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Causes of Snoring

Snoring cartoon

Just about everyone snores at some time, even children and pets! However snoring can affect the quality of your sleep and disrupt your daytime productivity. Snoring can drive partners apart, banished to separate bedrooms.

So why do some people snore and why do some go on to develop sleep apnoea?

Snoring is noisy breathing caused by vibration of the airway walls at the back of the throat (pharynx).  Snorers typically breathe in excess of 10 litres of air per minute when sleeping (4-5 litres/minute is normal). These high volumes can inflame and dehydrate the upper airways reducing airway calibre. If the snorer is on their back, gravity will cause the tongue, uvula, tonsils, epiglottis and soft palate to fall backwards partially blocking the airway. This produces the sonorous vibrations that can shake a house to its foundations and drive the snorer’s partner to another room.

People with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) experience recurrent episodes during sleep when their throat closes and they cannot suck air into their lungs (apnoea). This happens because the muscles that normally hold the throat open during wakefulness lose their tone during sleep and allow it to narrow. When the throat is partially closed, trying to inhale will suck the throat completely closed and air cannot pass at all. This is an obstructive sleep apnoea episode.

Known Causes and Risk Factors in Snoring

  • Dental issues - A history of dental problems including tooth extraction, malocclusion, overbite, high dental arch narrow jaw may contribute to airway narrowing at the back of the throat.
  • Respiratory disorders, asthma, allergies, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, recurrent colds, bronchitis, tonsillitis adenoid enlargement.
  • Being male - Various studies put the estimates at 50% of males vs. 25% of females snore.
  • Age - Snoring generally tends to increase with age with highest incidence in the 50 – 60 years age group.
  • Being overweight - Excessive tissue in the neck region can contribute to blockage of the upper airways, Fatty deposits around the abdomen can restrict diaphragmatic breathing resulting in faster, bigger volume upper-chest breathing.
  • Sleeping position - Sleeping flat on your back is the worst position for snoring.  In order from best to worst: Left side > right side > front > back .
  • Alcohol and some medications - There is a commonly held belief that alcohol provokes snoring by relaxing the airways. This is a fallacy.  Alcohol and some medicines (beta agonist asthma medications, sleeping pills for example) stimulate the breathing and this is what helps trigger loud snoring and increases the possibility of sleep apnoea episodes.  Many say they only snore when they have had a ‘few’ drinks. Snorers are always at their worst after alcohol; ask any partner of a known snorer.
  • Smoking.  

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