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Educational articles on ENT conditions that affect you

"Sleep is sweet to the labouring man" – John Bunyan

Snoring is not funny. It is not merely a social problem, although you may have heard stories about spouses using snoring as grounds for divorce! Depending on the severity, snoring may also lead to serious medical problems, such as upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) and (worst of all) obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

What is snoring?

Snoring is the noise that occurs during sleep when there is something obstructing the flow of air though the airways.

What causes snoring?

There are many different causes for snoring, and treatment needs to be specific to the cause and the particular patient. The particular part of the airway that commonly causes snoring is full of various anatomical parts. There is the tongue, the tonsils, the soft palate, the uvula and surrounding throat tissue and muscles. Obstructed nasal airways, adenoids or deformities of the nose could be causing the problem. For maximum benefit, it is vital to determine exactly which part or parts are causing the snoring. A detailed analysis by an ENT Doctor is crucial.

Snoring is caused by narrowing or obstruction of the airway. For diagnosis, we divide the airway into three "levels": level I (the nose), level II (the back of the mouth) and level III (the throat).

Level I (the nose) may be obstructed by:

  • Deviated nasal septum
  • Enlarged turbinates
  • Polyps

Level II (the back of the mouth) may be obstructed by:

  • Enlarged soft palate and/or uvula
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Excessive tissue on the pharyngeal walls (the walls of the mouth)

Level III (the throat) may be obstructed by:

  • Excessive throat tissue
  • Enlarged tongue
  • Enlarged lingual tonsils
  • Enlarged epiglottis
  • Excessive fat around the neck, "strangulating" the throat (obesity)

Snoring may result from one or a combination of some of the above causes. Snoring can be a very complicated process!

In addition, snoring due to any one level of obstruction or narrowing will cause a negative pressure, during inspiration (breathing in), on the other airway levels. Over an average of 8 hours' sleep a night, this constant "sucking in" and "stretching" of the soft tissues of the other airway levels will worsen the collapse of the airway over time. This means that snoring (if not treated) usually worsens as the snorer ages. Treatment of the problem at one of the airway levels may help to relieve the "sucking in" pressure on the other two levels of airway.

Dr Lau Chee Chong Senior Consultant,
Ear Nose Throat, Head & Neck Surgery

Dr Lau Chee Chong at Mount Elizabeth Centre treats both adults and children. His practice covers all areas diagnostic, surgical and medical of ENT, head and neck practice. The clinic is well-equipped for almost all ENT procedures to be done in-clinic, including NBI (Narrow Band Imaging) video rhinolaryngoscopy, which gives very clear images and is particularly effective in identifying early-stage nose, head and neck cancers.

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Diagnosis and treatment of Throat Disorders