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Reston Hospital Center
StoneSpring Emergency Center



Snoring is a sound made during sleep. It is the sound of the throat vibrating as air flows through it.

Blocked Airway
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Air should be able to move easily through your mouth, nose, and throat. Sometimes, during sleep, air cannot move through these areas easily. This turbulent airflow makes the roof of the mouth vibrate. This is what causes the snoring sound. Smaller airways can lead to louder snoring. Airflow may be obstructed by:

  • Weak muscles in the tongue and throat
  • Enlarged tonsils, adenoids, or other obstructions such as a tumors or cysts
  • Excessive tissue around the throat due to obesity
  • Structural factors:
    • A long, soft palate
    • A long uvula
    • Deformities of the nose or nasal septum
    • Small chin, overbite, or high palate
  • Congested nasal passages from a cold, flu, sinus infection, or allergies

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in those over 50 years, especially men. Other factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • A family history of snoring
  • Use of drugs (central nervous system depressants) or alcohol that act as respiratory depressants
  • Lying on back while sleeping
  • Nasal obstruction due to a cold, sinus infection, allergy, enlarged adenoids, or injury that has displaced the nasal cartilage or bones


The main symptom of snoring is noisy breathing during sleep.

Snoring may be associated with a sleep condition called sleep apnea. Snoring with sleep apnea may cause these symptoms:

  • While sleeping:
    • Gasping
    • Choking
    • Long pauses in breathing
    • Frequent awakening
  • While awake:
    • Sleepiness and fatigue during the day
    • Slowness in mental functioning
    • Headaches

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you snore and you have other symptoms of sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor if you have regular snoring that is bothering you or your partner.

If your child is snoring regularly, talk to their doctor.


If your snoring is severe, the doctor will want to make sure you do not have obstructive sleep apnea. Diagnosis may involve:

  • Physical exam of the throat, neck, mouth, and nose
  • A sleep study in a laboratory—to help determine how much the snoring is disrupting your sleep


In cases of snoring without sleep apnea, lifestyle changes may alleviate symptoms. More severe cases may require surgery or devices.

Lifestyle Changes

Changes that may help stop snoring include:

  • If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • Exercise to improve muscle tone.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking sedatives.
  • Establish regular sleeping patterns.
  • Sleep on your side rather than on your back.
  • Treat causes of nasal congestion, such as allergies or colds.
  • Raise the head of the bed up about 4 inches. Use extra pillows or put something under the mattress.


Surgery may be done to remove excess tissue in the nose or throat. During surgery, a laser or scalpel will remove the tissue that is blocking the airway. Treatment by laser surgery requires a series of surgeries. These surgeries are usually reserved for severe and disruptive cases of snoring.

Another procedure is to try to stiffen the roof of the mouth.


Devices that can open airways during sleep include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—airway is propped open by a continuous flow of air. The air passes through a mask-like device that you wear during sleep. It is more commonly used for people with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Mouthpieces—to help position the soft palate and tongue for better breathing


To reduce the chances of snoring, take these steps:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Treat cold and allergy symptoms.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking sedatives for several hours before bedtime.
  • Sleep on your side.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

  • National Center on Sleep Disorders Research

  • Better Sleep Council Canada

  • Canadian Lung Association

  • McDonald JP. A review of surgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome. Surgeon. 2003;1:259-264. Review.

  • Snoring. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: Updated January 2014. Accessed June 3, 2015.

  • Snoring and sleep apnea. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: Accessed June 3, 2015.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 19, 2015. Accessed June 3, 2015.

  • Sher AE. Upper airway surgery for obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Med Rev. 2002;6:195-212. Review.

  • Yaggi HK, Concato J, et al. Obstructive sleep apnea as a risk factor for stroke and death N Engl J Med. 2005;353:2034-2041.