Could loud snoring indicate a medical problem?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My 76-year-old father snores so loudly he wakes himself and the rest of us up almost every night. Besides the noise issues, how can I tell if this is a medical problem?

Expert Answer

An adjunct professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Moira Fordyce is on the board of the American Society on Aging.

Loud snoring can be a sign of a medical disorder or something more benign. It can be caused by any of the following:

  • Swelling, inflammation, or collapsing of tissues in the nose, mouth, or throat, which can obstruct breathing
  • Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Consuming too much alcohol before bedtime
  • Being overweight
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Prescription or over-the-counter medications

Listen carefully, and if your father stops breathing from time to time when he's sleeping as well as snoring, this could be due to a condition called sleep apnea (a Greek word that means "without breath"), which is more common in elders. When breathing stops, the amount of oxygen getting to vital organs such as the heart and the brain is reduced. Also, spikes of high blood pressure can occur, which increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Taking a sedative (sleeping pill), tranquilizer, or more than one moderate-sized drink of alcohol in the evening makes sleep apnea worse and should be avoided.

Your best bet is to get a medical evaluation for your father to look for treatable disease. His doctor might then refer him to a sleep lab for evaluation to see if he has a sleep disorder. He might wear a home sleep monitor for a few nights to help arrive at a diagnosis. If he's found to have a sleep disorder in addition to any of the other reasons for snoring listed above, there's treatment available for him.