Snoring is the vibration of respiratory structures and the resulting sound, due to obstructed air movement during breathing while sleeping. In some cases the sound may be soft, but in other cases, it can be rather loud and quite unpleasant. The structures are usually the uvula and soft palate. The irregular airflow is caused by a blockage and usually due to one of the following:
- Throat weakness, causing the throat to close during sleep
- Mispositioned jaw, often caused by tension in the muscles
- Fat gathering in and around the throat
- Obstruction in the nasal passageway
- Caused by the tissues at the top of airways touching each other causing vibrations.
Statistics on snoring are often contradictory, but at least 30% of adults and perhaps as many as 50% of people in some demographics snore. One survey of 5713 Italian residents identified habitual snoring in 24% of men and 13.8% of women, rising to 60% of men and 40% of women aged 60 to 65 years; this suggests an increased susceptibility to snoring as age increases.
Almost all treatments for snoring revolve around clearing the blockage in the breathing passage. This is the reason snorers are advised to lose weight (to stop fat from pressing on the throat), stop smoking (smoking weakens and clogs the throat) and sleep on their side (to prevent the tongue from blocking the throat). A number of other treatment options are also available, ranging from over-the-counter aids like nose clips, lubricating sprays and "anti-snore" clothing and pillows, to such unusual activities as playing the didgeridoo. However, snoring is a recognized medical problem and people who snore should always seek professional medical advice before relying on techniques that may mask symptoms (i.e. snoring) but not treat the underlying condition.
Specially made dental appliances called mandibular advancement splints, which advance the lower jaw slightly and thereby pull the tongue forward, are a common mode of treatment for snoring. Typically, a dentist specializing in sleep apnea dentistry is consulted. Such appliances have been proven to be effective in reducing snoring and sleep apnea in cases where the apnea is mild to moderate. Mandibular advancement splints are often tolerated much better than CPAP machines. Possible but rare side effects include gradual movement of the teeth, temporomandibular joint disorder, excess salivation and gum irritation.
Surgery is also available as a method of correcting social snoring. Some procedures, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, attempt to widen the airway by removing tissues in the back of the throat, including the uvula and pharynx. These surgeries are quite invasive, however, and there are risks of adverse side effects. The most dangerous risk is that enough scar tissue could form within the throat as a result of the incisions to make the airway more narrow than it was prior to surgery, diminishing the airspace in the velopharynx. Scarring is an individual trait, so it is difficult for a surgeon to predict how much a person might be predisposed to scarring. Some patients have reported the development of severe sleep apnea as a result of damage to their airway caused by pharnygeal surgery. Currently, the American Medical Association does not approve of the use of lasers to perform operations on the pharynx or uvula.