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Snoring is the often loud or harsh sound that can occur as you sleep. You snore when the flow of air as you breathe makes the tissues in the back of your throat vibrate. The sound most often occurs as you breathe in air, and can come through the nose, mouth or a combination of the two. It can occur during any stage of sleep.
About half of people snore at some point in their lives. Snoring is more common in men, though many women snore. It appears to run in families and becomes more common as you get older. About 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women are habitual snorers. Men become less likely to snore after the age of 70.
Sleeping on your back may make you more likely to snore. It may also occur as your throat muscles relax from use of alcohol or other depressants. Congestion from a cold or allergies can also cause you to snore.
Snoring can be a nuisance to your partner and anyone else nearby. You may even snore loudly enough to wake yourself up. Though, in many cases people do not realize that they snore. Snoring can also cause you to have a dry mouth or sore or irritated throat when you wake up.
Light snoring may not disrupt your overall sleep quality. Heavy snoring may be associated with obstructive sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder and a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other health problems.
Snoring vs. Sleep Apnea
Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea but not everyone who snores has the sleep disorder. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that causes you to temporarily stop breathing when you are asleep. If you are regularly tired during the day even though you have had sufficient sleep or if your snoring is paired with choking or gasping sound, you may have sleep apnea. A sleep medicine physician is trained to detect and diagnose sleep apnea using an in-lab sleep study or home sleep testing. Sleep apnea is manageable using several approaches including CPAP (continuos positive aiway pressure), oral appliance therapy, and surgery.
Obesity, Pregnancy and Genetic Factors
Extra tissue in the throat can vibrate as you breathe in air in your sleep, causing you to snore. People who are overweight, obese or pregnant often have extra bulky throat tissue. Genetic factors that can cause snoring include extra throat tissue as well as enlarged tonsils, large adenoids, long soft palate or long uvula.
Allergies, Congestion and Certain Nasal Structures
Anything that prevents you from breathing through your nose can cause you to snore. This can include congestion from a cold or flu, allergies or deformities of the nose such as a deviated septum.
Alcohol, smoking, aging and certain drugs and medications, including muscle relaxants
You may snore when your throat or tongue muscles are relaxed. Substances that can relax these muscles may cause you to snore. This includes alcohol, muscle relaxants and other medications. Normal aging and the prolonged effects of smoking can also relax your throat and tongue muscles.
The primary symptom of snoring is unmistakable – the often loud, harsh or hoarse noises that you make while you are asleep. Other symptoms may include waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth.
If you have any of the following symptoms you may have sleep apnea:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Choking or gasping while you sleep
- Pauses in breathing
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Moodiness, irritability or depression
- Frequent need to urinate during the night
- Does your partner complain that you snore regularly?
- Have you recently gained weight or stopped exercising?
- Do you have family members that snore?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you either snore or are at risk for snoring. You may want to see a sleep medicine physician if you snore regularly or loudly. If you also make choking or gasping sounds as you snore, you will need to be tested for obstructive sleep apnea.
In addition to a complete medical history, the physician will need to know how long you have been snoring. You will also need to tell the physician whether you recently gained weight or stopped exercising. Be sure to tell your physician of any past or present drug and medication use. If you can, ask your partner, roommate or family member if they have ever heard you snore.
A sleep medicine physician will recommend a home sleep test, or in some cases an in-lab sleep study. A board-certified sleep physician is specially trained to diagnose sleep apnea.
In-lab overnight sleep study
This type of sleep study requires you to stay overnight at a sleep center, in a bed that may resemble a hotel room, or in some cases an actual hotel room. You will sleep with sensors hooked up to various parts of your body. These record your brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing among other things. Physicians usually recommend this test for more complicated or difficult to diagnose cases, as it is more expensive and requires you to stay overnight. Learn more about an overnight sleep study.
Home sleep test
This type of sleep study lets you sleep in the comfort of your own home while a machine collects information. The testing equipment differs in that it is less complicated than what is used in an overnight sleep study. A staff member will show you how to hook up the testing equipment yourself. Once you are finished, you can take the device back to the sleep center or send it by mail.
The treatment will depend on whether the board certified sleep physician finds that you have sleep apnea. If you do not have sleep apnea, the sleep physician and his or her team may offer the following treatments.
Weight loss can help reduce or eliminate your snoring for some people. If you are overweight or obese losing weight should be a priority. Weight gain can make snoring worse, and may even lead to sleep apnea.
For some people, snoring mostly occurs while they sleep on their back. If you are one of these types of snorers, you may be able to improve your snoring by changing your sleep position. There are a variety of products that you can wear when you go to sleep that prevent you from sleeping on your back. You can also attach a tennis ball to the back of your shirt or pajamas. This does not work for everyone.
Avoiding alcohol, muscle relaxants and certain medications
These can relax your throat or tongue muscles causing you to snore. By avoiding use of these substances, you may be able to reduce or eliminate your snoring. Speak to your primary care physician about alternative medications if your medication is causing you to snore.
An oral appliance is a small plastic device that fits in your mouth over your teeth while you sleep that stops you from snoring. It may resemble a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. The device prevents the airway from collapsing by holding the tongue in position or by sliding your jaw forward so that you can breathe when you are asleep. A dentist trained in dental sleep medicine can fit you with an oral appliance.
There are a variety of elective surgeries you can have to reduce your snoring. The most common surgeries reduce or eliminate the bulky tissue in your throat. Other more complicated procedures can adjust your bone structure.
If your snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea, these treatments may not be effective. A board certified sleep medicine physician may recommend other treatments, including CPAP, the front-line treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Find a sleep medicine physician at an Accredited Sleep Center near you.