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Snoring Causes and Treatment

Snoring is a very common problem, being found in almost 30% of adult males. Although initially somewhat humorous, as it progresses it can become more and more serious from a social and medical standpoint. After the humorous stage comes the irritating stage (to others) and finally the lifestyle changing stage where people (including your spouse) cannot sleep in the same room with you.

If your snoring is severe, you may actually stop breathing for several seconds. If this happens over and over, you may have a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea. Symptoms include being sleepy during the day, morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, awakening while struggling to breathe, high blood pressure, and feeling worse when you awaken that when you went to sleep. If you have these symptoms and people tell you that your breathing pauses at night, then you need to consult your physician for a possible formal sleep study and evaluation by an ENT doctor (otolaryngologist).

Most snoring is caused by a certain combination of anatomical factors, the most prominent of which is the size and stiffness of the soft palate. This is the curtain of tissue at the back of your mouth which rises when you say “ahhhh”. The uvula is the small piece of tissue which looks like a boxing bag and hangs off of the bottom of the soft palate. Other anatomical factors include the size of your tongue, the amount of fat around your throat, and whether or not your nose is obstructed by a crooked wall in the middle (a “deviated septum”) or enlarged membranes (“turbinate hypertrophy”) exacerbated by allergies.

Snoring is usually worse when you are sleeping on your back because the tongue blocks the throat. If you are overly tired, or if you have been sedated by medication or alcohol, the muscle tone in the throat may be quite loose allowing the tissues to collapse.

There are many treatments available for patients who snore. If you only snore when on your back, you may consider sewing a pocket onto the back of your pajamas and putting a tennis ball in it. This will keep you turned to one side, and is effective for some people. Avoiding excess alcohol and sedative medication can help. Losing weight will often help, especially if you are overweight. Some oral appliances may also serve to pull the tongue and jaw forward, helping with snoring.

The good news about most snoring is that there are effective treatments for it which can be performed right in the clinic chair. The sound from snoring is caused by air rushing through the back of your throat causing the soft palate and uvula to flutter, much like a flag in the wind. The treatment for this is to stiffen your soft palate. Here at the Shea Clinic Ear Nose & Throat we offer “injection palatoplasty” in which a sclerosing agent is injected into the soft palate. This is all performed in a 30-minute procedure under local anesthesia just like going to the dentist. Postoperative pain is minimal. The scar tissue that forms over the ensuing few weeks causes the soft palate to stiffen so that it won’t “flutter” as the air goes by. Occasionally, we repeat the procedure in patients with severe snoring.

Our patients have been gratified to know about these simple procedures, which have helped them so much. Please give us a call at (901) 761-9720 and let us know if you would like additional information.

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