A High-Tech Look at Snoring's Causes

You don't need a CT scan to tell if your partner snores. But high-tech medical images may explain why he or she is snoring.

Compared to people who don't snore, snorers have narrower throats and longer soft palates (the soft part of the roof of the mouth).

That's according to Igor Fajdiga, MD, PhD. He did head-and-neck scans of 40 people, 26 of whom were snorers. The results appear in Chest.

Snorers also tended to be older and bigger, in terms of BMI (body mass index),writes Fajdiga. He works at the University Clinic for Otorhinolaryngology and Cervicofacial Surgery in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Key Structure: Mouth's Roof

The 40 patients got CT scans of the head and neck area. In addition, Fajdiga looked for clues about snoring through discussions with the participants and their spouses.

"The key structure [in snoring] is the soft palate," writes Fajdiga. "It defines the constriction and is sucked into vibrating by negative pressure that develops at the site. Its repetitive closures present an obstruction to breathing, producing the snoring sound, and should therefore be the target for causal treatment of snoring."

The study had some weaknesses, states Fajdiga. For instance, snoring wasn't objectively measured.

"Still, the findings offer an acceptable explanation of snoring (and by analogy, all sleep disordered breathing,"writes Fajdiga. "We would like to encourage everyone with facilities for making a more objective evaluation to confirm or disprove our findings."

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Fajdiga, I. Chest, August 2005; vol 128: pp 896-901. News release, American College of Chest Physicians.