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Snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea

Man Sleeping

Snoring is extremely common, affecting about 40% of men and 25% of women.  It is caused by the vibration of the soft palate (the roof of the mouth), the tonsils and the base of the tongue, which occurs when our muscles are relaxed whilst asleep.  When it is severe, it can cause disturbed sleep for the snorer and their partner.  


In some patients, the obstruction can be so severe that blood oxygen levels in the blood can fall periodically during the night.  This is a condition known as obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which may cause poor quality sleep, tiredness during the day, and strain on the heart.

What causes snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea?

There are many causes of snoring and OSA, and there is often more than one cause in any single patient.  Snoring becomes more and more common as we get older.  Snoring and OSA are also more common in those who are overweight.  Alcohol, and drugs that cause sedation, can make snoring more severe.

In some patients, there may be structural problems with the nose and throat that can contribute to their snoring or OSA, such as large tonsils, a low-hanging soft palate, or a poor nasal airway due to inflammation, nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum. 

How can snoring and OSA be treated?

Because there are many causes of snoring and OSA, the treatment can be complex.  There is often no "magic bullet" treatment that will completely cure a patient's snoring or OSA; however it can be improved with a combination of lifestyle, medical, and sometimes surgical interventions. Some examples include:

  • Weight loss

  • Increased exercise

  • CPAP therapy (the gold-standard treatment for moderate/severe OSA)

  • Sleep position modification

  • Medical treatment to treat rhinitis or chronic rhinosinusitis

  • Surgical treatment to improve nasal airway, e.g. septoplasty

  • Jaw splints / mandibular advancement devices

  • Removal of enlarged tonsils

  • Surgery to reduce palate length

  • Radiofrequency treatment to the palate / tongue base

With so many treatment options, it is important to be examined and investigated by a specialist so that a treatment plan can be tailored to your specific needs.

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