Snoring is more than annoying loud breathing. It can be a sign of a more serious health condition.

It’s estimated that nearly half of all adults snore at some point during the night. You may have been told that you snore or maybe you live with someone who snores. Some snoring is just heavy, loud breathing, while other snoring sounds like a train coming down the hall. Snoring not only prevents family members from getting a good night’s rest, but it interferes with your quality of sleep as well. Depending on the severity of snoring, it may even signal an underlying health problem.

Keep reading to learn the dangers of snoring and what can be done about it.

Air Flow Obstruction

So why do you snore? Normal, quiet breathing means air is flowing in and out of your nose and mouth unobstructed. When you snore, airflow is partially blocked. For some people, this only happens when they have a cold or allergies. Others have large tonsils, a long uvula or soft palate, or weak throat and tongue muscles that relax during sleep and block airflow. Any of these can cause regular snoring.

Because a narrower airway restricts breathing, snoring is more common in overweight people with excessive fatty tissue around the throat. When airflow is restricted, snoring becomes louder and louder.

More than a Nuisance

Three out of four people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With this condition, breathing ceases for short periods during sleep. This serious health problem puts you at an increased risk for heart disease. Not everyone who snores has OSA, but make an appointment to see your doctor if you snore and have any the typical symptoms of OSA.

Signs of OSA include pauses of breathing while sleeping, waking in the night gasping or choking, a headache or sore throat when you wake in the morning, sleepiness during the day, irritability, trouble concentrating, fitful sleep, chest pain, or high blood pressure. Children with OSA may have behavioral issues or problems focusing during school.

To diagnose OSA, your doctor may order imaging tests to scan for structural abnormalities in your nose and throat or have you undergo a sleep study.

Find the Right Treatment

You and your family can sleep in peace and quiet again with the right treatment. Mild or occasional snoring that’s not caused by sleep apnea can often be treated with lifestyle changes and home remedies. A good first step is to lose weight. This will reduce the amount of fat around your throat and subsequently reduce your snoring. It’s also a good idea to not drink alcohol before bed and to stop smoking. For better protection against snoring, plan to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night (teens and kids need even more). If you deal with chronic nasal congestion due to allergies or frequent colds, medications to treat congestion and a hot shower before bed can help limit your snoring.

If the problem is in your nose, nasal strips or nasal dilators can help open up airways to improve breathing. And while you may prefer sleeping on your back, you’re more likely to snore and snore loudly in that position. While on your back, your tongue relaxes back in your throat and obstructs airflow. Sleep on your side and you may find you snore less.

When home remedies aren’t enough, the most common, effective treatment for snoring and sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. With a CPAP, a continuous flow of air helps keep your throat open and reduces apnea and snoring symptoms. In rare cases, some people may need surgery to open narrow airways.

Wash Up

Allergies can contribute to snoring. If your congestion is worse at night, you may be suffering from an allergy to dust mites found in your bedding, mattress, or pillow. Cover your mattress and pillow in dust mite-proof encasements and regularly wash your bedding in hot water.

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