Snoring occurs when the soft tissue surrounding the upper airway vibrates as you breathe. It is quite common — about half of all adults snore occasionally. Men snore more than women, and people who are overweight are also more prone to snoring.
While snoring can disrupt your bed partner's sleep, it can also cause frequent awakenings at night and daytime sleepiness for the person who snores.
If you snore, you should see your primary care doctor if you are often tired during the day, don't feel that you sleep well, or wake up gasping. Your doctor can determine if your snoring is benign, or if you have a more serious condition, sleep apnea.
For some, snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can occur when your airway collapses or becomes blocked, preventing air from reaching your lungs. OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea.
Causes of snoring
Vibration of the palate or "palatal flutter" is the most common reason for snoring and the area most commonly targeted during any procedures to treat snoring. Other causes include the following:
- A long soft palate (roof of mouth) or uvula (dangling tissue at throat)
- Excess tissue or poor muscle tone in the throat
- Excess tissue in the neck (affecting those who are overweight or obese)
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
- A large tongue
- Nasal blockage
- Structural issues of the nose (including deviated septum)
How can I get help for snoring?
Snoring not only affects the snorer, it also makes life challenging for their partners, roommates or family members. In fact, many people see their doctor about their snoring at the urging of a partner.
Call your primary care doctor if you are concerned about your snoring. Depending on the cause and severity of your snoring, your doctor may first ask you to try lifestyle changes or other remedies which may reduce or even prevent your snoring, such as one or more of the following:
- Lose weight if you are overweight. The excess tissue around your throat and neck can cause snoring.
- Don't drink alcohol or take other sedatives – including antihistamines – for two to three hours before going to bed, as they cause your throat muscles to relax.
- Sleep on your side or stomach. Prop yourself with pillows or sew a pocket on the back of your pajamas and stick a tennis ball in it to prevent you from rolling over onto your back while you are sleeping.
- Raise the head of the bed a few inches, which may help you breathe easier.
- Try over-the-counter remedies such as mouthpieces or nasal dilator strips, which may help keep your airway open.
- Use nasal saline solutions to help clear congested nasal passages before you go to sleep.
If you are experiencing gaps in your breathing while you are snoring that leave you gasping for air or your symptoms are moderate to severe, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist at Rush for further evaluation.
Care for snoring at Rush
- Sleep study: Your sleep specialist may order a sleep study (polysomnogram). This overnight study measures your brain activity, heart rate, eye movement, blood pressure and other data while you sleep. At Rush, we offer both laboratory and home sleep studies.
- Endoscopy: If your sleep study shows an anatomical reason for your snoring, your sleep specialist may recommend that you have a full upper airway evaluation. This evaluation includes more advanced diagnostic tests such as a sleep endoscopy or nasal endoscopy. These tests will show why and where your breathing is being blocked.
- Imaging tests: Your doctor may send you for an X-ray, CT or MRI to see if you have any structural issues that could be causing your snoring.
- Lifestyle changes: Your doctor will encourage you to make lifestyle changes to help you breathe better while you sleep, including the ones listed above.
- Medication: If you have nasal congestion that is forcing you to breathe through your mouth, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as a decongestant.
- Oral appliances: A qualified dentist can fit you with a customized device that moves your jaw forward to create more breathing space or helps keep your tongue from blocking your airway while you sleep.
- Uvula reduction surgery: For people with an excessively long uvula, surgery can be performed to remove any excess length. The uvula serves an important function, so sleep surgeons at Rush take care to preserve an adequate amount of tissue.
- Radiofrequency ablation of the soft palate: A sleep surgeon uses a radiofrequency probe heat the tissues of the palate underneath the surface, causing the palate to stiffen and prevent excess vibration. This simple office-based procedure can be done under local anesthesia.
- Injection snoreplasty: In this office-based procedure, which can be done under local anesthesia, the surgeon injects the palate with a solution that causes stiffening of the tissues, reducing vibration.
Obstructive sleep apnea treatments
If your sleep study shows that you have obstructive sleep apnea, your sleep specialist will discuss treatment options with you, including the following:
- Breathing devices, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP). These machines deliver a soft stream of pressurized air to keep your airway open while you sleep.
- Upper airway stimulation therapy (e.g., Inspire): For those who cannot tolerate a breathing device, an implantable device is now available at Rush that continuously monitors your breathing patterns while you sleep and delivers gentle stimulation to keep the airway open.
- Surgery: Specialists in sleep surgery at Rush offer a full range of advanced procedures, many of which can be performed minimally invasively. The goal is to remove or reposition excess tissue or correct structural issues in your upper airway.
Why choose Rush for care of snoring
- Accredited sleep care: The Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush was the first such center in Illinois and the first in the region to receive accreditation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (then the American Sleep Disorders Association). Since the center opened in 1978, it has welcomed more than 20,000 patients.
- Experience you can trust: Sleep specialists at Rush have expertise diagnosing and treating a full range of conditions that cause snoring — from the common to the most complex. They will work together, and with you, to address the problem and improve your snoring.
- Innovative treatments: Specialists in the Section of Sleep Surgery offer a full range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for snoring and sleep apnea. They are among the first in the U.S. to offer upper airway stimulation therapy (e.g., Inspire therapy) for some patients with sleep apnea. This implantable device may be a good option for people with moderate to severe sleep apnea who cannot tolerate breathing devices.