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What causes snoring?

Snoring means breathing is being obstructed, and therefore can be serious.

Snoring occurs when there is an obstruction to the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose, where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. These structures strike each other and vibrate, causing the person to snore.

Problem snoring is more frequent in males and people who are overweight, and usually grows worse with age.

Is snoring serious?

As well as causing sleepless nights and resentfulness in others, snoring disturbs sleeping patterns and can deprive the snorer of appropriate rest. Severe snoring can cause serious, long-term health problems, including obstructive sleep apnoea.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

  • When loud snoring is interrupted by frequent episodes of totally obstructed breathing, it is referred to as obstructive sleep apnoea.
  • Serious episodes last more than ten seconds each and occur more than seven times per hour
  • Sleep apnoea patients may experience 30 to 300 such episodes per night. They can reduce blood oxygen levels and cause the heart to pump harder
  • The immediate effect of sleep apnoea is that the snorer must sleep lightly and keep muscles tense to keep airflow to the lungs, resulting in a poor night’s sleep which can impair performance during the day
  • After many years with sleep apnoea, it can result in elevated blood pressure and heart enlargement

Can my heavy snoring be cured?

  • Heavy snorers should seek medical advice to ensure that sleep apnoea is not a problem. An otolaryngologist will provide a thorough examination of the nose, mouth, throat, palate and neck. A sleep study may also be necessary to determine how serious the snoring is and what effects it is having.
  • Treatment depends on diagnosis – whether a nasal allergy, infection, deformity or tonsils and adenoids are causing the snoring – and there are various treatments offered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Custom-made anti-snoring devices can help to alter the position of the jaw and maintain an open airway.

Self-help for mild snoring

If you suffer from mild or occasional snoring, the following self-help tips can help:

  • Try to eat healthily and keep fit to develop good muscle tone and lose excess weight
  • Avoid tranquillisers, sleeping pills and antihistamines before going to bed
  • Try to avoid alcohol for at least four hours, and heavy meals or snacks for three hours before bed
  • Establish regular sleeping patterns
  • Try to sleep on your side rather than your back
  • Tilt the head of your bed upwards by around four inches
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