When Is Your Snoring A Cause For Concern? An ENT Doctor Weighs In

Between cold and flu season's congestion and allergy season's post nasal drip, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who has never had a night or two of raucous snoring. "As you breathe, you are drawing air in through the nose and mouth," Dr. John Cary Moorhead, an otolaryngologist at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, told Health Digest in an exclusive interview.

"If you snore, the space in the back of the nose and throat is too narrow, which causes the membranes to come in contact with each other, vibrating as the air moves across them and making the noise of snoring," he explains. While congestion associated with illness and allergies can incite occasional snoring, for some people, snoring is a chronic issue that persists night after night.

"Snoring by itself can create social problems by bothering bed-partners and keeping others awake," Dr. Moorhead explains. But beyond the social implications, chronic snoring can also point to a serious health condition that may require medical treatment.

Snoring may be a symptom of a sleep disorder

While your snoring may seem to bother your partner more than it does you, in some cases, snoring may be a symptom of a potentially dangerous sleep disorder. "Snoring is one of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea," says Dr. Moorhead, "a condition in which the space in the back of the throat not only vibrates, but intermittently obstructs, blocking air from getting to the lungs, decreasing oxygen to the brain and interfering with deep, restful sleep."

Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, so a diagnosis is required. "Sleep apnea is diagnosed by obtaining a sleep study, an overnight test designed to determine if there are pauses in breathing and drops in blood oxygen levels," Dr. Moorhead explains, adding, "A head and neck physical examination also helps to determine where in the airway the obstruction may be occurring."

Because sleep apnea and snoring often go hand-in-hand, Dr. Moorhead asserts, "Anybody with loud snoring should probably undergo an evaluation to see whether there is also a finding of obstructive sleep apnea." However, he points out that there are a few indicators of sleep apnea that should never be ignored. "Instances in which this is especially important include bed partner reports of witnessed pauses in breathing during the night, unexplained morning headaches, morning fatigue, lack of energy during the day, high blood pressure, or cardiac arrhythmias." If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to schedule an appointment for a sleep study immediately.

Risk factors for sleep apnea

When it comes to sleep apnea, seeking treatment in a timely manner is a matter of utmost importance. "Sleep apnea tends to get worse with advancing age, and with weight gain," Dr Moorhead explains. "The side effects of sleep apnea, including tiredness, high blood pressure, or cardiac problems, tend to get worse the longer they are ignored," he says.

If you struggle with obesity, the likelihood that your snoring is related to sleep apnea increases. "Obesity and weight gain are some of the leading risk factors for developing snoring and sleep apnea, as the increased bulk of tissue in the neck and throat lead to narrowing of the airway," Dr. Moorhead points out. He also says your genetics might play a role. "It is not uncommon for sleep apnea to run in families, due to similar nose and throat anatomy found in family members," he says. "Specific anatomic anomalies, such as enlarged tonsils and nasal obstruction, can also predispose someone to sleep apnea and snoring."