If you or your partner snores, you’re well aware of how disruptive it can be to sleep. Snoring may also indicate an underlying medical issue that should be looked into.

Snoring is a general term that refers to any sound from the mouth or nose that people make during sleep. The sound most commonly is caused by a vibration of the soft palate, the back of the roof of the mouth. When a person is awake, the muscles around the soft palate are active and so don’t vibrate. When a person relaxes into sleep, however, the muscles relax and may vibrate as air flows past them. People who’s soft palates vibrate may have an airflow pattern that is less stable and even than a person who doesn’t snore.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the sleeping person actually has their air blocked for a short while. According to the American Sleep Association, about half of the people who regularly wake up their bed partner with snoring have obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be serious as it can result in fatigue caused by not getting restful, deep sleep. It also may point to high blood pressure and complications caused by obesity.

There are other underlying causes for snoring. For example, an enlarged uvula (punching bag-shaped structure at the back of the throat), and vibrations along the sides of the throat or epiglottis. As such, it’s important to get prolonged snoring checked out by your ear, nose, and throat doctor or primary care physician. They can help you determine the underlying cause of the snoring and setup a treatment plan.

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