Forty-five percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally, and 25 percent are habitual snorers. Problem snoring is more frequent in males and overweight persons, and it usually grows worse with age. Snoring can be associated with obstructed night breathing know as apnea. So although you only hear the sound it could be a sign of something more serious.
The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing.
In children, snoring may be a sign of problems with the tonsils and adenoids. A chronically snoring child should be examined as a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy may be required to return the child to full health.
Signs of snoring include poor muscle tone in the tongue and throat, long palate and uvula, excessive tissue in the throat, septal deviations, allergies, swollen turbinates in the nose. Anything that can lead to obstruction of the oral or nasal airway can cause snoring.
When loud snoring is interrupted by frequent episodes of totally obstructed breathing, it is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Serious episodes last more than ten seconds each and occur more than seven times per hour. Apnea patients may experience 30 to 300 such events per night. These episodes can reduce blood oxygen levels, causing the heart to pump harder.
Sleep apnea is also known to affect 1 to 3 percent of children. In children, sleep apnea can occur for several physical reasons, including enlarged tonsils and adenoids, and abnormalities of the jaw bone and tongue. These factors cause the airway to be blocked, resulting in vibration of the tonsils, or snoring. Overweight children are at increased risk for sleep apnea. Of the 37 percent of children who are considered overweight, 25 percent of them likely have sleeping difficulties that may include sleep apnea. This is because extra fat around the neck and throat block the airway, making it difficult for these children to sleep soundly. Studies have shown that after three months of exercise, the number of children at risk for sleep apnea dropped by 50 percent. Because enlarged tonsils and adenoids are a common cause of sleep apnea in children, routine treatment often involves an adenotonsillectomy.
The immediate effect of sleep apnea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep his muscles tense in order to keep airflow to the lungs. Because the snorer does not get a good rest, he may be sleepy during the day, which impairs job performance and makes him a hazardous driver or equipment operator. After many years with this disorder, elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement may occur.
In either case, snoring or apnea, testing to determine the severity of the condition is key to treatment. A sleep study in a laboratory environment will be necessary to determine how serious the snoring is and what effects it has on the snorer's health.
Treatment depends on the diagnosis. An examination will reveal if the snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, deformity, or tonsils and adenoids.
Snoring or obstructive sleep apnea may respond to various treatments now offered by many otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeons: