What causes snoring and sleep apnea and how can it be treated?

Symptom Database

Snoring and sleep apnea are common sleep disorders that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. While snoring may be seen as a nuisance, sleep apnea can be a more serious condition that requires medical attention. In this article, we will explore the causes of snoring and sleep apnea, as well as the available treatments and remedies.

What Causes Snoring?

Snoring occurs when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is partially blocked during sleep. This blockage can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Nasal congestion: When the nasal passages are congested due to allergies, colds, or sinus infections, snoring can occur.
  • Obesity: Excess weight can lead to the accumulation of fatty tissues in the throat, narrowing the airway and causing snoring.
  • Alcohol consumption: Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, increasing the likelihood of snoring.
  • Anatomical factors: Certain physical characteristics, such as a deviated septum or enlarged tonsils, can contribute to snoring.

While occasional snoring is usually harmless, chronic snoring can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to daytime fatigue and irritability. It can also strain relationships, as the noise can disturb the sleep of partners or roommates.

Snoring Remedies

If snoring is causing problems, there are several remedies that can help alleviate the issue. These include:

  • Sleeping on your side: Sleeping on your back can cause the tongue and soft tissues in the throat to collapse, leading to snoring. Sleeping on your side can help keep the airway open.
  • Weight loss: Losing excess weight can reduce the fatty tissues in the throat, reducing the likelihood of snoring.
  • Nasal strips: These adhesive strips can be placed on the nose to help open up the nasal passages and improve airflow.
  • Using a humidifier: Dry air can irritate the nasal passages and contribute to snoring. Using a humidifier can add moisture to the air, reducing congestion.

If these remedies do not provide relief, it may be necessary to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a more serious sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. These pauses can last for a few seconds to a few minutes and can occur multiple times throughout the night. The two main types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): This is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep. It is often associated with snoring.
  • Central sleep apnea: This type of sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

The causes of sleep apnea can vary, but some common factors include:

  • Obesity: Excess weight can contribute to the narrowing of the airway, increasing the risk of sleep apnea.
  • Age: Sleep apnea is more common in older adults.
  • Smoking: Smoking can cause inflammation and fluid retention in the airway, making it more likely for sleep apnea to occur.
  • Family history: Sleep apnea can run in families, suggesting a genetic component.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

Treating sleep apnea is crucial to prevent complications and improve overall health. Some common treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): This is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. It involves wearing a mask over the nose or mouth during sleep, which delivers a continuous flow of air to keep the airway open.
  • Oral appliances: These devices are designed to reposition the jaw and tongue to help keep the airway open during sleep.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess tissue or correct structural abnormalities in the airway.
  • Lifestyle changes: Making certain lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol before bed, can also help manage sleep apnea.

It is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan for sleep apnea.


Snoring and sleep apnea are common sleep disorders that can have a significant impact on a person’s well-being. While snoring can often be managed with lifestyle changes and remedies, sleep apnea may require more comprehensive treatment. By understanding the causes and available treatments for these conditions, individuals can take steps to improve their sleep quality and overall health.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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