Question & Answer - Oral Sensory-Motor, Myofunctional, Vocal Tract, & Airway Information
What causes tedious snoring, and what is its relationship with the uvula?By Dr. David Parra, Speech Therapist, Specialist in Orofacial Motricity and Researcher in Lima, Peru
WHAT CAUSES SNORING?
The noisy sounds of snoring occur when there is an obstruction of the free flow of air through the passages at the back of the mouth and nose. When we breathe, the air moves the tissue of the soft palate and the uvula. This vibration generates the characteristic sound known as snoring. This area is the collapsible part of the airway where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Snoring occurs when these structures strike each other and vibrate during breathing.
Approximately forty five percent of the adult population snore occasionally, and twenty-five percent are habitual snorers. Snoring is more frequent in men. Obesity and age also are key factors. Snoring can reach 80-90 decibels, a sound that can be compared to the sound of truck traveling at a fast speed.
People who snore present with at least one of the following problems:
-Low muscle tone in the tongue and throat: When muscles are too relaxed the tongue falls backwards into the airway or the throat. The alcohol consumption and the use of narcotics can also affect the muscle tone of the tongue and throat. This situation can also happen when a throat relaxes too much during the deep sleep phase.
-An excessive bulkiness of throat tissues: Large tonsils or excessive development of adenoids can produce snoring in children. Obesity can also affect and increase the extension of these tissues. Equally, although in less frequency, the presence of tumors or cysts can be also a cause of airway narrowing.
-Long soft palate and long uvula: A long soft palate narrows the opening of the nose into the throat. Since the uvula dangles at the entrance of the airway, the excessive length of this acts as a noisy flutter valve during relaxed breathing.
-Obstructed nasal airways: When a person suffers from an obstruction of the nasal airflow (stuffy nose), extra effort to pull the air through the nose is required. This creates an exaggerated vacuum in the throat that pulls together the floppy tissues of the throat, and snoring results. This also explains why snoring may only occur during allergy season or with a cold or sinus infection. Also, deformities of the nose or nasal septum can cause such an obstruction.
TYPES OF SNORING
-Benign: Snoring is produced throughout the entire night continuously; however, no shifting noises are observed.
-Malign: Snoring is associated with apnea, which means that the obstruction of the throat can be complete or partial producing frequent episodes of breathing pauses.
These breathing pauses can last several seconds and can occur 500 to 600 times per night. These situations will result in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood. If this condition goes untreated, sleep apnea will increase the risk of developing heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and other medical problems.
SNORING CAN BRING THE FOLLOWING PROBLEMS
Snoring can become a family problem as the snorer generates an uncomfortable feeling among family members who are the ones listening to the snore. Snoring can cause a strain on marriages and relationships.
Another affect of snoring is that the snorer does not get a good rest as the natural sleep cycle gets disrupted. Snoring can be a sign of a more serious condition called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized of multiple episodes of breathing pauses.
In almost every case, snoring and apnea can be treated by following these recommendations:
-Lose weight if you are overweight. With obesity, snoring is produced by deposits of fat in the laryngeal area which obstructs the airflow.
-Avoid a sedentary life, and exercise daily.
-Avoid the use of muscle relaxers and antihistamines before bedtime.
-Avoid the consumption of alcoholic drinks and smoking before bedtime.
-Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
-Practice sleeping on your side rather than on your back.
-Establish regular sleeping patterns.
-Elevate the head of your bed.
A visit to the otolaryngologist is recommended in every case. The physician will hopefully complete a thorough examination of the nose, throat, palate, and neck. An x-ray to study the sinus cavities might be recommended in children with snoring.
Subsequent to a doctor’s visit and if a cause has been found, the following actions may apply:
-Treatment of allergy or sinus infection.
-Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.
-Surgery to reduce the size of the palate or throat (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty)
There are also many new treatments being discovered in the fields of dentistry, otolaryngology, osteopathy, speech pathology, etc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Parra is a Speech Therapist specializing in Orofacial Motricity with more than 10 years of experience providing therapeutic intervention for orofacial problems in babies, children, adults, and elderly people with neurological issues at the National Hospital Guillermo Almenara. After graduating from the National University Federico Villarreal, David attended the National University of San Marcos Medical School for his advanced degree (MSc) in Neuroscience. Dr. Parra also has an advanced degree (PhD) in Educational Sciences from the National University of Education, has authored or co-authored various research papers and books on topics related to Orofacial Myofunctional. He is a professor of pre- and postgraduate students, in Universities teaching Language Therapy.
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