Why We Snore and What Can Be Done

Close-up of a woman covering ears while man snoring in bed at home

Snoring, a common issue affecting people of all ages, can range from a benign annoyance to a symptom of more serious health conditions. It occurs when air flows past relaxed tissues in your throat, causing the tissues to vibrate as you breathe, which results in the familiar snoring sound. Understanding the causes of snoring and how Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists (ENTs) can help is crucial for those looking to improve their sleep quality and overall health.

Snoring and Sleep

Snoring is the sound produced when air flow is partially obstructed in some way during sleep, causing the tissues in the throat to vibrate. This obstruction can occur anywhere from the nose to the vocal cords. Commonly, snoring happens when the soft palate, uvula, tongue, tonsils, and muscles in the back of the throat come into contact with each other, creating a vibrating sound as air passes through. Snoring can vary in loudness and is often more pronounced in certain positions, such as lying on the back.

Illustration showing airway during obstructive sleep apnea

Snoring affects sleep in several ways:

  • Sleep fragmentation (frequent wakings)
  • Reduced quality of sleep
  • Negative impact on partner’s sleep

Additionally, chronic snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition where the airway is repeatedly blocked during sleep, leading to breathing pauses. OSA is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other health issues. Addressing snoring is important not only for the quality of sleep but also for overall health.

Causes of Snoring

Several factors contribute to snoring, including:

  • Anatomy of the Mouth and Throat: A thick, low soft palate can narrow your airway. Similarly, if the uvula (the dangling tissue at the back of your mouth) is elongated, airflow can be obstructed and vibration increased.
  • Obesity: Weight gain around the neck can squeeze the internal diameter of the throat, making it more likely to collapse during sleep, causing snoring.
  • Nasal Problems: Chronic nasal congestion or a deviated septum (a misalignment of the wall between the nostrils) can contribute to your snoring.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol relaxes throat muscles and decreases your natural defense against airway obstruction.
  • Sleep Apnea: Snoring is often linked with obstructive sleep apnea, a serious condition where the throat tissues completely block the airway, causing breathing pauses during sleep.

What Can Be Done About Snoring:

ENT specialists are experts in diagnosing and treating snoring and its underlying causes. Treatment options vary depending on the diagnosis and may include:

Lifestyle Changes: 

For mild snoring without sleep apnea, weight loss, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, and sleeping on your side can be effective.

Nasal Treatments: 

If nasal problems are at the root of your snoring, nasal strips, allergy treatments, or surgery to correct a deviated septum may be recommended.

Oral Appliances: 

These devices, designed to keep your airway open by bringing your jaw or tongue forward, can be effective for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

Positive Airway Pressure Devices: 

For those with sleep apnea, using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine at night can keep the airway open, preventing snoring and breathing interruptions.

Surgical Options: 

Various procedures can increase the size of your airway. These may include removing tissues from the back of your mouth and the top of your throat, shrinking tissue in the soft palate, or implants to stiffen the soft palate.


Snoring is not just a nuisance but can be a marker of health issues needing attention. ENTs play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating snoring, offering a range of solutions tailored to the individual’s needs. If snoring is affecting your sleep or your partner’s, consulting with an ENT specialist can be the first step towards a quieter, more restful night. Remember, a good night’s sleep is essential for your health and well-being, and addressing snoring is a critical component of achieving that goal.

Lee A. Kleiman a doctor at Anne Arundel ENT

Dr. Lee A. Kleiman is a double board certified ENT & plastic surgeon at Anne Arundel ENT in Annapolis, Maryland known for his superior clinical outcomes in all Surgical and Non-Surgical ENT, specializing in Sinus Care, Voice and Swallowing, Rhinoplasty and Revision Rhinoplasty, and Facelifts and Non-surgical Aesthetic. He also continues to attend conferences internationally and nationally to keep abreast of the latest treatments and technology.