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Snoring

UUGHGHGHHHSSHHH!! UUGHGHGHHHSSHHH!!

There's nothing worse than the sound of someone snoring if you're trying to fall asleep. Or maybe it's you who snores, and people tease you about the noise you make in your sleep.

Snoring isn't just noisy. Sometimes it's a sign of a serious medical problem that should be treated by a doctor. Read on to find out more about the snore!

Snoozing or Snoring?

Snoring is a fairly common problem that can happen to anyone — young or old. Snoring happens when a person can't move air freely through his or her nose and mouth during sleep. That annoying sound is caused by certain structures in the mouth and throat — the tongue, upper throat, soft palate (say: PAL-et), uvula (say: YOO-vyuh-luh), as well as big tonsils and adenoids — vibrating against each other.

snoring illustration

People usually find out they snore from the people who live with them. Kids may find out they snore from a brother or sister or from a friend who sleeps over. Snoring keeps other people awake and probably doesn't let the snoring person get top quality rest, either.

What Makes You Snore?

People snore for many reasons. Here are some of the most common:

  • Seasonal allergies can make some people's noses stuffy and cause them to snore.
  • Blocked nasal passages or airways (due to a cold or sinus infection) can cause a rattling snore.
  • A deviated septum (say: DEE-vee-ate-ed SEP-tum) is when the septum (the tissue and cartilage separating the two nostrils in your nose) is crooked. Some people with a very deviated septum have surgery to straighten it out. This also helps them breathe better — not just stop snoring.
  • Enlarged or swollen tonsils or adenoids may cause a person to snore. Tonsils and adenoids (adenoids are glands located inside of your head, near the inner parts of your nasal passages) help trap harmful bacteria, but they can become very big and swollen all of the time. Many kids who snore have this problem.
  • Drinking alcohol can relax the tongue and throat muscles too much, which partially blocks air movement as someone is breathing and can contribute to snoring noises.
  • Being overweight can cause narrowing of the air passages. Many people who are very overweight snore.

Snoring is also one symptom of a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. When a person has sleep apnea, his or her breathing is irregular during sleep. Typically, someone with sleep apnea will actually stop breathing for short amounts of time 30 to 300 times a night! It can be a big problem if the person doesn't get enough oxygen.

People with this disorder often wake up with bad headaches and feel exhausted all day long. They may be very drowsy and have difficulty staying awake while having a conversation or even while driving. Kids affected by sleep apnea may be irritable and have difficulty concentrating, particularly in school and with homework.

Snoring Solutions

According to the U.S. government's patent office (this is where you go to register an idea or invention), hundreds of anti-snoring devices are on the market. Some of them startle you awake when they sense you are snoring. Unfortunately, they may only work because they keep you awake!

Those small white strips some football players wear across their noses that kind of look like a bandage are another anti-snoring device. Football players wear them during the game to breathe easier while running a play or making a tackle. Some people wear these breathing strips to try to stop snoring.

Other snoring solutions include tilting the top of a bed upward a few inches, changing sleeping positions (from the back to a side), and not eating a heavy meal (or for an adult, not drinking alcohol) before bedtime. These kinds of "cures" may work only for someone who snores occasionally and lightly — or they may not work at all.

If you can't stop snoring or the snoring becomes heavy, it's a good idea to see a doctor. He or she might tell you how to keep your nasal passages clear and will check your tonsils and adenoids to be sure they aren't enlarged and don't have to be removed.

Some people need to lose weight, change their diets, or develop regular sleeping patterns to stop snoring. It may be helpful to remove allergy triggers (stuffed animals, pets, and feather/down pillows and comforters) from the person's bedroom. The doctor might also suggest medications for allergies or congestion due to a cold.

If someone might have sleep apnea, the doctor will order a test to monitor the person during sleep. This is usually done in a sleep center (a medical building that has equipment to monitor breathing during sleep). The person is attached to machines that check heart rate, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, eye movement, chest wall movement, and the flow of air through the nose. The doctor can then tell if the person has a disorder like sleep apnea. The best thing about the test is that it doesn't hurt at all. After all, you sleep right through it!

Once doctors know what's wrong, a person can be treated for it, usually with lifestyle changes, sometimes medicines, or even surgery, if necessary.

Solving a snoring problem lets everyone breathe and sleep a little easier!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
Originally reviewed by: Aaron S. Chidekel, MD