Snoring is the sound created by vibrations of the soft palate when breathing is partially obstructed during sleep. Snoring is often a sign that the airway is partially blocked, usually by soft tissue in the throat. The flow of air causes the soft tissue to vibrate, which generates noise from the mouth or nose. While snoring is a common and usually harmless condition, it may sometimes indicate a serious health problem. Loud and habitual snoring can disrupt sleep and be irritating. Snoring is more common in men than women and occurs more often in older people and those who are overweight. Snoring that disrupts sleep may cause excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. Heavy snorers, especially those that experience gasping or choking, may suffer from sleep apnea, a condition where snoring is frequently interrupted by periods of completely obstructed breathing.
Causes of Snoring
When a person sleeps, throat muscles relax and vibrate as air passes through blocked passages, resulting in the sounds of snoring. A blocked airway passage may be caused by the following conditions:
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Sleep apnea
- Tonsillitis or adenoiditis
- Mouth and jaw abnormalities
People who are obese may suffer from airway constriction because there is more fat tissue in the back of their throats.
Symptoms of Snoring
Snoring can disrupt sleeping patterns and deprive the individual, and any sleep partners, of proper rest. Symptoms of snoring can vary depending on the cause, and may include:
- Noise during sleep
- Sore throat in the morning
- Dry mouth
- Restless sleep
- Gasping or choking during the night
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain during the night
Diagnosis of Snoring
When investigating the cause of snoring, it is important to determine whether snoring is an isolated problem or if it is related to another more serious medical condition. Snoring is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. X-rays or CT scans are often used to view and measure the width of oral and nasal passages and to detect any abnormalities. Individuals may be referred to a sleep specialist who performs various diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea or another sleep disorder. Some evaluations often involve overnight monitoring of breathing and other body functions during sleep.
Treatment of Snoring
There are several treatment options available for snoring, ranging from home remedies to surgical intervention. Simple changes in lifestyle, combined with over-the-counter medications, may be sufficient to alleviate minor cases of snoring. These methods may include:
- Losing weight
- Quitting smoking
- Sleeping on your side or stomach
- Nasal dilators or nasal strips
- Decongestant medication
When snoring interferes with normal breathing during sleep, nasal corticosteroid sprays may be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the nose and relieve congestion. Additional methods of treatment may include:
- Corrective Mouthpieces
- Injection Snoreplasty
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
In severe cases, corrective surgery may be recommended to remove the excess tissue from the nose or throat and open upper air passages to facilitate breathing. Surgical treatment may include:
- Thermal Ablation Palatoplasty
- Tonsillectomy and Adenoidectomy
- Genioglossus and Hyoid Advancement
- Septoplasty and Turbinate (Conchae) Surgery
The Pillar® Procedure
Chronic snoring may seem harmless, but it can cause serious physical and emotional complications for both snorers and those who sleep with them. Vibrating tissue in the soft palate is believed to play a major role in most cases of chronic snoring. The Pillar® Procedure, which is manufactured by Medtronic, Inc., is a simple, minimally invasive way to effectively treat snoring, as well as mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea, by stiffening the soft palate. The procedure is not recommended for patients with severe sleep apnea or for those who are overweight.
Benefits of the Pillar Procedure
The Pillar Procedure is an effective treatment for snoring and mild sleep apnea. Patients who have undergone the Pillar Procedure report a significant decrease in snoring. The procedure itself is minimally invasive, and can be performed in a single doctor's visit. After the procedure, discomfort is minimal, and the patient's usual diet and activities can be resumed on the same day.
The Pillar Procedure
The Pillar Procedure involves placing an implant in the roof of the patient's mouth. During the procedure, three tiny braided strands of polyester filament are placed into the soft palate (roof of mouth). Over time, the implant and palate stiffen, reducing the vibration that causes snoring. The Pillar Procedure also reduces the collapse of tissue that obstructs the upper airway and causes sleep apnea. Implanting the filaments takes about 20 minutes.
The procedure does not remove any tissue, is typically painless and has a low risk of complications. The implants are tiny, safe and usually undetectable.
Complications of the Pillar Procedure
The most common complication of the Pillar Procedure is partial extrusion, which is when the tip of the implant protrudes through the soft tissue. If this occurs, the implant can be removed or replaced. As with any surgical treatment, infection is possible. A patient who develops a high fever should contact her or his physician as soon as possible.
Recovery from the Pillar Procedure
After the procedure, an anti-inflammatory pain medication may be prescribed to minimize swelling and reduce pain. To prevent infection, an antiseptic rinse and antibiotic may also be prescribed. Side effects of the procedure are minor, and typically resolve on their own within a few weeks after surgery. Side effects may include:
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling of having a foreign body in the soft palate
There may be a noticeable decrease in snoring and/or sleep apnea as soon as the day after the procedure. It may, however, take a few months for the soft palate to harden around the implants.