Nearly half of the adult population in the United States snores from time to time. And for those people, snoring is little more than an annoyance — for them and for their sleep partners. But for about 22 million Americans, snoring is a sign of a more serious problem called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
OSA increases your risks for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other major health problems. At ENT Specialists, our team uses special techniques to evaluate snoring and diagnose OSA so patients can get the help they need to stay healthy. Here’s how to tell when snoring is more than just a nuisance.
Why we snore
Snoring happens when the tissues at the back of the throat relax during sleep. As we breathe, air rushes past the relaxed tissues, causing them to vibrate. It’s this vibration that causes snoring noises.
Snoring tends to be more common among people who:
- Are overweight or obese
- Have a large neck
- Have a narrow airway
- Drink a lot of alcohol
- Take sleeping pills or antihistamines
- Have allergies
Most people snore occasionally, and in those instances, your snoring may be little more than a nuisance to you — and to your sleep partner. Sometimes, though, snoring is a sign of a serious underlying medical condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
In OSA, the tissues at the back of your throat relax so much, they wind up blocking your airway, preventing you from breathing normally. People with OSA can have their breathing interrupted hundreds of times a night — and often, those interruptions are so brief, you might not even know they’re happening. OSA isn’t just annoying — it significantly increases the risks of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other serious medical problems.
When snoring is serious
So if not all snoring is bad, how can you determine if your snoring is due to sleep apnea or something more benign, like an allergy? The answer: Sleep apnea tends to leave clues — sometimes subtle ones — that can help you tell the difference.
Snoring that gets louder
Steady snoring is more commonly associated with allergies, a deviated septum, or even a cold. But if snoring starts low and gets louder and louder, that’s more likely to be caused by OSA — especially if it’s followed by the next clue, breathing irregularities.
In addition to frequent breathing interruptions during sleep, OSA also causes people to stop breathing for longer periods — up to 30 seconds or more per episode. As a result, many people with OSA will gasp for breath, sometimes multiple times a night. Periods of not breathing followed by gasping or snoring is a pretty clear indication that you have OSA.
Some people with OSA tend to wake up when they stop breathing. If you find yourself waking frequently during the night and you don’t know why, OSA might be to blame. The problem is, OSA symptoms may not be severe enough to cause you to fully wake up. And you might not have a sleep partner to keep track of breathing irregularities. In that case, you’ll need to look for daytime clues.
Since OSA interferes with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, it causes plenty of daytime symptoms, like daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability. You might find it hard to focus or concentrate at work or school. Morning headaches, dry mouth, and a sore throat when you wake up are other common clues to pay attention to.
OSA: Prompt treatment is critical
At our practices in Salt Lake City, Murray, Draper, Tooele, and West Jordan, Utah, our team uses snoring and sleep evaluations to monitor your sleep patterns and diagnose OSA. Once a diagnosis has been made, our physicians will tailor a treatment plan based on your medical history, your risk profile, and other factors to relieve your symptoms and improve your overall wellness.
If you think you might have sleep apnea, getting prompt treatment is very important for your health. Call our office or book an appointment online and learn how we can help.