My husband, in his 40s, recently began snoring every night. Is there anything we can do? Can a doctor help?

Ajay Pillai, MD, Director of Sleep Disorders Center, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital & Mercy Suburban Hospital

Snoring is very common, particularly in males. Habitual snoring is present in 44 percent of males and 28 percent of females between the ages of 30 and 60. Occasional snoring is almost universal.

Snoring is a sound produced by vibration of the soft tissue in the throat during sleep. It suggests some narrowing of the upper airway.

It may be associated with obesity, nasal/sinus congestion, facial abnormalities, an underactive thyroid, and enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Snoring may be also be associated with alcohol ingestion.

There is some debate about whether snoring by itself can lead to hypertension or heart disease. There is evidence that snoring may be related to a thickening of the carotid arteries in the neck ­ this may predispose to strokes.

Almost all patients with sleep apnea snore, though not everyone that snores has sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing may slow down or stop for short intervals during sleep. This can lead to hypertension and an increased risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Snoring by itself, and especially when associated with sleep apnea, may disturb sleep enough to leave one feeling tired and sleepy during the day. Snoring is also often a cause of sleep disturbance for the bed partner.

If your husband snores loudly, appears to have pauses in his breathing during sleep, or wakes up feeling non-refreshed or feels sleepy or tired during the day, he should be evaluated for possible sleep apnea.

If he has sleep apnea, therapy with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine would help. If he suffers from allergies or has an upper respiratory tract infection, treatment of this may alleviate the problem. Exercise may help. Weight loss should be considered if appropriate. He should avoid smoking and minimize alcohol ingestion. Oral appliances, a device worn in the mouth, or surgery may be appropriate for some individuals to improve any narrowing of the upper airway.