Snoring & Sleep Apnea
What Causes Snoring?
As you breathe, air travels through passages in your nose and throat. When these air passages are wide enough to allow air to flow freely, you breathe quietly. However, if the passages become too narrow, the tissues of the throat may start to vibrate, leading to snoring.
Obstruction to normal airflow may occur at multiple levels. Problems in the structure of the nose may obstruct breathing. A crooked, or deviated, septum or swollen turbinates can lead to nasal obstruction. Nasal polyps, allergies, and chronic sinusitis can also cause nasal obstruction. These problems, in turn, can lead to mouth breathing and contribute to snoring.
Large tonsils, a floppy soft palate or an elongated uvula are common findings with snorers. These anatomic abnormalities lead to decreased movement of air through the mouth. A receding jaw or enlarged tongue may also obstruct oral breathing, by allowing the tongue to come into contact with the back of the throat.
Finally, weight gain increases the thickness of the tissues of the neck and throat, compromising the diameter of the airway.
It is common for snorers to have multiple anatomic factors that contribute to their snoring problem, as opposed to just a single factor.
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is defined as a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep due to blockage of the nose and/or throat. This can result in a decrease in oxygen in the blood and disruptions in sleep in which the body attempts to restart breathing.
Besides snoring, you may stop breathing, gasp or snort in your sleep, wake up tired after a full night’s sleep, experience morning headaches, feel sleepy during the day, have problems with memory or concentration, and feel irritable. Sleep apnea also makes you more likely to develop other problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and stroke.
How Do You Evaluate Snoring and Sleep Apnea?
To learn more about your snoring and possible sleep apnea, you need a thorough evaluation by an otolaryngologist. Your doctor will take a health history that includes detailed questions about your chief complaint, other symptoms, and any treatment you may have already had. A physical examination is performed in the office to evaluate the air passages. This may include a fiberoptic endoscopy in which a flexible telescope is placed through the nose and down into the throat. This is done with topical anesthesia and with minimal discomfort.
An overnight sleep study (polysomnogram) is the diagnostic test for sleep apnea. The sleep study involves spending a night at a sleep lab where your breathing, heart rate, oxygen level, and other physiologic functions are measured and recorded. The findings help determine whether you have sleep apnea and which treatments will best help you.