Snoring happens when something obstructs the airflow through your airway. When you breathe, the air squeezes past this obstruction, causing a whistling or rattling sound.
Rhinitis, sinusitis or similar types of infection could cause the obstruction. Sometimes, the obstruction is caused by anatomical faults, like a crooked nasal septum, enlarged tonsils or polyps. Even floppy throat walls (which have stretched over time with age) or excessive fat in the neck can “strangulate” the airway, leading to snoring.
Chronic snoring usually gets worse over time and may lead to a disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where the obstruction is so severe that the airflow is greatly reduced. The heart and lung muscles must work harder to get enough oxygen. The lungs eventually become so tired that they have to “take a break”, and the sleeper effectively stops breathing for a short period of time.
When OSA happens and oxygen levels drop, the brains and other organs do not receive enough oxygen, possibly leading to “brain suffocation” and an adverse effect on the body’s performance and functions. Also, lowered oxygen levels increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
Dr Lau Chee Chong, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Ear Nose & Throat Centre CC Lau, said treatments to snoring and OSA depend on an individual’s situation. Here are some possible treatments and management solutions:
- Weight reduction to lessen the amount of fatty tissue around the neck.
- Not sleeping on your back as the tongue and the soft palate may fall backwards and block the airway.
- Avoidance of alcohol and sedatives which cause airway muscles to relax and collapse further.
- To stop smoking, as it damages the lungs and inhibits respiratory functions.
- Using the Continuous Positive Air Pressure machine, which pumps air through a tight- fitting mask throughout the night.
- Surgery to remove or correct specific physical obstructions or to widen the airway.
- Surgical correction of the cheek and jawbone to widen the airway.
- Utilising dental appliances to keep the mouth closed, the jaw forward and the tongue in its proper place.