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Snoring - adults

Snoring is a loud, hoarse, harsh breathing sound that occurs during sleep. Snoring is common in adults. Occasional snoring is nothing to worry about. However, loud, frequent snoring can make it hard for both you and your bed partner to get enough sleep.

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.
  • Don't 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 doctor has given you a breathing device, use it on a regular basis. Follow your doctor's advice for treating allergy symptoms.

When to call your doctor

Talk to your doctor 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 hasn't helped

You should also talk with your doctor 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 doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist.

Be sure to call your child's pediatrician if your child snores often. This may be a sign of sleep apnea, which can cause health problems in children.

References

Basner RC. Continuous positive airway pressure for obstructive sleep apnea. N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 26;356(17):1751-8.

Franklin KA, Anttila H, Axelsson S, Gislason T, Maasilta P, Myhre KI, et al. Effects and side-effects of surgery for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea--a systematic review. Sleep. 2009;32:27-36.

Friedman M, Schalch P. Surgery of the palate and oropharynx. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2007 Aug;40(4):829-43.

Patil SP, Schneider H, Schwartz AR, Smith PL. Adult obstructive sleep apnea: pathophysiology and diagnosis. Chest. 2007 Jul;132(1):325-37.

Update Date: 8/12/2013

Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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