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It's estimated that at least half of all adults snore on occasion, and up to one-fourth are regular snorers. As people reach older age, these percentages rise.

When someone snores, it means the air they inhaled is meeting resistance within the throat as it moves to the trachea. Sources of obstruction include the tongue and various tissues of the throat, which relax during sleep. These tissues can sag enough to narrow, or even block, the various passageways leading into and out of the throat and thus impede airflow.

Sleeping on the back increases the risk of this type of blockage. Other factors in snoring can include an oversized uvula, the loss of muscle tone associated with aging and the presence of mucus due to illness, allergy, certain medications or sinus infection.

Twice as many men as women snore. Unlike in women, who tend to gain weight below the waist, fat distribution in men favors the abdomen, upper torso and neck. The location of this excess weight can also play a role in snoring.

Snoring is an annoyance to the person listening and a potential health hazard to the person doing it. Prolonged snoring can lead to morning headache, a dry or scratchy throat, poor concentration and daytime sleepiness. Research has also linked snoring to elevated blood pressure.

Some people who snore may suffer from proactive sleep apnea. It's a potentially serious sleep disorder that involves repeated episodes during which airflow is completely blocked. Symptoms include very loud snoring, suddenly gasping for air during sleep and moments during which breathing is reduced or even stops altogether. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, cognitive and behavioral disorders, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Diagnosis begins with a physical exam and complete medical history. If sleep apnea is suspected, then a sleep study with either an at-home test or at a sleep lab may be ordered. Treatment can range from lifestyle changes such as losing weight and changing sleep positions and habits to the use of breathing devices to keep the airways open.

- Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko
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