Though it is the subject of countless jokes, snoring is not always a laughing matter. At best, it’s a nuisance – especially for the sleep partner. At worst it’s a sign of underlying, more serious problems like obstructive sleep apnea.

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Not all people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition describing the throat closing and obstructing breathing during sleep. However, most sleep apnea sufferers also snore, so the ear, nose and throat doctors at Mass. Eye and Ear will work to identify or rule out sleep apnea and other underlying problems when snoring is present.

When we lie down and sleep, the muscles in and around the throat relax. Snoring is caused when some of those relaxed tissues flutter during breathing, not unlike a flag in the wind. Snoring is common, affecting up to 40 percent of men and 20 percent of women.


Once sleep apnea has been ruled out, Mass. Eye and Ear’s ear, sleep and snoring experts can recommend a variety of strategies to reduce the severity of snoring:

  • Losing weight – extra weight carried around the neck and throat can contribute to snoring
  • Avoiding smoking – smoking irritates and dries the upper airway, potentially aggravating an existing snoring problem
  • Sleep position – some people are less likely to snore when sleeping on the side
  • Alcohol moderation – drinking in the evening can contribute to snoring and even to sleep apnea

Self-treatment can lead to bigger problems

Drugstores sell a variety of over-the-counter snoring remedies, but doctors caution against their use.

  • OTC agents have not been thoroughly studied
  • Some nasal sprays will lubricate the upper airway providing temporary relief from snoring – but this is a problem if the snoring is linked to sleep apnea
  • Nasal strips can help with comfort, but the source of snoring is farther back, deeper in the throat so they are unlikely to help with snoring

The biggest concern with self-treatment is that OTC agents could mask bigger problems. Snoring is best evaluated by medical experts, to rule out sleep apnea or other more serious airway problems.

Once sleep apnea is ruled out, your doctor can recommend a safe course of action for snoring.