Snort. Wheeze. Roar. If someone in your bedroom snores, there’s no ignoring it.
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Snoring can be irritating to loved ones trying to catch some ZZZs. But it can also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition that causes repeated pauses in breathing during the night.
“Snoring and apnea often go hand in hand,” says ear, nose and throat physician Tony Reisman, MD. He explains why it’s important to root out the cause of your snoring — and how to squash the problem so that everyone can get some rest.
What causes snoring?
Anyone — men, women, even children — can snore. “Snoring is actually quite common in kids,” Dr. Reisman says. But it tends to be more common in men and people who are overweight. And it often gets worse as you get older.
Snoring happens when breathing is blocked during sleep. As air tries to push through the soft tissues, they vibrate — causing the telltale honks and snorts that make your significant other threaten to banish you from the bedroom.
Some people are just natural-born snorers. But often, snoring is caused by an underlying condition, such as:
- Structural problems in the nose, like a deviated septum.
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
- Chronic congestion and stuffiness.
Snoring and sleep apnea
Snoring by itself isn’t harmful. But it can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep disorder causes you to stop breathing for a few seconds at a time, over and over, night after night.
If you have sleep apnea, you likely wake up after a night’s sleep still feeling tired. You might be drowsy during the day and have trouble concentrating at work or school. Some people nod off during the day, increasing the risk of car crashes or work-related accidents.
For people with sleep apnea, treating snoring is a matter of health. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems, including:
- High blood pressure.
- Heart problems, including heart failure and heart attacks.
Home remedies for snoring: How to stop snoring naturally
There are several ways to address snoring, depending on what’s causing it. Some at-home remedies include:
Work toward a healthy weight
“Extra weight is one of the primary causes of snoring in both children and adults,” Dr. Reisman says. During sleep, fatty tissue in the neck can press on the throat, blocking the airways when the throat muscles relax. Losing weight can literally take the pressure off.
In people with chronic nasal congestion, medications like antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays can help you breathe easy — and turn down the dial on the nighttime noise.
Change your position
Try propping up the head of your bed. And snoozing on your side instead of your back may also cause less snoring. (Weird but true: Some people swear by sewing a tennis ball to the back of their shirt to keep them from rolling onto their back at night.)
Open your nose
Opening your nasal passages at night can help cut down on snoring. Adhesive nasal strips placed on the bridge of the nose lift your nostrils open to improve airflow. Another option is nasal dilators, which you insert into the nostrils to expand the nasal opening. Both strips and dilators are inexpensive and easy to find at the drugstore.
Doctor-approved ways to stop snoring
If tennis balls and nasal strips don’t do the trick — or if you have symptoms of sleep apnea — talk to your doctor about these proven remedies that address both snoring and apnea:
Embrace the CPAP
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is considered the gold standard treatment for sleep apnea and snoring. You wear a mask over your nose or mouth that blows air into your airways while you sleep. The pressurized air keeps your airways open while you doze.
In the past, the devices were bulky and uncomfortable and had a less-than-stellar reputation. But they’ve come a long way, Dr. Reisman says. “Today’s machines are streamlined, small and quiet, with different attachments to make them comfortable,” he says. “It can take a little time to get used to it, but it solves the snoring and sleep apnea problem immediately.”
Get fitted for an oral appliance
If a CPAP doesn’t agree with you, an oral appliance can bring you snoring relief. These mouthguard-style devices hold the lower jaw forward while you sleep — a posture that helps the airway stay open.
Though some over-the-counter varieties are available, Dr. Reisman recommends going to a dentist or oral surgeon for an appliance customized for your mouth. “A badly fitting appliance can strain the jaw and trade one problem for another,” he says.
Depending on the cause of your snoring, surgery can help. Procedures include:
- Deviated septum repair: The septum is the bone and cartilage between the nostrils. Sometimes, it’s crooked. “When this happens, it can block airflow on one side of the nose,” Dr. Reisman says. “Correcting the deviated septum with surgery can improve snoring.”
- Turbinate reduction: “Inside your nose are structures called turbinates, which warm, clean and humidify the air you breathe,” Dr. Reisman says. They also can become enlarged. Surgery to reduce the turbinates can improve airflow and cut down on snores.
- Tonsil and adenoid removal: Tonsils and adenoids are bulky tissue in the back of the throat and nose which can cause airway obstruction and lead to snoring — especially in children. Removing them can help.
- Uvula/palate surgery: A large uvula — the soft tissue that dangles from the edge of the soft palate — can lead to snoring. “Surgery to remove the uvula and/or a portion of the soft palate can improve snoring and apnea,” Dr. Reisman explains.
- Implantable nerve stimulator: This treatment involves surgery to place an implant alongside nerves in the throat. Surgeons implant a pacemaker-like device into the chest. The device monitors your breathing and stimulates the throat muscles to open the airways, preventing apnea.
When it’s time for snoring treatment
It’s easy to ignore snoring — after all, it happens when you’re asleep. But if your significant other has banished you to the guest room, it’s probably time to weigh your options.
To get to the bottom of your nighttime noisemaking, talk to your doctor. They can look for underlying causes like chronic congestion or nasal obstruction. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study. You spend the night in a sleep lab so doctors can monitor you while you slumber.
“It’s important to get a comprehensive workup to find out what’s causing your snoring,” Dr. Reisman says. “If you have apnea, make sure to get the treatment you need to take care of your long-term health.”