Snoring is a noise produced during sleep that originates in the back of the throat or nose. Snoring occurs when the muscles in the back of the mouth, tongue and throat relax while sleeping, which narrows or blocks the airway. Breathing causes your uvula (soft palate) to vibrate and knock against the back of the throat, resulting in the snoring sound. Swollen or infected tonsils and adenoids, blocked nasal passages or a deviated septum can also narrow the airway and lead to snoring. Obesity and certain craniofacial changes may also contribute to snoring.
Snoring can also be a sign of a more serious problem, known as obstructive sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, the relaxed muscles at the back of the throat cause the throat to close, which stops breathing, typically from 100 seconds to up to 1-2 minutes. Most sleep apnea sufferers experience this cycle of snoring, apnea and awakening five or more times a night.
Because it disrupts the normal sleep pattern, sleep apnea can make children feel tired and fall asleep in school. In children it can also lead to behavior that looks like ADHD/ADD - as the child has difficulty focusing or is overly rambuctious because they are tired. Other complications of severe sleep apnea for multiple years can lead to heart problems.
Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a thorough history of symptoms and a physical examination with particular emphasis on the nose and throat. In many cases, a sleep test will be recommended at a sleep laboratory. The sleep test monitors multiple different body functions while your child sleeps and can help identify the exact cause and severity of the sleep apnea.
Simple techniques for alleviating mild apnea are to sleep on your sides (not on your back). In mild cases, treatment may consist of improving breathing through the nose (through temporary medication, use of saline spray, or the need to remove the adenoids). In severe cases, surgery may be called for to open the airway, including a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.
In children, nasal congestion is the most common cause of snoring followed by large tonsils and adenoids. Tonsils and adenoids usually get smaller as children get older and so sometimes if symptoms are not serious simply waiting can produce good results. However this is not always the best option and surgical intervention may be necessary. Talk with your pediatric otolaryngologist.