Light snoring isn’t worrisome from an overall health perspective. It may annoy your partner, but it won’t have a serious impact on your overall health.
However, snoring can be a symptom of something more serious, especially if you find yourself snoring chronically, night after night. Further, if you can’t stop snoring no matter the sleep position, it’s time to look deeper. If you’re exhausted during the day despite getting enough sleep, your snoring can indicate a condition called obstructive sleep apnea.
All sleep apnea sufferers snore, but not all snorers suffer from sleep apnea. So, what are the hallmarks of this serious sleep disorder?
What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which people stop breathing temporarily while sleeping. This results from a blocked airway, which prevents air from getting through. The resulting lack of oxygen causes you to wake up to restart normal breathing.
Sleep apnea sufferers often don’t realize they’re waking up throughout their sleep —often 20 times or more per hour. Instead, the evidence is shown through fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and loud, regular snoring that can sound like choking or gasping for breath. If you suspect you may have obstructive sleep apnea, further evaluation and medical intervention is needed.
A Mayo Clinic study found that people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are at almost twice the risk of dying from a sudden cardiac event. The most common predictors of sudden cardiac death in sleep apnea patients are “an age of 60 or older, 20 or more apnea episodes per hour of sleep, and an oxygen saturation below 78 percent during sleep,” the study reported.
Around 12 million American adults have obstructive sleep apnea. Sadly, a large percentage are undiagnosed and untreated, and at greater risk for sudden cardiac death. Could you or someone you love be one of them?
Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
How can you tell if the noises you’re making at night are just regular, run-of-the-mill snoring or something much more serious? According to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms are common in sleep apnea sufferers:
- Daytime fatigue and excessive sleepiness
- A partner confirming that your breathing pauses during your sleep (this can sound like you’re choking or gasping for breath)
- Problems concentrating
- Morning headaches and/or a sore throat
- High blood pressure
- Chronic snoring — often so loud that it disrupts your partner’s sleep
If you’re experiencing several of these symptoms, your doctor may recommend a sleep study either at home or in a medical center setting. At PrimeHealth, we work with top experts that can help you assess if our snoring is a cause for concern. During a sleep study, sensors measure blood oxygen levels, brain waves, heart rate, breathing rate, sleep stages, and leg and eye movements. This helps to determine whether you’re getting restful sleep or if you require medical intervention.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
If a sleep study determines that you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, treatment focuses on opening your airway. Regular breathing during sleep enables the body to get adequate oxygen, resulting in deep, restful sleep and feeling refreshed and energized during the day. There are several strategies for opening the airway. Depending on the severity of your obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend one of the following:
- Dental appliances. A dentist can make a personalized mouthpiece to move your jaw forward during sleep to keep your jaw, tongue and soft palate from relaxing into the airway. This will help to keep your air passage open so that you can breathe normally all night. Some users report jaw pain, excess salivation and dry mouth as side effects of wearing these devices. However, the trade-off is often worth it, as they once again enjoy restful sleep and can focus and concentrate during the day without feeling excessive fatigue any longer.
- CPAP machine. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is an effective, reliable method for treating obstructive sleep apnea. Users sleep wearing a mask over their nose or over their nose and mouth. The machine provides a direct pressurized air stream that keeps the airway open during sleep. Advances in CPAP technology have made these machines much smaller and easy to travel with. CPAP users sometimes report discomfort with the mask and may need a few days to a week to adjust to sleeping in the mask. The machine emits a constant, white noise that can help cover ambient noises and encourage sleep, though it also may take some getting used to. Once again, most users feel that the trade-off of enjoying a restful night’s sleep is well worth it. We’ve even met patients who tell us they won’t even take a nap without using their CPAP machine!
- Surgery on the Upper Airway. By opening the upper airway, a surgical procedure can help expand the airway, reduce snoring and resolve obstructive sleep apnea. The two main surgical techniques include:
- Trimming and tightening excess tissues from the throat,
- Moving the upper and lower jaws forward to open the airway
Tissue ablation can also shrink soft palate, tongue and nasal tissues, which can enlarge and improve the airway. As with any surgery, it’s difficult to predict the amount of improvement on a case-by-case basis, as different patients may experience a range of different results.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous medical condition, but with proper treatment and use of a device or machine to open the airway at night, sufferers can resume their normal lifestyle and enjoy restful, rejuvenating sleep once again.