What causes snoring and obstructive sleep apnea?
During sleep, the muscles and soft tissues in the throat and mouth relax making the airway smaller. Sometimes the tongue falls back into the throat and obstructs the airway. The decrease in the airway space increases the velocity of the incoming air while breathing. As the velocity of the air increases, soft tissues can begin to vibrate. These vibrations result in the snoring sound and damage the tissues, causing inflammation and edema which further narrows the airway.
Common causes of snoring include:
- Large tonsils
- A long soft palate or uvula
- Excessive flabby tissue at the throat
- Nasal congestion from colds, allergies or deformities of cartilage within the nose.
- Supine body position (lying face up)
The most common cause of snoring, however, is a tongue muscle which relaxes too much during sleep and allows the tongue to be sucked back into the airway with each breath.
Is snoring harmful?
Snoring negatively affects personal relationships and health. New research suggests that snoring can lead to several health problems, some of which are life-threatening, including:
- Hypertension/ high blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Heart failure
- Daytime fatigue
- Memory impairment
Snoring reduces deep, restorative sleep. This results in extreme tiredness through the following day, which can negatively affect personal, intellectual and physical performance during work and other day to day activities.
Taking into account the snorer's spouse and children, as many as 160 million people in North America are negatively affected by snoring. Snorers often sleep through the night while creating spousal separations and sleep deprivation of those around them, causing daytime tiredness and straining relationships.
Obstruction of the airway may also cause the heart rate to fall below normal with decreases in blood oxygen levels. The obstruction will not clear until blood oxygen levels fall low enough to trigger the brain to send a signal for a release of adrenaline to prevent suffocation. The airway obstruction is usually (but tragically not always) broken with a gasp for air and, due to the adrenaline release, an increased heart rate.
How to prevent snoring
Today, over-the-counter products, lifestyle changes, surgery, pharmacological treatments and mandibular advancement devices are all used to treat snoring. None of these methods, however, have had tremendous success in eliminating snoring all together.
The most effective way to keep the airway open during sleep is by holding the tongue forward. By preventing the relaxed tongue muscle from obstructing the airway, you can help keep the airway open, allowing air to travel slower and reducing the vibrations in the throat. This reduces or eliminates snoring.
Dental appliances are becoming the preferred solution for treating snoring and are increasingly being prescribed by physicians and managed by qualified dentists. A variety of FDA dental devices have been designed to support the jaw in a forward position while sleeping to reduce air velocity and soft tissue vibration and collapse. These traditional mandibular appliances are easy to wear, portable, and safe.
A newer, less invasive device called aveoTSD (Tongue Stabilizing Device) works by gently holding the tongue forward using gentle suction, preventing it from falling back into the throat and obstructing the airway. This is the only device available to directly move the tongue forward for increasing airway volume. This device is most helpful for patients with few teeth or no teeth.