Causes of Snoring/OSA

Common Causes of Snoring/OSAStephens Gatewood internal photos 1

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, describes a physical obstruction in your airway caused by over-relaxed and/or abnormally sized oral tissues. Likewise, snoring is the sound of your throat walls and tissues vibrating violently due to the increased air pressure as your airway becomes constricted. Patients who snore may have trouble receiving an adequate amount of oxygen as they sleep; patients who snore as a symptom of OSA, however, will repeatedly stop breathing altogether throughout the night, often without realizing it.

What is Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Snoring is common, and affects people to varying degrees. Some patients snore only occasionally, and may stop by shifting positions. Others may snore more frequently as a result of nighttime habits (like smoking or drinking alcohol) or one or more underlying conditions (like a large neck, large oral tissues, obesity, etc.).

By contrast, obstructive sleep apnea affects fewer people than common snoring, though it is more common than many patients realize. Sleep apnea (from the Greek “apnoia,” which means “absence of respiration) occurs when tissues gradually block the airway completely while you sleep.

As oral tissues block more of your airway, your snoring will grow increasingly louder, and then grow silent as the airway closes and your breathing stops. The moment can last for up to ten seconds or more until your body and brain panic from the lack of oxygen.

During an apneic episode, your body will “wake up” just enough to clear your airway and start breathing again; yet, the slight interruption will not typically rouse you from unconsciousness, and you may believe that you slept soundly throughout the night.

Symptoms of OSA

For many patients, the loud snoring associated with OSA can be disruptive enough that a sleeping partner or other family member prompts them to seek treatment. Aside from the snoring, there are also several symptoms that can manifest while you are awake, and can hint at the presence of a sleep disorder like OSA. Some of these symptoms include:

Sleep deprivation:

  • Chronic daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty with memory and/or concentration
  • Unusual irritability; frequent mood swings
  • Falling asleep, sometimes repeatedly, throughout the day

Physical symptoms:

  • Chronic headaches/migraines, especially in the morning
  • Persistent dry mouth
  • Sore throat, though you do not become sick
  • Heartburn and/or acid reflux

Systemic issues:

  • Becoming sick more often (due to a weakened immune system)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Mental health issues; depression
  • Decreased sexual drive; impotence
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and heart failure

Risk Factors

While some people may be more at-risk for obstructive sleep apnea than others, the truth is that the sleep disorder may affect virtually anybody for a variety of reasons.

Still, you can gauge your likelihood of having or developing OSA by comparing your health and lifestyle to certain common risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Abnormal oral tissues (i.e., large neck, narrow airway, large tonsils or base of the tongue, etc.)
  • Chronic sinus/nasal congestion
  • Genetics (if a family has it, then you may be genetically predisposed to high risks of OSA)
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Drinking alcohol excessively, or too soon before going to bed