Snoring occurs when the soft tissue structures of the upper airway collapse onto themselves and vibrate against each other as we attempt to move air through them. This produces the sound we know as snoring. Large tonsils, a long soft palate, a large tongue, the uvula, and excess fat deposits in the throat all contribute to airway narrowing and snoring. Usually, the more narrow the airway space, the louder or more habitual the snoring.
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring is the sound of partially obstructed breathing during sleep. While snoring can be harmless, it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).When Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs, the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat and completely block the airway, which restricts the flow of oxygen. The condition known as Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS), is midway between primary snoring and true obstructive sleep apnea. People with UARS suffer many of the symptoms of OSA but require special sleep testing techniques.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
OSA is characterized by complete airway obstruction. It is often found, but not limited to, older, overweight men and affects significant percentages of women and children as well. If someone in your family has OSA, you will be more likely to have it also. The serious and life-threatening problems start when sleepers begin experiencing apneas, where breathing stops, and hypopneas, where breathing is shallow due to an obstruction. Breathing is usually blocked in the back of the throat because:
The tongue and muscles relax during sleep.
The lower jaw falls back toward the throat.
The airway becomes blocked.
A typical sequence of OSA occurs when a person stops snoring and is silent for seconds, or minutes. The body’s oxygen level drops and the blood pressure rises. The heart is forced to beat faster, causing the pulse rate to increase. The brain may cause the arms, legs or whole body to jerk in an attempt to wake the sleeper so breathing will resume. The silence may end with a loud snort, cough or gasp. This causes the sleeper to wake briefly and begin breathing. Once asleep again, the muscles relax and the airway becomes blocked, cutting off the airway again. This cycle can occur hundreds of times per night. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It ranges in severity from mild to moderate, to severe. Other forms of sleep apnea include Central and Mixed Sleep Apnea.