Tonsillitis, Snoring, and Sleep Apnea

Enlarged tonsils caused by tonsillitis can cause snoring and sleep apnea or worsen current sleep disorders worse. Tonsillitis is especially common in children who suffer from sleep apnea and is a common reason that tonsillectomies are performed in the United States. While more rare, enlarged tonsils may also cause sleep apnea or snoring in adults as well. It should be noted that while snoring can be associated with sleep apnea, not all people who snore have sleep apnea. Snoring occurs due to vibration of the soft tissues in the upper airway, enlarged tonsillar tissue can contribute to these noises.

Couple in bed, woman is wide awake and man is asleep and snoring
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Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing during their sleep. As the name implies this is usually caused by an obstruction of the airway (including swollen tonsils). Obstructive sleep apnea significantly diminishes the quality of your sleep; symptoms of OSA can range from mild to severe and if left untreated OSA can lead to serious health consequences. Common symptoms of OSA may include:

  • Snoring or noisy breathing during sleep
  • Pauses during breathing while sleeping (this is usually observed by a parent or spouse)
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS)
  • Children with OSA may develop hyperactivity, behavioral or social problems
  • Difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Morning headaches
  • Memory or learning problems
  • Irritability, depression, mood swings
  • Mouth breathing which may lead to dry mouth or sore throat upon waking

Removing the Tonsils to Treat Sleep Apnea

Has your healthcare provider recommended a tonsillectomy or are you considering whether or not this would help stop your child's snoring? Approximately 79% of children who have a tonsillectomy surgery for OSA experienced a resolution of their symptoms. Whereas if you wait, symptoms of sleep apnea will resolve on their own only about half the time. Having a discussion with your healthcare provider will help you know if waiting would be the better option for you since there are some risks with having a tonsillectomy.

Tonsillectomy is almost exclusively considered for children with OSA and not adults. If you are an adult with sleep apnea, your healthcare provider may elect to perform a tonsillectomy to improve symptoms. In those adults who have enlarged tonsils, this may be successful. However, adults usually require CPAP.

Other Causes of Sleep Apnea

You should know, that while tonsillectomy has been shown to cure sleep apnea in cases when enlarged tonsils are the cause, there are many other reasons you may experience sleep apnea. Other potential causes of OSA include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Nose or sinus problems including deviated septum, nasal polyps, excessive congestion, enlarged adenoids, or enlarged turbinates
  • Your natural anatomy, including the size of your tongue, and the opening of your windpipe, as well as the shape of your head and neck
  • Neurological problems
  • Getting older
  • Your throat muscles or your tongue tend to relax more during sleep than the average person

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get a sore throat from snoring?

    Yes, you can get a sore throat from snoring. Snoring, as well as a sore throat caused by snoring, are common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This condition causes momentary pauses in breathing while asleep. This can impact the quality of sleep, cause morning headaches, and even affect memory.

  • Can adenoid removal treat obstructive sleep apnea?

    If enlarged adenoids are the cause of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), removing the adenoids can potentially treat it. This process of removal is called adenoidectomy. Before surgery is considered, other methods of treatment are tried first, like using a nasal spray to control adenoid swelling or antibiotics in the case of infection.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Sleep Apnea

  2. Marcus CL, Moore RH, Rosen CL, et al. A randomized trial of adenotonsillectomy for childhood sleep apnea. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(25):2366–2376. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1215881

  3. Reckley LK, Fernandez-Salvador C, Camacho M. The effect of tonsillectomy on obstructive sleep apnea: an overview of systematic reviewsNat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:105–110. doi:10.2147/NSS.S127816

  4. MedlinePlus. Adenoids.

Additional Reading

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.