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Snoring Overview

Snoring is a common phenomenon. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), up to 45 percent of American adults snore and 25 percent do so on a regular basis. Snoring is more common in men than women and can worsen with age.

Certain lifestyle changes can decrease snoring. However, some people require medical treatment if their snoring is related to a sleep disorder. If you’re concerned about frequent snoring, ask your doctor.

What Are the Causes of Snoring?

One cause of snoring is when the tissues in your airways relax and narrows your airway. Airflow is constricted, causing a vibrating sound. Snores can vary in volume depending on how restricted air is in your nose, mouth, or throat. Colds and allergies can worsen snoring because they cause nasal congestion and swelling of the throat.

Sometimes, your mouth’s anatomy can cause snores. People with enlarged tissues and tonsils that restrict airflow generally produce mild snores. Being overweight can also cause snoring because of excess fat buildup on your neck that constricts your airways when you lie down.

Snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea. This occurs when your breathing slows down significantly or you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time while sleeping. Sleep apnea occurs when your airflow is decreased to less than 90 percent of normal. Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment.

In children, snoring is often caused by obstructive sleep apnea. According to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, enlarged tonsils are often the underlying cause. A child with this condition may show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, sleepiness, or other behavioral problems during the day, due to a lack of sleep. If your child frequently snores, you should bring them to their doctor.

How Is Snoring Diagnosed?

A physical exam can help your doctor determine if your snores are related to abnormalities in your mouth. In some cases, this physical exam is all that’s needed for a correct diagnosis and proper treatment, especially if your snoring is mild.

However, severe cases may require other diagnostic tests. Your doctor may use X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to check your airway for abnormalities. However, deviated septum is not an indication for advanced imaging studies such as CT scans, MRI scans, or X-rays They may also order a more in-depth study of your sleep patterns, called a sleep study. This requires spending the night at a clinic or sleep center with sensors on your head and other parts of your body to record:

  • your heart rate
  • your respiration rate
  • oxygen levels in your blood
  • your leg movements

How Is Snoring Treated?

The treatment will depend on the cause of your snoring. The AAO doesn’t recommend over-the-counter devices for snoring because they don’t treat the source of the problem. Common professional treatments include:

  • dental mouthpieces to position your tongue and soft palate and keep your airway open
  • palatal implants, in which braided polyester strands are injected into your palate to stiffen it and reduce snoring
  • surgery to tighten and trim excess tissue in your airways, such as a septoplasty for a severely deviated septum
  • laser surgery to shorten your soft palate and remove your uvula
  • masks, or CPAP machines, to direct pressurized air into your airway to eliminate sleep apnea and snoring

Corrective surgical procedures are often permanent solutions. Masks and mouthpieces must be used on a continual basis. Your doctor will likely recommend regular follow-up appointments to check your progress.

What Are the Complications of Snoring?

Frequent snoring increases your chances of experiencing:

  • sleepiness during the day
  • difficulty concentrating
  • vehicle accidents due to drowsiness
  • hypertension, or high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • relationship conflict

Serious medical conditions are more likely to occur with OSA than they are with snoring only.

What Is the Outlook for People Who Snore?

The successful treatment of your snoring depends on its cause. Sleep apnea can be treated with certain masks or procedures, but it often requires continual checkups. Many people snore more with age. If you don’t snore now, you may start to as you get older. It’s important to discuss frequent snoring with a doctor.

How Can Snoring Be Prevented?

Mild cases of snoring may be improved with a few lifestyle changes. Maintaining a healthy weight can help your body immensely and can even help you snore less at night. Other potentially effective changes include:

  • going to sleep at the same time every night
  • sleeping on your side
  • applying nasal strips to the bridge of your nose before bed
  • treating ongoing nasal congestion
  • avoiding alcohol before bedtime
  • not eating before bedtime
  • elevating your head by 4 inches with an extra pillow

Although you can do many things to prevent mild snoring, be sure to see your doctor if you snore frequently. Controlling snoring will help you sleep better and will improve your quality of life.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Kristeen Moore
Medically reviewed on: Feb 23, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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