Snoring is more than just an annoying habit that inconveniences sleeping partners. It can also be the sign of something worse. Here are some important facts you need to know about snoring and its connection to sleep apnea.
Loud snoring, accompanied by daytime fatigue, may be a sign of a common disorder known as sleep apnea. This condition causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. It can affect the mood, leave a person exhausted during the day, challenge relationships with bed partners, and even be dangerous to one’s health. It can also lead to poor concentration and an increased risk of accidents, as well as irritability and even depression. Physical health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, liver problems and weight gain are other possible results.
Different types of apnea
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea, which happens when the airway is blocked and causes pauses in breathing and subsequently loud snoring. Central sleep apnea is a less common kind of sleep apnea that involves the central nervous system. It occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles that control breathing. People with central sleep apnea seldom snore. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
Most of the prominent symptoms of sleep apnea happen when you’re sleeping, so you need to have your sleeping partner track your sleeping habits or record yourself during sleep. Major signs of sleep apnea are pauses during snoring, followed by choking or gasping.
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Other symptoms include:
- Loud and chronic snoring almost every night
- Choking, snorting or gasping during sleep
- Pauses in breathing
- Waking up at night feeling short of breath
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue, regardless of the time you spend in bed
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Insomnia or waking up in the middle of the night, as well as restless or fitful sleep
- Going to the bathroom frequently during the night
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Uncharacteristic moodiness, irritability or depression
- Morning headaches
- Erectile dysfunction
The difference between sleep apnea and simple snoring
The most obvious way to tell the difference between sleep apnea and simple snoring is how you feel during the day. Normal snoring doesn’t interfere with the quality of your sleep as much as sleep apnea does, so you’re less likely to experience extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day. Sleep apnea can be a serious disorder, so you should contact a doctor immediately if you or your partner notices the symptoms. Your doctor’s diagnosis of sleep apnea may require seeing a sleep specialist and tests that can be done at home or in a clinic.
The following conditions may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea:
- Being overweight
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Age: people over the age of 50 are at greater risk
- High blood pressure
- Race/ethnicity: African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are at greater risk
- A neck circumference of more than 15.75 inches
- Allergies or conditions that cause nasal congestion or blockage
Central sleep apnea is more common in males and people over the age of 65. It is often associated with serious illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, neurological disease, or spinal or brain stem injury.
Sleep apnea is a treatable condition. Mild to moderate sleep apnea can be helped by lifestyle changes and home remedies. Losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, sleeping pills and sedatives, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine and heavy meals, and keeping regular sleeping hours are ways to battle sleep apnea.
If your sleep apnea is moderate to severe, a specialist in sleep disorders may help you with an effective treatment. Treatments for central and complex sleep apnea include treating the underlying medical conditions such as a heart or neuromuscular disorder, and using supplemental oxygen and breathing devices while you sleep. Treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses mild air pressure to keep your breathing airways open. Other options include dental devices, implants and surgery.
by Ramin Zahed
If you think you are experiencing obstructive sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, contact the experts at the USC Sleep Medicine Program of the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Request an appointment online, or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).