Some people can sleep through it, but others can’t. And once those guttural sounds emerge from your bed partner’s throat, they can rarely be stopped (and only by a good kick, if you’re lucky). We’re talking, of course, about snoring.

If you snore, you may not even be aware of it. But for your bedmate, depending on their tolerance level, snoring may be little more than a nuisance at best, or the curse of Frankenstein at worst. Whatever the case may be, ear, nose, and throat specialists are now signaling that snoring is no longer something to grit and bear (to the delight of spouses everywhere) and that something more serious may be afoot.

“Snoring is a condition where people make noise at night while they’re sleeping,” says Kiran Tipirneni, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board certified otolaryngologist at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates. “This is usually seen in people as they age, more often in men than in women, but it can happen to either gender. Weight gain can also lead to worsening snoring by causing a narrowing of the upper airway.”

What Causes Snoring?

According to Dr. Tipirneni, snoring occurs by the narrowing of the airways causing the air passing through the throat to vibrate within its soft tissues, not unlike air flowing through a whistle.

“When individuals sleep,” Dr. Tipirneni continues, “sometimes the airways relax when you’re breathing in. When that happens, the areas can collapse and fall backward, such as the palate falling backward and vibrating, the tongue or the epiglottis falling backward and causing a vibratory noise, and that, in essence, is snoring.”

Anything that causes the soft tissue in the mouth and throat to enlarge or relax can bring about snoring — the proof can be seen when one drinks alcohol or takes certain sedatives.

“Snoring by itself is not a medical condition, meaning it doesn’t lead to other health-related problems, but it can be a social nuisance,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “And we see quite a few patients here that were brought in by their bed partner, saying that they’re unable to sleep because of the loud snoring.”

When Does Snoring Become Problematic?

ENTOrlando-What-is-SnoringOtolaryngologists take a measured approach when snoring patients come in (willingly or not) for an evaluation. Their primary goal is to ascertain why someone is snoring and then to recommend the best course of treatment.

“When someone does come in for snoring, we need to assess them to make sure it’s just snoring by itself and not associated with obstructive sleep apnea,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “Why is that? Obstructive sleep apnea is a medical condition. Not only are people snoring, but there are periods when they actually stop breathing or do not get enough airflow to their lungs or their body at night, and that can lead to a higher risk of other medical conditions down the road including hypertension, heart disease and stroke.”

The breathing pauses associated with sleep apnea can last anywhere from seconds to a few minutes and happen from five to thirty times an hour (or more). Regular breathing resumes afterward, often accompanied by an intense snort or choking sound.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition disrupting one’s sleep and causing people to drift between deep and light sleep as their breathing alternates between shallow and deep. The result is inadequate sleep leaving patients fatigued during the day.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

The gold standard and first line of defense treatment for sleep apnea is the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device. It consists of a mask that covers the patient’s nose or mouth and guides air through the respiratory pathways. If it proves useful, patients can use the CPAP apparatus forever.

However, almost half of all patients fail to find relief with the CPAP primarily because they have trouble sleeping with it or their blockage is too severe. The good news is that other options exist such as oral devices that encourage the lower part of the mouth, jaw, and soft palate to move forward thereby creating space for better airflow.

When conservative options fail to provide relief, traditional surgical options to realign the palate, tonsils, and tongue are available and have proven to be very effective. A new innovative FDA-approved procedure known as Inspire surgically implants an electrode onto the nerve for the tongue to stimulate the nerves and muscles to contract and keep the airway clear at night. Four-year follow-up studies have confirmed Inspire’s effectiveness.

Diagnosis is Critical

Dr. Tipirneni stresses that patients who snore shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It’s important they consult a board-certified otolaryngologist to get proper testing and to obtain a correct diagnosis.

“When we first assess a patient, we do a complete, thorough history and physical examination,” says Dr. Tipirneni. “We also usually recommend patients undergo a sleep study to determine if they have snoring or if they have mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea.”

To learn more about snoring or sleep apnea, please feel free to contact us.