Involuntary sounds could be your body's way of warning you that something's wrong. Here's how to interpret (and when to ignore) those creaks, pops, and whistles.
|Habitual Snoring at Night|
The noise is soft tissue of the mouth and throat vibrating as you breathe. Nasal sprays and strips help, but losing weight is better, says Stacey Ishman, M.D., M.PH., an otolaryngology professor at Johns Hopkins University.
SEE A DOCTOR IF you catch yourself gasping at night, wake up in a sweat, or feel sleepy during the day. You could have sleep apnea, which hinders airflow and raises your risk of diabetes and stroke. You may need a CPAP machine to open your airway at night. If you're fit and don't have apnea, options include pillar implants (an in-office procedure) or surgery to reshape your airway.
|Popping and Cracking Knees and Ankles|
These sounds are usually the result of one of three things: tendons snapping over joints, fluid shifts that pop gas bubbles, or joints moving slightly off track, says C. David Geier, M.D., director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.
SEE A DOCTOR IF you experience pain, swelling, or locking, or if your symptoms limit your activity in sports or exercise, says Dr. Geier. Knee pain could stem from a torn meniscus, and ankle pain could be arthritis or damaged tendons. Clicking is less common in younger guys, but if you've always had it, expect it to happen more frequently as you age.
|Growling, Gurgling, or Rumbling Stomach|
That's your gut wringing itself out. Between meals, your gastrointestinal tract goes through a series of intense, often noisy contractions every couple of hours to sweep out leftover debris, says William Chey, M.D., coeditor-in-chief of the American Journal of Gastroenterology. But growls don't signal snack time, says Dr. Chey: Unless you're hungry, hold off until dinner.
SEE A DOCTOR IF your turbulent gut is accompanied by pain and swelling, especially if you hear sloshing when you press on your belly. In rare cases, your bowels can contract too much or too little, or you could have an obstruction, which may require surgery.
|Clicking and Popping Jawbone|
If the noise is loud and sharp, your temporomandibular joint—the hinge and/or cartilage of your upper and lower jaw—may be out of alignment. But this is not necessarily a problem, says James Van Ess, M.D., D.D.S., an assistant professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Mayo Clinic.
SEE A DOCTOR IF your jaw locks or won't open or close all the way. And if you're a nighttime jaw clencher, look into a mouth guard or splint to limit further jaw stress, which could lead to joint deterioration and pain. Generally, if you're having problems, baby your jaw: Avoid gum and chewy foods like bagels, taffy, and (sorry) steak.
|Soft Whistle Coming Through Your Nose|
The cause is air moving through a too-narrow space in your nose, says Dr. Ishman. You're probably just stuffed up. Blowing your nose should help, but if it doesn't, just wait until the sniffles subside, or try nasal saline rinses or a nasal steroid spray.
SEE A DOCTOR IF the whistling starts immediately after an injury. A right hook to the face or a vigorous bout of nose picking can cause a perforated septum—a hole in the wall between nasal passages—possibly requiring surgery, says Dr. Ishman. The surgeon will use cartilage from another area, like your ear, to build a tiny patch.
|Buzzing, Humming, or Ringing of the Ears|
Soft ringing or buzzing that begins and ends quickly is known as tinnitus. But it's really in your head; your brain misinterprets spurious electrical signals as noise, says Samuel Selesnick, M.D., vice chairman of otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medical College. The trigger may be inner-ear damage, so use earplugs around loud noises.
SEE A DOCTOR IF your tinnitus is continuous and only in one ear. This could signal an infection or inner-ear disorder. Still, the majority of cases have no cause, so there is often no cure, Dr. Selesnick says. Your doctor may recommend counseling or strategies to help you live with the noise.