Almost everyone snores from time to time. While occasional snoring is not always a sign of a health problem, loud snoring can interrupt sleep and be frustrating for bed partners and roommates. Persistent and loud snoring may be a sign of a more serious condition like obstructive sleep apnea.
We discuss common reasons for snoring, signs that can indicate when snoring may signal a more serious problem, and when to talk to a doctor.
Reasons for Snoring
The muscles of your mouth and throat naturally relax during sleep. If these tissues vibrate against each other with each breath, they cause the hoarse sound of snoring.
Many factors can narrow, block, or relax the walls of the airway and increase the likelihood of snoring. Common causes of snoring include:
- Nasal congestion
- Swollen tonsils or adenoid glands in the back of the throat
- A deviated septum
- Polyps inside the nose
- A large neck
- Alcohol use
- Sleeping pills and other medicines that make you tired
- Obstructive sleep apnea
Although children snore less commonly than adults do, about 1 in 6 children snore on a regular basis. Persistent snoring in children is most often caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoid glands.
When Snoring May Indicate a More Serious Problem
Snoring is a common sign of sleep-related breathing disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. While many people who snore do not have sleep apnea, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
In addition to loud and persistent snoring, signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Repeatedly stopping breathing for short periods during sleep
- Waking up gasping or choking
- Feeling very tired during the day
- Unintentionally falling asleep during boring or repetitive activities
- Headaches in the morning
Parents and caregivers of children who snore three or more nights a week should talk to their children’s doctors about whether their snoring could be a sign of another health condition, particularly if their children have:
- Behavior problems at school or at home
- Asthma that isn’t fully controlled with treatment
- High blood pressure
When to Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one is concerned about your snoring. A doctor will ask detailed questions about your snoring and any other symptoms you are experiencing. If you share a bed with someone or have a roommate who can hear you snoring, then it may be helpful to bring them to the appointment.
Consider talking to a doctor if your snoring causes significant social or relationship problems, even if you don’t have any other symptoms.
You should also talk to a doctor if you or your child have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. In addition, talk to your child’s doctor if they snore and usually breathe through their mouth, have bad breath, frequent sore throats, or repeated ear or sinus infections. These may be signs of enlarged tonsils or adenoid glands.
If a doctor suspects that you may have sleep apnea, then they may recommend that you get a sleep study, either in a laboratory or a home sleep apnea test. The doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist, or they may manage your care without a referral.