once it’s completed, the user no longer needs to wear the Vivos appliance, and both obstructive sleep apnea and TMD are dramatically reduced or cured completely.

Other Causes

A range of other issues can disrupt your ability to sleep. Some are easier to treat than others. If you’re suffering from one of the conditions below, seek the help you need ASAP so you can get back to a good night’s sleep.

Nasal polyps are one cause of sleep apnea
Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are one cause of snoring that doesn’t get a lot of press. They’re overgrowths of the mucous membranes in the nasal cavity and sinuses. Nasal polyps are noncancerous in nature, but they do tend to occur in both nostrils. If they get too big, they can obstruct nasal air flow, which can result in snoring.

Nasal polyps are quite common: 40% of people will develop them at some point in life, and they are more likely in people who have cystic fibrosis, allergies, sensitivity to aspirin, or asthma. They’re also more common in smokers, and in men than in women.

Treatment for nasal polyps is some form of steroids, usually delivered via nasal spray. If the polyps are really severe, surgery may be better, but since polyps can recur even after surgery, post-operative steroid nasal spray may be recommended.

Snoring caused by sinusitis
Sinusitis/Inflamed Nasal Passages

Blockage of the nasal passages isn’t necessary for restricted air flow.  It’s also possible for the nasal cavity to be obstructed due to the nasal passages becoming generally inflamed due to sinusitis, a highly common illness that afflicts tens of millions of Americans at any given time.

Sinusitis can be diagnosed one of several ways:

  • Visual exam by a physician.  Usually a quick exam is all that’s needed, but occasionally a doctor may need to perform a nasal endoscopy: a thin, flexible tube with a small camera on the end is inserted to allow the doctor to see the nasal passages more clearly.
  • In case of abnormalities or unexplained complications, a CT scan can reveal details about your sinuses and nasal area that aren’t always spotted with a simple physical exam.
  • An allergy test via a skin exam can reveal if allergens have triggered inflamed nasal passages.
  • Nasal and sinus samples.  Usually lab tests aren’t necessary, but if your condition isn’t responding to treatment or is getting worse, tissue samples can point to a specific cause, such as a bacterial infection.

If you have sinusitis, your immune system will likely take care of it over time.  In the meantime, if your inflamed nasal passages are causing you to snore, there are several treatment options you might consider:

  • Saline nasal spray several times a day can help keep your nasal passages clear.
  • Over-the-counter and prescription nasal decongestants come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids and nasal sprays.  If you go this route, be careful not to use decongestants more than a few days to avoid the onset of more severe congestion.
  • Nasal corticosteroids can help prevent and treat inflammation.
  • Allergy medications can help reduce allergy-related inflammation.
  • Basic OTC painkillers like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce swelling related to inflamed nasal passages.

Since sinusitis is generally viral and not bacterial in nature, antibiotics generally aren’t needed.  However, severe or progressive sinusitis might require antibiotic treatment under a doctor’s care.

Long soft palate causing obstructive sleep apnea
A Long Soft Palate

In some cases, the culprit is your anatomy. Specifically, if your soft palate is unusually long, the tissue in that region might be longer and more prone to blocking your airway at night, making you particularly prone to experience sleep apnea.If you have a particularly long soft palate, you have a few different treatment options.

  • Palate surgery can remove excess tissue from the soft palate.
  • Radiofrequency ablation uses radiofrequency energy to shrink excess tissue in the soft palate and tongue.
  • Laser-assisted uvulapalatoplasty (LAUP) uses laser energy to reduce tissue in the soft palate and improve airflow. This treatment is minimally invasive, non-surgical and can demonstrate immediate benefits in terms of reducing snoring.
Snoring caused by enlarged tonsils
Enlarged Tonsils or Lymph Nodes

Much like nasal polyps, the tonsils or lymph nodes can become inflamed and enlarged, blocking the airway and causing snoring. This condition is most frequently seen in children with snoring issues.

In extreme cases, a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy is needed to prevent snoring. However, adoption of a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat can help reduce swollen lymph nodes, opening the airway and reducing snoring.

Snoring can be caused by lack of muscle tone in throat
Poor Muscle Tone in the Throat and Tongue

It’s one thing if tissue in the palate becomes loose. But what if tissue in your mouth becomes loose because your throat is out of shape? Believe it or not, lack of muscle tone in your throat and tongue can result in the tissue in those areas becoming loose enough to result in airway blockage and snoring.

Treatment for poor muscle tone is the same as with other parts of the body: exercise. There are specific daily exercises that can be done for the tongue and throat to improve muscle tone and reduce snoring. One particular exercise: regular focused singing of diverse sounds, including vowels, may improve overall muscle tone and cut down on snoring.

Snoring due to nasal deformity
Nasal Deformities
Much like having an unusually long palate can contribute to snoring, your nasal anatomy can also be a factor.

  • A congenital issue such as a deviated septum or some other unusual nasal deformity from birth can prevent proper airflow while sleeping.
  • A low nasal bridge caused by a nose injury that didn’t heal properly, an infection, or cocaine abuse can restrict airflow, resulting in snoring.
  • As you age, portions of the nose can collapse inward, causing a partial obstruction of the nostrils.

Generally, the only permanent remedy for a nasal deformity is some sort of surgery, like a septoplasty in the case of a deviated septum. However, a range of over-the-counter devices have been developed to address these sorts of airflow issues.

Snoring caused by weight gain
Weight Gain

In pop culture, snoring is closely connected to being overweight, and for good reason. In many cases of obesity, enough fat collects in the neck and chin areas to act as an obstruction when lying down, resulting in snoring.

In this case, the obvious long-term solution is weight loss. However, a useful short-term fix is a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. This approach, which involves wearing a mask while sleeping, creates constant positive air pressure in the airway to help the breathing process. While it doesn’t treat the underlying cause, it’s a way to get around the symptom for a good night’s rest.

Drinking causing snoring
Alcohol Consumption

Many folks have a drink before going to bed to help them relax. However, what they fail to realize is that alcohol causes their mouth and throat muscles to really relax – in effect, reducing the muscle tone in those areas, and causing the same kind of airway obstruction that manifests as snoring.

While it may be tempting to have a drink before going to bed, the cons vastly outweigh the pros if it’s causing you to snore. And even if it’s not causing some form of sleep apnea, drinking before turning in for the night reduces REM sleep, which can ironically cause daytime fatigue. There are other things you can consume before going to bed besides alcohol that will actually contribute to getting a good night’s sleep.

Snoring due to allergies
Allergies

Every spring, drugstores and pharmacies experience a run on antihistamines, decongestants, cough drops and other over-the-counter medications by all those poor folks who just can’t stop sneezing. As allergy sufferers can readily attest, allergies cause inflammation in the throat and nasal passages. If it gets bad enough, it can cause enough airway obstruction to cause snoring.

If your allergies are more seasonal in nature, you’re probably suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis – a.k.a. hay fever – brought on by excess airborne pollen and mold. If your allergy symptoms are present year-round, you may have perennial allergic rhinitis, which can be caused by animal fur, household dust mites and sometimes by excess airborne mold.

Many cases of allergies are fairly easily treated via the OTC medications listed above, and once you can get the inflammation to subside, the snoring tends to work itself out. More severe cases may require some sort of a nasal steroid spray. However, if the normal array of medications won’t make a dent, you may require treatment from an allergist for a stronger, more specialized treatment such as prescription anti-allergy injections or environmental control measures you can implement in your home and surroundings. Once you get the allergies under control, your good night’s sleep should return.

Stop Snoring Today

Dr. Krish has years of experience helping people get back to enjoying a good night’s sleep. Contact us today to find out if we can help you.





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