Snoring is sometimes more than just an annoyance; it can signal a far worse condition called sleep apnea. Not all people with sleep apnea snore, but it is a common symptom. This is because an individual who suffers from sleep apnea begins snoring due to a blockage of the airway. Approximately 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and it’s estimated that another 10 million have the disorder and have not been diagnosed. Left untreated, sleep apnea can give rise to a host of serious health problems, so it’s important to find out if your snoring is actually a more significant concern. Characteristics of sleep apnea include repeated pauses in breath during sleep, often dozens of times per night, even though most sufferers do not remember waking up. Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a variety of health problems including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure or stroke.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- Persistent loud snoring
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Poor concentration
- Dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Waking up to choke or gasp for air during sleep
- Grogginess in the morning
- Increased frequency of urination
Seriousness of sleep apnea
The reason sleep apnea is such a serious concern is because breathing can stop as often as 100 times per hour, and the pauses typically last for about 10 seconds or longer. This constant disruption of the sleep cycle is linked to a number of potential health concerns.
Sleep apnea may contribute to these problems:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Poor concentration or memory
- Weight gain
- Learning difficulties
- Depressed mood
- Drowsy driving and car accidents
- Higher risk of heart attack or stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sexual dysfunction
Causes of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is the result of muscles in the back of the throat relaxing during sleep. While asleep, these muscles vibrate when air passes through. The muscles include the soft palate tissue and tongue, which relax and collapse into the throat, resulting in a partially or completely obstructed airway. As you inhale and air is drawn through the narrowed airway, the soft tissues vibrate, which results in loud snoring. This results in pauses in breathing until the brain signals the sleeper to awaken in order to resume breathing.
Snoring may be the result of nasal congestion, allergy, alcohol consumption, or faulty anatomy such as flabby tissues in the throat or palate. In rare instances, a person may have central sleep apnea, which results from a problem with the brain signaling the breathing muscles.
Contributors to sleep apnea
Sleep apnea has a number of contributors which can worsen the disorder. They include obesity, poor muscle tone of the throat, smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
Sleep apnea can be the result of the following:
- Enlarged tongue or tonsils
- Obesity (fat can narrow the airway)
- The position of the teeth, which can determine the size or shape of the airway
- Large neck circumference
- Male gender
Sleep apnea and snoring treatments
Nonsurgical treatment for sleep apnea includes the use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) machine, which can be provided to you by a sleep medicine specialist. A CPAP is a device which can help you breathe more easily during sleep. The machine delivers air pressure to the throat in order to keep the airway from collapsing. A mask covering the nose and mouth delivers a steady stream of oxygen and eliminates breathing abnormalities as well as snoring.
Sleep apnea surgical treatment may include:
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which is a procedure that involves tissue removal from the throat, tonsils and adenoids and tightens flabby tissues to expand the air passages.
- Jaw correction, in which the upper and lower jaw is advanced forward to create more space behind the tongue and soft palate.
- Pillar which involves placing three small rods in the soft palate to help support that tissue and prevent the airway from collapsing as you sleep.
For patients with obstructive sleep apnea and obesity, bariatric surgery may be a good treatment option. You can read more about bariatric surgery and the link between sleep apnea and weight here.
You don't have to spend every night sleepless from the frustration of sleep apnea. Treatment is effective, and a range of options are available to you. To learn more about sleep apnea causes, symptoms, and treatment options, please contact West Medical at (855) 690-0565, and our helpful medical staff will answer any questions you have.
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