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Snoring

Some people breathe heavily when they sleep. Others make a soft whistling sound, and still others snore loudly.

Snoring doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a medical condition, but it can sometimes be a sign of a serious sleep disorder, including sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring followed by a few seconds of quiet because of a pause in breathing. This is followed by another loud sound, like a snort, then the snoring resumes.

Facts about snoring

Snoring is common—as many as 45 percent of people snore sometimes, and 25 percent snore almost all the time. Men tend to snore more often than women.

It's often hard to tell why one person snores and another one doesn't. These are common causes of snoring:

  • Later stages of pregnancy

  • Irregularly shaped bones in the face

  • Swelling of the tonsils and adenoids

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Antihistamine or sleeping pill use

  • Large base of the tongue or unusually large tongue and small mouth

  • Congestion from allergies or a cold

  • Overweight

  • Swollen areas inside the mouth (including the uvula and soft palate)

Snoring by itself—when it's not a symptom of a medical problem like sleep apnea—may not pose any physical risk. But it can cause problems when sleeping in a room with your spouse or partner. Snoring can affect your partner's sleep and trigger a number of problems caused by sleep deficiency.

Diagnosis

A doctor may run a few tests or perform a sleep study to diagnose the cause of snoring, particularly if he or she suspects sleep apnea. An otolaryngologist may examine your throat and neck and the inside of your mouth to diagnose the cause of snoring.

To find out if your snoring could be caused by a health problem, a doctor may ask questions about:

  • Volume and frequency of your snoring

  • Sleep positions that make your snoring worse

  • Problems from affected sleep, including feeling sleepy during the day or difficulty remembering

  • Any history that you have temporarily stopped breathing during sleep

Treatment

If your snoring is affecting your sleep (or your partner's), your doctor may fit you with a dental device to keep your tongue from blocking your airway. Losing weight can also help treat snoring. Some people may need surgery to correct a blockage in the airway that's causing the snoring.

If sleep apnea is the cause of your snoring, you may need to sleep in a mask connected to a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. This device helps minimize snoring and maintain breathing while you sleep.

Calling the doctor

Sleep apnea can be serious, so snoring that causes daytime sleepiness or that affects your ability to think clearly should be evaluated by a doctor or sleep specialist. If your partner hears you stop breathing during the night, you should call your doctor to see if sleep apnea is to blame.

Prevention

Preparations before bedtime and a few changes to your sleep style can help prevent or reduce snoring. Try these tips:

  • Use nasal strips (without medication) that allow more air into the nostrils.

  • Don't drink alcohol or take a sedative just before bedtime.

  • Maintain a healthy weight; work to drop excess pounds.

  • Try sleeping on your side instead of on your back.

Complications

Snoring can affect your sleep, leaving you dragging the next day. Sleep apnea can be a dangerous condition. When it's severe, you may stop breathing for longer than 10 seconds per episode and experience more than five episodes per hour at night. Sleep apnea and inadequate sleep can make it difficult for you to think clearly and complete daily responsibilities. If you have sleep apnea that goes untreated, long-term complications can include an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.

Key points to remember

Your sleep is nothing to take lightly. Your doctor can help diagnose any potential medical conditions affecting your sleep and find ways to minimize snoring to help you—and your partner—get a restful night's sleep.