Diagnosis of Snoring

To diagnose snoring problems, doctors take a complete medical history. They ask questions about sleeping and snoring patterns, daytime drowsiness, and sleep hygiene. They often ask bed partners and family members questions about the snorer. Sometimes patients are asked to complete the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, in which the patient rates how likely he or she will fall asleep during certain activities, such as reading, watching television, or sitting in a car.

Snoring diagnosis also involves conducting a complete physical examination. Doctors examine the mouth, nose, and throat to see if any tissues are narrowing the airways and measure body weight, body mass index (BMI), and neck circumference. Blood tests may be performed to determine if the thyroid is functioning properly.

An ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT; otolaryngologist) can perform a more detailed physical exam with a fiberoptic device. This exam can detect if the nasal passages are blocked (such as with a deviated septum) or if there are any tumors obstructing the airway.

In some cases, a sleep study is required. An unattended sleep study (also called a home study) can provide some basic information about a person's sleep, breathing, movement, snoring, and blood oxygen levels during the night.

Polysomnography (also called a full sleep study) involves staying overnight at a sleep clinic or sleep lab. In this test, doctors use video cameras to learn more about sleep patterns, bodily functions during sleep, and any problems that occur. They also can monitor episodes of sleep apnea and determine how long and how often the patient tends to stop breathing.

Other types of tests can be performed at a sleep clinic include the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT), which measures sleepiness during the day. This test involves the patient taking a 20 minute nap every 2 hours. Doctors measure how long it takes for the person to fall asleep and use that data to determine the degree of daytime sleepiness. An excessively sleepy person usually falls asleep in fewer than 5 minutes.

The Maintenance of Wakefulness Test also evaluates daytime sleepiness, but instead of napping, the patient stays awake for as long as possible in 40-minute sessions spaced 2 hours apart. Doctors measure how long the patient can stay awake to determine the degree of daytime sleepiness.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 15 Sep 2009

Last Modified: 27 Sep 2010