Snoring can be funny, which is why it makes its way into so many cartoons and sitcoms. It can also range from mildly annoying levels to relationship-wrecking magnitudes, depending on how loud it gets. One thing you may not realize, however, is that snoring can also be a sign of a dangerous sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
At Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology in Midtown East, Manhattan, New York, we take snoring and sleep apnea seriously because it can lead to grave complications if you ignore it. Here, our board-certified specialists Dr. David Kamelhar and Dr. Eric Teller take a closer look at the telltale signs that indicate you may be suffering from OSA, so you can recognize them and come in for a comprehensive sleep evaluation right away.
Understanding what happens when you have sleep apnea
The word apnea combines two Greek words: a (without) and pnea (to breathe). Together, they mean the absence of respiration. When you have sleep apnea, you repeatedly stop breathing, for up to 10 seconds each time, throughout the night.
Each episode of paused respiration affects the amount of oxygen that’s delivered to your brain and body tissues. As you can imagine, this can be detrimental to your health.
Sleep apnea usually occurs when the soft tissues in your mouth and throat relax, collapse, and block your airway. This form of the disorder is called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea comes with a lot of loud snoring, as the air you inhale struggles to get past your tongue, uvula, and tonsils to make its way into your windpipe. The turbulence vibrates those tissues and creates the classic snoring sounds.
If your airway is blocked completely, your brain sends out an alarm signal that prompts your diaphragm and chest into action, forcing your airway open. This often leads to a loud gasping sound as your body forcefully draws in air to restart normal respiration.
Apneic episodes can occur 5-30 times (or more) a night without waking you, so how can you tell if you have sleep apnea? Here are other ways to tell if you suffer from OSA.
Signs you may have sleep apnea
Snoring is one of the most common signs of sleep apnea, but snoring alone isn’t enough to diagnose this disorder.
In fact, snoring may stem from an overindulgence of alcohol or taking a sleeping pill or sedative, as these can relax your muscles and soft tissues and temporarily block your airway as you sleep.
OSA snoring isn’t occasional; it typically occurs most nights and is quite loud. Here are a few other signs of this common sleep disorder:
- You’ve been told that you stop breathing and/or gasp for air when you sleep
- You’ve awakened at night gasping or choking
- You wake up with a headache, dry mouth, or sore throat in the morning
- You find it difficult to concentrate during the day
- You often feel sleepy, fatigued, irritable, anxious, or depressed
- You’ve been experiencing symptoms of persistent insomnia
Given that these symptoms can also point to other health issues, you shouldn’t self-diagnose sleep apnea. Experiencing several of these symptoms may strongly indicate that you have sleep apnea, but having a comprehensive evaluation is the only way to confirm the diagnosis.
After talking with you about your symptoms, your lifestyle, and your sleep habits, we can determine whether you may benefit from a polysomnography test to study what happens while you sleep.
We may find that your central nervous system, not your anatomy, is responsible for your nighttime breathing problems. Although less common than OSA, central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when there’s miscommunication between your brain and the muscles that control your breathing. CSA can stem from health conditions, such as Cheyne-Stokes breathing, stroke, or severe kidney disease. Opioids can also interfere with your ability to breathe and lead to CSA.
How we treat sleep apnea
The right treatment approach depends on the type and underlying cause of your sleep apnea.
One of the most effective treatments for OSA is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. You wear a mask or nose piece with a hose that’s attached to a machine. Through the night, the machine delivers a constant source of air pressure to ensure you continue breathing normally.
Some people also have success with a mandibular advancement device (MAD). While this device is much lower tech, it’s still very effective. It has a comfortable mouthpiece that keeps your lower jaw in the forward position, which helps maintain an open airway even when your muscles relax.
Losing weight can also resolve your OSA, since obesity contributes to the problem.
Dr. Kamelhar and Teller guide you through your treatment options to help you sleep better and prevent the potential health complications of sleep apnea, including type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
To find out if your loud snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea, call or click today and schedule an appointment with one of our seasoned pulmonology and sleep medicine specialists.