Millions of people worldwide snore. Up to an estimated 25% of adults snore every night, which is no laughing matter for those sleeping next to them. While snoring is usually more an irritation than anything else, in some cases it can be a symptom of a more serious disease called obstructive sleep apnea.
What Causes Snoring
When we sleep, a small flap of skin called the “soft palate” can block our air passages, causing the familiar noise. Men have narrower passageways than women, which explains why most snorers tend to be male. Aging also narrows these airways, so snoring may tend to become worse over time.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when this soft flap completely covers your airway. Oxygen cannot get into your lungs, and consequently you stop breathing. Frequently waking up choking or gasping for air during the night means the quality and quantity of your sleep are going to suffer.
Dr. Igal Elyassi, of Dental Implant Center of Los Angeles, has noticed the substantial increase of sleep apnea diagnosis by dentists over the last 10 years. “Proper breathing and oxygen intake, even during sleep, is extremely vital”, says Elyassi.
Ways to Reduce Snoring
For the occasional snorer, there are several lifestyle adjustments that make it less likely the soft palate will block the airway. If you experience nasal or sinus problems, speak to a doctor about medication to clear away mucus.
Alcohol and smoking are notorious for worsening snoring. Both can cause the palate to dry out and relax, leading to constriction in the air passages. Similarly, being overweight or sleeping flat on your back both result in a fleshier soft palate that is more likely to obstruct your breathing. Exercise and losing some weight will tone the palate and open up the airway.
Other remedies include keeping the air in your bedroom moist by using a humidifier at night. Neti pots and nasal decongestants will remove some of the mucous build up, which could be adding to the problem. Avoid heavy meals or caffeine before bed and try to sleep on your side so you can encourage your airways to open up.
Ending Snoring Surgically
If these solutions don’t offer much relief, you may benefit from visiting an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) to discuss the possibility of corrective surgery. There are several different techniques that involve removing the excess soft palate tissue.
These include Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP), coblation surgery, Thermal Ablation Palatoplasty (TAP), tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. The last two consist in removing the tonsils or adenoids, which can also interfere with breathing. Sometimes soft implants are put in to stiffen the palate and reduce its ability to vibrate, rather than removing it entirely.
A discussion with an oral surgeon will help you decide if surgery is a good option, but in many cases interventions of this kind are quick and healing happens rapidly. As the scar tissue settles, breathing becomes easier and you may find yourself having the deepest sleep you’ve had in years.