Snoring – Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Snoring is often accepted as a normal part of sleeping, especially as you get older but it can be associated with many diseases and complicate into severe disorders as it progresses. Snoring is not just a loud and irritating sound – it is a sign of a problem within the mouth and throat. It has to be treated at the root cause to prevent it from becoming worse over time.

Causes of Snoring

The sound that we call a snore is a result of tissue in the mouth and throat vibrating. The soft palate (the back part of the mouth roof) and structures in the throat relax when you sleep. As air rushes in when you breathe, these tissues will affect the airflow giving rise to a snore. Over time this tissue becomes more flexible because its supportive tissue gets weaker. This can progress into conditions like sleep apnea where the airway becomes severely, if not completely, obstructed as the mouth and throat structure ‘collapses’.

Nasal congestion, whether due to hay fever or sinusitis and other causes, is one of the most common causes of snoring. Drinking large amounts of alcohol is another major cause that is often temporary as this causes the throat muscles to relax beyond the norm during sleep.

Weight gain results in fat deposition within the soft palate thereby weakening  its structure. There is also a decrease in the mouth space (between the tongue and roof of the mouth) and this causes an increase in the pressure of the air flowing in. Sometimes, abnormalities in the structure of the mouth and throat, like inflamed tonsils, adenoids and birth defects will also contribute to snoring.

Treatment of Snoring

Surgery is one of the main options for treating snoring. By cutting the back part of the soft palate, the flapping is reduced and this eases the snoring. Other surgical procedures involve ‘tightening’ the tissue in the mouth and throat or even removing the uvula (the hanging ball at the back of the throat).

In less severe cases, a special type of dental appliance can keep the air passage within your mouth open while you sleep. Another method to keep the airway open is to use a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. This ‘forces’ the entry of air in patients with sleep apnea.

Snoring should be assessed and treated by an ENT specialist. Most medical aids in South Africa will pay for the necessary surgery and even for a CPAP machine if it is motivated for by your ENT.

Prevention of Snoring

Some measures may help to prevent snoring but if the cause is more complicated, then you will need to consider other options like surgery.

  • Losing weight is important in preventing snoring.
  • Alcohol should not be consumed too close to bedtime.
  • Speak to your doctor about a special pillows designed to reduce snoring.
  • Rather sleep on your side than your back.