Snoring is a sound generated during sleep by vibration of loose tissue in the upper airway. Snoring is one symptom of a group of disorders known as sleep-disordered breathing. It occurs when the soft palate, uvula, tongue, tonsils, and/or muscles in the back of the throat rub against each other and generate a vibrating sound during sleep.

Twenty percent of all adults are chronic snorers, and 45% of normal adults snore occasionally. As people grow older, their chance of snoring increases. Approximately half of all individuals over 60 snore regularly.

In some cases, snoring is a symptom of a more serious disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA occurs when part of the airway is closed off (usually at the back of the throat) while a person is trying to inhale during sleep, and breathing stops for more than 10 seconds before resuming again. These breathless episodes can occur as many as several hundred times a night.

People with OSA almost always snore heavily because the same narrowing of the airway that causes snoring can also cause OSA. Snoring may actually contribute to OSA as well, because the vibration of the throat tissues that occurs in snoring can cause the tissue to swell.

Snoring is associated with physical problems as well as social stress. People who do not suffer from OSA may be diagnosed with socially unacceptable snoring (SUS), which refers to snoring that is loud enough to prevent the sleeper's bed partner or roommate from sleeping. SUS is a factor in the breakup of some marriages and other long-term relationships. Moreover, a study published in 2002 indicates that people who snore are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Snoring appears to be a risk factor that is independent of body weight or a family history of diabetes.

Causes & symptoms

There are several major causes of snoring, including:
  • Excessively relaxed throat muscles. Alcohol, drugs, and sedatives can cause the throat muscles to become lax, and/or the tongue to pull back into the airway.
  • Large uvula. The piece of tissue that hangs from the back of the throat is called the uvula. Individuals with a large or longer than average uvula can suffer from snoring when the uvula vibrates in the airway.
  • Large tonsils and/or adenoids. The tonsils (tissue at the back of either side of the throat) can also vibrate if they are larger than normal, as can the adenoids.
  • Excessive weight. Overweight people are more likely to snore. Their snoring is frequently caused by the extra throat and neck tissue they are carrying around.
  • Nasal congestion. Colds and allergies can plug the nose, creating a vacuum in the throat that results in snoring as airflow increases.
  • Cysts and tumors. Cysts and/or tumors of the throat can trigger snoring.
  • Structural problems of the nose. A deviated septum or other nasal problems can also cause snoring.


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