Common causes of snoring and risk factors
Numerous factors can play a role in the development of snoring. Some of these include:
1. The anatomy of the mouth, tongue and throat
- A narrowing of the airways can occur when a person has a low and thick or long soft palate or small jaw.
- An elongated (or dangling) uvula can obstruct airflow and thus increase vibration in the airway, resulting in snoring.
- A person who is overweight or obese may also have additional tissue volume in the upper airways and throat which further contribute to constriction. Carrying around a little more weight than is healthy tends to contribute to snoring. The more fat that is stored around the neck area, the smaller the airway and the higher the risk for the development of inflammation (which further constricts breathing / airflow capacity). Additional tissue volume can develop during a woman’s pregnancy too (from the second trimester onwards – up to one third of women may develop a snore for the first time during their pregnancy). (6)
- Inflammation in the throat that commonly occurs during a respiratory infection (like a cold or bout of flu) can also cause transient snoring episodes.
- Children who have large or bulky adenoids (lymphatic tissue just behind the nose and located in the upper airways / throat) or tonsils may also snore. This can occur in adults too but is more common among children.
- Cysts or tumours which develop in the throat can also cause constriction of the airways which leads to snoring.
2. Nasal airway obstructions
- Those who suffer from chronic nasal congestion can develop problems with snoring. Stuffiness and blockages in the nose force additional effort in an attempt to facilitate the free flow of air. This can result in the pulling together or protrusion of tissues in the throat, creating an exaggerated vacuum. The same effect occurs during seasonal respiratory illnesses and for those who suffer regular bouts of sinusitis and hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
- A deviated nasal septum (a crooked partition between the nostrils), nasal deformities or nasal polyps are other physical problems that can contribute to snoring.
3. Sleep positioning
- Those who favour sleeping on their back tend to experience more frequent snoring episodes that are often at their loudest too, as the airways tend to narrow a little more when a person sleeps on their back.
4. Alcohol and medications
- Alcoholic beverages which are consumed in the evenings too close to bedtime can be bothersome for those prone to snoring. Alcohol has the effect of relaxing airway muscles and thereby priming the throat for obstructed air flow. Tongue muscles can also become more relaxed during sleep and may fall backwards slightly, exacerbating snoring.
- Taking medications that induce drowsiness or sleepiness, as well as muscle relaxant drugs can also have the same effect as those induced by alcohol and lead to snoring.
- The natural aging process may also result in relaxation of muscles in the throat. This is typically why some individuals develop a snore later in life.
- While both genders snore, males between the ages of 40 and 64 typically snore more than females within the same age group. (7) Women may develop a snore during the latter stages of pregnancy. This has been attributed to hormonal fluctuations, which can lead to swelling in the airways, but snoring episodes are usually temporary and generally resolve in the weeks and months that follow giving birth. Hormonal fluctuations (in progesterone and oestrogen levels) experienced during menopause also make women more susceptible to developing a snore later in life (after the age of around 50). (8)
7. Family history of sleep disorders or snoring
- Individuals who have blood relatives with sleep disorders, like obstructive sleep apnoea or chronic snoring problems may be at increased risk of developing similar conditions themselves.
6. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. August 2011. Your Guide to Healthy Sleep: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf [Accessed 21.02.2018]
7. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. April 1988. Risk factors in a general population for snoring. Importance of cigarette smoking and obesity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3258226 [Accessed 21.02.2018]
8. US National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. December 2016. The gender difference of snore distribution and increased tendency to snore in women with menopausal syndrome: a general population study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5399062/ [Accessed 21.02.2018]