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Is It Sleep Apnea or Is It Snoring?

Woman with snoring issues

Snoring Issues or Sleep Apnea?

If you have snoring issues at night, you’re not alone. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association some 90 million Americans have the same problem. Nearly everyone snores now and then, but for some people it can be a chronic problem. Sometimes it may also indicate a serious health condition. In addition, snoring can be a nuisance to your partner. Snoring issues are typically caused by a narrowing of your upper airway. Tissues in the back of your throat sometimes relax in your sleep and drop down, partially blocking the passageway. Air from your breathing rattles the tissue, creating that distinctive noise as it flows past.

While some of these people are “simple snorers” or primary snorers, many have a serious sleep disorder referred to as sleep apnea.

The main types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea ( OSA), the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
  • Central sleep apnea,which occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome,also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, which occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

Knowing the difference between snoring and sleep apnea is key in determining proper treatment.

The Facts

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. This condition can cause someone to stop breathing for 10 seconds, a minute or longer. Some of the signs of OSA are loud and frequent snoring, choking, snorting or gasping during sleep, waking up feeling short of breath, awakening with a dry mouth, morning headache, irritability, difficulty staying asleep (insomnia), and excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia). You may also experience frequent urination, irritability and impotence.

Both snoring and OSA may be caused by or worsened by several factors. These factors include obesity, large tongue and tonsils, being male, smoking, or being over 50 years old. People who are Black, Hispanic or Pacific Islander are at higher risk, as well as head and neck shape for sleep apnea. Other factors include use of tranquilizers or sedatives, drinking alcohol.

See A Physician

If you or your partner is exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above it is time to see your doctor to determine if you need a sleep study. This is the first important step to get tested prior to beginning any treatment. It is crucial to your health to avoid inaccurate self-diagnosis, inadequate treatment, and/or premature dismissal of the problem. Your primary care physician will be able to refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation.

Health Risks

The health risks involved with sleep apnea are quite serious. Since OSA pulls you out of a deep sleep, the quality of your sleep decreases.  OSA can also trigger the release of stress hormones, change how your body uses energy, and make you feel tired and sleepy during the day. In addition, there are other potential negative health effects of inadequate sleep, such as:

  • weight gain
  • memory loss
  • decreased physical coordination
  • premature skin aging
  • high blood pressure
  • heart fibrillation and heart attack
  • metabolic syndrome
  • type 2 diabetes
  • liver problems
  • certain cancers
  • sudden death

Not only is your health at risk, but I could be negatively affecting the health of your relationship. OSA sufferers may be sleeping but their partner is probably not. Lack of sleep and being awoken by a partner gasping or air and snoring loudly can cause friction in a relationship. Not to mention the exhaustion on both sides can lead to decreased physical intimacy and feelings of resentment.

Treatment Options

In some cases, self-care and lifestyle changes are a way for you to minimize or even eliminate the impact of obstructive sleep apnea. Try these tips:

  • Losing excess weight. Losing even a few pounds can make a world of difference when it comes to easing the constriction in your throat. In some cases, sleep apnea will resolve completely if you return to a healthy weight, but it can also return if the weight comes back.
  • Regular exercise. Exercise also helps reduce symptoms even without any resulting weight loss. A mere 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, three or four days a week can make a noticeable difference.
  • Change your sleeping position. Sleep on your side or abdomen rather than on your back. Sleeping on your back may cause your tongue and soft palate to rest against the back of your throat and block your airway. If you have a hard time staying off your back throughout the night then try attaching a tennis ball to the back of your pajamas, between your shoulders. You can also invest in a commercial device designed to vibrate when you roll onto your back in sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and certain medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills. These things all relax the muscles in the back of your throat, interfering with breathing.
  • Quit smoking. See your doctor is you are addicted to nicotine.

Other Treatment Options for Snoring Issues and Sleep Apnea

There are other treatment options for mild to moderate OSA. Oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and sleep apnea. Custom-made oral appliances are becoming an increasingly popular means of treatment. Two common oral devices are the mandibular advancement device and the tongue retaining device. These devices open your airway by bringing your lower jaw or your tongue forward during sleep which can sometimes relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea.  The appliance is worn only during sleep. It fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. They’re quieter, portable, and tend to be more comfortable. A custom-fit oral sleep appliance can improve your sleep and restore your alertness. Research shows that oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.

Since there are so many different devices available, it may take some experimentation to find the appliance that works best for you. It’s also very important to get fitted by a dentist specializing in sleep apnea, and to see the dentist on a regular basis to monitor any problems and periodically adjust the mouthpiece.

Don’t let OSA take over your life and leave you feeling exhausted. Treating sleep apnea promotes a healthier heart, body, and mind.

Contact Mark Levy DDS at  (614) 777-7350 to see if this treatment option is right for you and can fix your snoring issues.