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Snoring - adults

Snoring is a loud, hoarse, harsh breathing sound that occurs during sleep. Snoring is common in adults.

Loud, frequent snoring can make it hard for both you and your bed partner to get enough sleep. Sometimes snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.

Causes

When you sleep, the muscles in your throat relax and your tongue slips back in your mouth. Snoring occurs when something blocks air from flowing freely through your mouth and nose. When you breathe, the walls of your throat vibrate, causing the sound of snoring.

There are several factors that can lead to snoring, including:

  • Being overweight. The extra tissue in your neck puts pressure on your airways.
  • Tissue swelling during the last month of pregnancy.
  • Crooked or bent nasal septum, which is the wall of bone and cartilage between your nostrils.
  • Growths in your nasal passages (nasal polyps).
  • Stuffy nose from a cold or allergies.
  • Swelling in the roof of your mouth (soft palate) or the uvula, the piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of your mouth. These areas may also be longer than normal.
  • Swollen adenoids and tonsils that block the airways. This is a common cause of snoring in children.
  • A tongue that is wider at the base, or a larger tongue in a smaller mouth.
  • Poor muscle tone. This may be caused by aging or by using sleeping pills, antihistamines, or alcohol at bedtime.

Sometimes snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea.

  • This occurs when you completely or partly stop breathing for more than 10 seconds while you sleep.
  • This is followed by a sudden snort or gasp when you start breathing again. During that time you wake up without realizing it.
  • Then you start to snore again.
  • This cycle usually happens many times a night, which makes it hard to sleep deeply.

Sleep apnea can make it especially hard for your bed partner to get a good night's sleep.

Home Care

To help reduce snoring:

  • Avoid alcohol and medicines that make you sleepy at bedtime.
  • DO NOT sleep flat on your back. Try to sleep on your side instead. You can sew a golf or tennis ball into the back of your night clothes. If you roll over, the pressure of the ball will help remind you to stay on your side. Over time, side sleeping will become a habit.
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight.
  • Try over-the-counter, drug-free nasal strips that help widen the nostrils. (These are not treatments for sleep apnea.)

If your health care provider has given you a breathing device, use it on a regular basis. Follow your provider's advice for treating allergy symptoms.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk to your provider if you:

  • Have problems with attention, concentration, or memory
  • Wake up in the morning not feeling rested
  • Feel very drowsy during the day
  • Have morning headaches
  • Gain weight
  • Tried self-care for snoring, and it has not helped

You should also talk with your provider if you have episodes of no breathing (apnea) during the night. Your partner can tell you if you are snoring loudly or making choking and gasping sounds.

Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your snoring, your provider may refer you to a sleep specialist.

References

Huon L-K, Guilleminault C. Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome. In: Friedman M, Jacobowitz O, eds. Sleep Apnea and Snoring. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 2.

Stoohs R, Gold AR. Snoring and pathologic upper airway resistance syndromes. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 112.

Wakefield TL, Lam DJ, Ishman SL. Sleep apnea and sleep disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 18.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

    Animation

  •  

    Obstructive sleep apnea - Animation

    Does your significant other complain that your snoring wakes them up during the night or keeps them from getting to sleep in the first place? Do they poke you, waking you up because sometimes they're afraid you stopped breathing? If so, you may have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, the flow of air to your lungs pauses or decreases while you sleep. This happens because your airway has become narrow or blocked. While you sleep, all of the muscles in your body become more relaxed, including the muscles that help keep your airway open, allowing air to flow freely to your lungs. Normally, your upper throat still remains open enough during sleep to let air easily pass by. Some people, however, have a narrowing throat area. When the muscles in their upper throat relax during sleep, their breathing can stop, often for more than 10 seconds. When breathing stops, it's called apnea. Often you're not aware that you stopped breathing during sleep. But you may wake up not-refreshed, and feel drowsy and tired during the day. If you have this condition, your doctor will perform a physical exam, carefully checking your mouth, neck, and throat. You may take a survey that asks a series of questions about daytime sleepiness, sleep quality, and bedtime habits. If your doctor suspects you do have sleep apnea, you make take a polysomnogram, a sleep study that monitors you while you sleep. Once your doctor diagnoses sleep apnea, treatment will focus on keeping your airway open so that you breathe better while you sleep. Lifestyle steps can help. You can avoid alcohol or sedatives, and not just at bedtime, avoid sleeping on your back, and try to lose weight if you need to. And, exercise can help, even in the absence of weight loss. Your doctor can also prescribe a positive airway pressure using a machine, with a tight-fitting face mask, that pumps slightly pressurized air into your mouth during your breathing cycle. This keeps your windpipe open and prevents apnea episodes. Some people need to wear dental devices that keep their jaw forward during sleep. If lifestyle changes and devices don't help, surgery may be an option. Untreated sleep apnea, however, may lead to or worsen heart disease. Most people with sleep apnea who get treatment have less anxiety and depression than they did before. They often perform better at work or school, too. Naturally, having less daytime sleepiness can lower your risk for accidents at work, while you drive and give you more energy throughout the day.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

    Animation

  •  

    Obstructive sleep apnea - Animation

    Does your significant other complain that your snoring wakes them up during the night or keeps them from getting to sleep in the first place? Do they poke you, waking you up because sometimes they're afraid you stopped breathing? If so, you may have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. When you have sleep apnea, the flow of air to your lungs pauses or decreases while you sleep. This happens because your airway has become narrow or blocked. While you sleep, all of the muscles in your body become more relaxed, including the muscles that help keep your airway open, allowing air to flow freely to your lungs. Normally, your upper throat still remains open enough during sleep to let air easily pass by. Some people, however, have a narrowing throat area. When the muscles in their upper throat relax during sleep, their breathing can stop, often for more than 10 seconds. When breathing stops, it's called apnea. Often you're not aware that you stopped breathing during sleep. But you may wake up not-refreshed, and feel drowsy and tired during the day. If you have this condition, your doctor will perform a physical exam, carefully checking your mouth, neck, and throat. You may take a survey that asks a series of questions about daytime sleepiness, sleep quality, and bedtime habits. If your doctor suspects you do have sleep apnea, you make take a polysomnogram, a sleep study that monitors you while you sleep. Once your doctor diagnoses sleep apnea, treatment will focus on keeping your airway open so that you breathe better while you sleep. Lifestyle steps can help. You can avoid alcohol or sedatives, and not just at bedtime, avoid sleeping on your back, and try to lose weight if you need to. And, exercise can help, even in the absence of weight loss. Your doctor can also prescribe a positive airway pressure using a machine, with a tight-fitting face mask, that pumps slightly pressurized air into your mouth during your breathing cycle. This keeps your windpipe open and prevents apnea episodes. Some people need to wear dental devices that keep their jaw forward during sleep. If lifestyle changes and devices don't help, surgery may be an option. Untreated sleep apnea, however, may lead to or worsen heart disease. Most people with sleep apnea who get treatment have less anxiety and depression than they did before. They often perform better at work or school, too. Naturally, having less daytime sleepiness can lower your risk for accidents at work, while you drive and give you more energy throughout the day.

    Self Care

     
     

    Review Date: 7/11/2019

    Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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