Your nightly snoring habit could point to a case of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
Affecting roughly 90 million adults, snoring is easily the most commonly cited sleep disorder. Some may experience snoring randomly, while others find that snoring is a nightly occurrence. Although intermittent snoring generally isn’t a concern, frequent snoring could be a sign of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
A nightly snoring habit not only disrupts your partner’s sleep, but it’s often responsible for lethargic mornings and daytime sleepiness, even if you got in a solid eight hours of rest. Understanding how your snoring relates to sleep apnea and how to get help will lead to more restful sleep, as well as improved health and well-being.
An Overview of Sleep Apnea and Common Symptoms
Sleep apnea is a general term used to describe sleep-related disorders that affect breathing during sleep.
There are three main types of sleep apnea conditions:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, characterized by relaxed throat muscles and tissue physically blocking airflow.
- Central Sleep Apnea is less common and is caused by the brain not sending the right signals for breathing during sleep.
- Complex Sleep Apnea is quite rare, being a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea affects over 18 million adults in the United States and is the primary cause of snoring. When the term “sleep apnea” is used by dentists and doctors, generally they are referring to obstructive sleep apnea.
Snoring is the #1 obstructive sleep apnea symptom.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles and soft tissues in and around the throat area collapse inward when inhaling. This physically blocks the airway, resulting in the sounds we recognize as snoring.
Others symptoms you may experience along with snoring include:
- Sleep deprivation with no apparent cause
- Brain fog and memory issues
- Lack of focus or inability to concentrate
- Daytime drowsiness
- Waking up feeling tired
Some individuals are more at risk for developing sleep apnea.
Anyone can have sleep apnea, regardless of age, gender, or health. However, as with most health disorders, there are factors that may put an individual at a higher risk.
Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include:
- A naturally small upper airway
- A large tongue or tonsils
- Being overweight or obese
- Bite alignment issues (i.e. overbite)
- A large neck (over 16”)
- Habitual smoking or alcohol use
OSA is also more common in adults over the age of 40 and may also be hereditary. Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women as well. Lastly, ethnicity can also be a factor. African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics seem more likely to develop a sleep apnea disorder.
How Untreated Sleep Apnea Affects Your Health
The potential consequences for ignoring symptoms of sleep apnea go beyond just dealing with snoring. OSA will affect your overall well-being, including increasing your chances of developing other health conditions.
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack or stroke
- Heart arrhythmia
It’s also important to consider the effects of restless sleep. Getting quality, restful sleep is critical to our health. A snoring habit and untreated obstructive sleep apnea will negatively affect your quality of sleep, even if you don’t necessarily find yourself waking up in the middle of the night.
A lack of sleep leads to a chronic state of sleepiness. You’ll feel tired and have trouble focusing at work. You may even feel irritable and easily aggravated. Focusing at work or on hobbies may feel difficult. Drowsiness and lethargy also impact your reaction time, making accidents much more likely to occur, whether it be making a mistake at work or dozing off on your drive home.
Snoring and sleep apnea may not seem like an immediate health concern, but we encourage you to consider these things and do your best to get evaluated as soon as your schedule allows.
Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The good news about OSA is the vast majority of patients can find relief relatively easily. In some cases, you may be able to completely conquer your sleep apnea, and in other cases, you may simply treat the symptoms.
A popular treatment option for OSA is a CPAP device. CPAP stands for “continuous positive airway pressure” and is a mask-like device worn over the nose and mouth at night. This device blows air into your airway very gently, helping to keep the airway open while you sleep. Many patients have success with a CPAP machine.
Another treatment option is an oral appliance that physically repositions the jaw and keeps the tongue out of the way. These are also very effective, and many patients find they are comfortable to wear after the first few nights.
In cases of severe OSA, surgery may be needed to remove any extra tissue.
If your OSA is believed to be attributed to a lifestyle factor, like weight gain, it may be possible to lose weight and solve your OSA. It’s important to speak with your doctor about losing weight, as significant weight loss or fast weight loss can result in loose skin that may worsen OSA symptoms.
Did you know your dentist can help too?
Your doctor isn’t the only healthcare professional who can evaluate your snoring or potential OSA symptoms. Our dentists can also help diagnose your sleep apnea and help you find a solution that works. From there, we can work together with your general doctor to help you get a CPAP machine, or we can fit you with a comfortable oral appliance in our office.
Schedule an appointment with Barr & Diachenko for help with your snoring habit.
If you’ve been a chronic snorer or you’re experiencing other symptoms that may point to obstructive sleep apnea, the Barr & Diachenko team is eager to help. All you need to do is schedule an evaluation by calling our office or filling out our online appointment request form.