What Causes Snoring?
Snoring occurs when something is blocking air flow. It occurs during sleep because of your position and relaxed state. Usually tissues in your airway end up in contact with each other and vibrate. Common causes of snoring include being overweight and obstructions in the airway such as congestion, tonsillitis, enlarged adenoids, or sinus problems. Snoring is also associated with a serious condition called sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for brief periods (more than 10 seconds) while they are asleep. This stops blood flow to the brain and heart and can lead to mood disorders, depression and left sided heart failure if untreated.
Identifying the Cause of Your Snoring
An examination by an ENT specialist, also called an otolaryngologist, can usually rule out blockages caused by enlarged tonsils or other structures. If these structures are enlarged, they may have to be surgically removed. If these structures appear to be normal in size and are not suspected to be the cause of your snoring, you may need to lose weight. A sleep study, also called a polysomnogram, is usually necessary to diagnose sleep apnea.
How to Stop SnoringHave you ever wondered why getting someone to roll over will stop their snoring? It's because their airway is in a position that doesn't allow optimal air flow. When they roll over, their airway is repositioned and more conducive to air flow. However, this is not a permanent solution and should not be substituted for medical care. With all the information emerging about sleep apnea, one of the most common causes of snoring, the days where you tell your spouse to wear ear plugs or sleep in a different room should be over.
Medical treatments include weight loss, surgical removal of obstructions and in the case of sleep apnea a device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine. Sometimes enlarged structures such as tonsils or adenoids can be reduced in size using steroid medications or antibiotics (if there is an active infection). This doesn't always work, however, and sometimes the side effects can outweigh the benefits of these medications. The only sure way to clear enlarged structures is through surgery. It also helps to stop taking sedative medications or drinking alcohol before bed.
Why Do Children Snore?
Roughly 2% of the pediatric population suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, with the main cause being enlarged tonsils and adenoids. If your child snores, it's probably a good idea to take them to an ENT specialist to rule out these problems. A small percentage of children may have inherited naturally short airways. Certain disorders are associated with shortened airways in children such as Down's syndrome and Pierre Robin Syndrome. Other facial structural abnormalities can also cause sleep apnea. The rest of the "snoring" pediatric population are probably suffering from childhood obesity. Untreated sleep apnea in children can cause mood disturbances, depression, learning deficits, ADHD, bedwetting and developmental delays.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children. Accessed: November 17, 2008 on http://www.sleepeducation.com/Disorder.aspx?id=71.
Medline Plus. Snoring. Accessed: May 13, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/snoring.html