Snoring is one of the most obnoxious sounds known to man (and woman). It’s the whole irregularity of it: the snorts, snarls, and rumbles that come and go. Humans can sleep through almost any continuous noise, even if it is loud, but snoring? Annoying.
What is snoring? Simply put, the noise of snoring is the vibration of the tissues in the back of the throat, particularly the soft palate and the uvula (the thing that hangs down from the middle of the palate). Usually, people snore more loudly if the mouth is open, both because the sound gets out more and because the airflow goes across the edge of the palate. However, fixing people’s noses so they can sleep with their mouths closed usually does not stop the snoring. It just makes it a little softer.
Snoring is worse if the space the air goes through is smaller because the same volume of air has to go faster through a smaller space, making more noise. Ergo, having big tonsils can make snoring louder.
Snoring will also be louder if the patient is carrying extra weight, since that will mean there is fat on the inside, again narrowing the opening. This can be a major factor. Even a little bit of extra weight can make a difference. I’m 6’4”, and my snoring was dramatically worse any time my weight was above 210 (I eventually did something else about my snoring, more on that later). Two hundred and ten pounds really did not seem like that much for me to carry, but there it was.
Snoring almost always gets worse as we get older (even if we don’t put on weight) because the muscle tone in our throat, like in the rest of our bodies, decreases. We get floppier.
Snoring is related to sleep apnea, but there are plenty of people who snore who don’t have significant apnea. If your bed partner notices you stopping breathing, or if you wake up tired or fall asleep in the daytime, you should talk to your doctor about a referral for a sleep medicine evaluation. That would lead to a whole different discussion.
Let’s say that you don’t have apnea. What can be done about snoring?
First, losing weight almost always helps, and is good for you in every other way, so…yeah. It’s a good first step.
Next, many people only snore on their backs. Sleeping on the side helps, but for some reason, bed partners are not happy about having to wake up to poke us onto our backs. Some people have been very successful by putting a tennis ball in a pocket sewn into the middle of the back of their pajamas. That way if they turn onto their back they will immediately roll back onto the side. It sounds simplistic, but sometimes the simple solution is best.
Since the tongue flopping back makes the airway smaller, mouthpieces that hold the tongue forward work well for some people. Check with your dentist if you want to try that.
Doing things directly to the palate can be very helpful since that is the noise-maker. Some have used little plastic supports implanted into the palate to make it stiffer. Most of my patients who have had that done report it feels funny and they usually eventually have them removed.
A radio-frequency or microwave needle can be inserted into the palate to “cook” small areas. That will cause scar tissue which helps to stiffen things. This can be quite effective, but often over a relatively short time the palate will stretch out and soften, and the snoring comes back.
In my opinion, the most effective treatment for snoring is to actually remove some of the soft palate and uvula, typically done with a laser. This is really sore for a few days, and usually takes two to four treatments, spaced about six weeks apart. But it can make a GIANT difference. Ask my wife.
Sadly, most insurance companies don’t care about snoring, and the treatments are not covered. A set of laser procedures will usually cost about twenty-five hundred dollars. However, for many, it is well worth it.
If you would like to talk about snoring, go ahead and make an appointment to come in!