Anyone who’s ever caught an elbow to the rib cage from a sleep deprived partner knows how disruptive their snoring can be. But in some cases, it can be dangerous, too.
Nearly half the population snores, but for about 22 million Americans, that snoring is actually an audible sign of something more serious: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). OSA causes you to temporarily stop breathing and can severely impact your overall health.
The scariest part? It’s undiagnosed in about 80% of cases.
So what is the difference between snoring and sleep apnea? And how do you know if you’re at risk of OSA? Use this primer to decide whether your snoring might be caused by sleep apnea and when to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
What is sleep apnea? OSA vs snoring
According to one pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist at the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center, “Sleep apnea happens when upper airway muscles relax during sleep and pinch off the airway, which prevents you from getting enough air. Your breathing may pause for 10 seconds or more at a time, until your reflexes kick in and you start breathing again.”
Snoring, on the other hand, is simply the noise your body makes when the soft tissues in the back of your throat vibrate. It can be a nightly occurrence, or come in tandem with a cold, allergies, or even a night of heavy drinking.
Old age, weight gain, or a deviated septum, as well as the use of some medications, can often cause snoring.
Is snoring a sign of sleep apnea?
Snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea if:
- You are obese
- Your tonsils or tongue are enlarged
- You’ve had a stroke
- You’re experiencing kidney failure
- You have hypothyroidism
- You were born with a cleft palate
Snoring and sleep apnea are also distinct in terms of how they look and sound. When you have OSA, you might experience:
- Gasping or choking in the night
- Pauses in your breathing for 10 or more seconds
- Really shallow breathing as you sleep
- Restlessness while sleeping
- Extreme fatigue the morning after sleeping for 7 or more hours
Sleep apnea is also more common in overweight men, and women who have experienced menopause. It is also a higher risk factor for people living in more populated areas with substantial air pollution or wildfire activity such as Los Angeles.
How OSA can negatively impact your health
Not sleeping well and being tired during the day are tough, but the real health impacts of untreated OSA are far more dangerous. For starters, obstructive sleep apnea decreases the amount of oxygen you have in your blood, a must for all your internal organs to function properly. Without intervention, OSA can lead to serious and sometimes irreversible health conditions, including:
- High blood pressure,
- Heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Cognitive and behavioral disorders, including dementia
Treating sleep apnea
Finding a snoring solution that fits your lifestyle is step number one. A qualified ENT specialist like LA-based Dr. Kayem can walk you through your options, so you can improve your health and let your bed partner rest easier.
Some effective, CPAP-alternative treatments for OSA include:
- Radio frequency (RF) treatments, which can be performed in-office. They’re minimally invasive and use low power, temperature-controlled radiofrequency energy that can stop snoring by:
- Stiffening the soft palate tissues that vibrate in your mouth, neck, and throat.
- Shrinking the turbinate tissues that may be blocking your nasal passages.
- Removing excess and unnecessary tongue tissue can cause airway obstructions.
- Elevoplasty that gently lifts the soft palate, preventing airway obstruction. It’s an effective and minimally invasive snoring treatment that only takes about ten minutes to complete.
- Pillar Procedure works at clearing your airways, but is currently unavailable as the inserts used in the procedure are not currently being manufactured. Dental devices and some implants are good alternative OSA treatments.
- Healthy lifestyle changes that result in weight loss or smoking cessation.
LA Sinus and Snore has heard it all. Literally. See if this common queries sound familiar:
No. You can experience dangerous pauses in your breathing even if you don’t audibly snore.
While snoring is the most common symptom associated with OSA, some causes, like enlarged tongue or tonsils, may stifle the sound, but still obscure your airways.
Snoring is caused when the soft tissues in your mouth, neck, and throat vibrate as you breathe. It happens when you sleep because this is when they’re the most relaxed.