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Snoring

NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia

Introduction
Symptoms
Causes
Treatment
Complications
Selected links

Introduction
Snoring is a sound made when you breathe through your mouth and nose when you are asleep. It happens when air doesnt move smoothly through your air passages making tissue in your mouth, nose and throat vibrate as the air passes through. The flow of air can be blocked because of excess tissue in the nose, mouth and throat, the position you sleep in or because of a health condition.

Snoring doesnt usually cause any problems for the person doing it. But, it does affect partners, family and even neighbours if it keeps them awake.

Snoring can sometimes cause sleep apnoea. This is when the blockage in your airway causes you to stop breathing for a few seconds, so you wake up many times during the night. This causes tiredness and can have effect your day-to-day life. You might not even realise that you are waking up.

Almost half of people in the UK snore from time to time, and around a quarter of people are regular snorers.

Symptoms
Snoring can vary greatly from a soft sound to a very loud noise. You wont know that you snore unless you are told by your partner, a member of the family or after a complaint by a neighbour.

If you have obstructive sleep apnoea, you may feel yourself waking up many times a night. You will also feel tired during the day. Your partner or family members may say that they hear you stop breathing for short periods when you are asleep.

Obtrusive sleep apnoea can be a very serious condition. Get advice from your GP if you snore, in case you have the condition.

Causes
Snoring is caused when the soft palate (the back of the roof of the mouth), and other tissue in the mouth, nose and throat, vibrates. The vibration occurs when the air you breathe doesnt flow smoothly through the air passages. Snoring can occur when you are breathing in or out.

When you sleep, your muscles in your mouth, throat and nose relax so are more likely to vibrate. You dont snore when you are awake because the tissues arent relaxed enough to cause any vibration. There are many factors that can limit airflow through your passages, and cause snoring.

If you are overweight, you are more likely to snore. Extra fat deposited around the neck and throat can cause the surrounding tissues to sag, so there is more likely to be stop air flowing smoothly though, causing the vibration. This is more of a problem for men, who are more likely to store extra fat around the neck.

Age can also be a factor. As you get older, your throat muscles become weaker. This makes them vibrate more easily when you sleep.

Drinking alcohol or taking drugs such as sleeping pills relaxes the muscles in your body. This means that the tissue in your throat, mouth and nose are more likely to stop air flowing smoothly through. It also makes them more likely to vibrate.

Sleeping on your back makes your tongue fall backwards towards your throat. This can narrow your airway and partly block the airflow.

Colds and allergies can also block the airflow through the nasal passage. This will also encourage you to breathe through your mouth, where there is more tissue that will vibrate. Smoking can also inflame (swell) and partially block the airways.

Other physical factors that can cause a blockage in the mouth and nose, and narrow your airway are:

a low-set or thick soft palate,
enlarged tonsils,
a long uvula (the piece of skin that hangs between your tonsils), and
a damaged or misshapen nose, which limits airflow.

Treatment
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for snoring. Most people try many different treatments to find the best for them.

As some causes of snoring are because of lifestyle, there are changes you can make to minimise snoring:

Maintain a healthy diet and weight.
Get regular exercise to strengthen muscles all over your body.
Try to sleep on your side rather than your back.
Avoid alcohol before going to bed.
Quit or cut down on smoking.
You should also try to keep your nasal passages clear, so you breathe in through your nose rather than your mouth. Try rubbing a few drops of eucalyptus or olbas oil onto your pillowcase. If an allergy is blocking your nose, try antihistamine tablets or a nasal spray. Ask your pharmacist for advice and see your GP if you are affected long-term by an allergy or condition that affects your nose or breathing.

Other treatments you may also want to consider are nasal strips, which encourage you to breathe through your nose and devices that reposition the jaw. Your pharmacist will be able to tell you what is available.

If you find that these self-help treatments dont work, talk with your GP. They can find the actual cause of your snoring, and if necessary, refer you to other treatments or even surgery. However, surgery will only be considered if all over lifestyle changes have been unsuccessful.

Surgery to correct snoring can include procedures to correct structural problems in the nose and the removal of excess tissue in the mouth and throat. Most surgery wont have any major side effects and you shouldnt need more than a few days to recover. However, some people may require several surgical procedures to stop or significantly reduce their snoring.

Complications
Apart from the obvious effects on your personal relationships, snoring wont cause any complications.

However, obstructive sleep apnoea can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke in the long-term if its not treated.

© Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO, 2005

Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the controller of HMSO and the Queens Printer for Scotland.

 

 

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