Snoring is a common condition that affects about half of all adults. It occurs when air flow through the nose and mouth is obstructed. This causes the airway tissue to vibrate and make the snoring sound. This condition disturbs sleep patterns and prevents adequate sleep.
Symptoms include noise during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, morning headaches, sore throat, restless sleep, very loud snoring and waking up choking or gasping.
There are different factors that can cause snoring, but it can also be a sign of a more serious medical condition called sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that affects one in 15 Americans, with most cases undiagnosed. It occurs when a person experiences one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breathing while asleep. These pauses can last a few seconds to a few minutes. Generally, breathing begins again and is sometimes accompanied by snorting or choking.
The types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep, and central sleep apnea, which is caused when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.
Symptoms include loud snoring, episodes of breathing pauses during sleep, abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, waking with a dry mouth or sore throat, morning headache, difficulty staying asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, attention problems and irritability.
Sleep apnea may lead to serious complications such as daytime fatigue, high blood pressure or heart problems, type two diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke or liver problems.
For those experiencing snoring or sleep apnea, it’s important to see a doctor. Primary care physicians or sleep specialists such as otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) can help evaluate symptoms and provide a diagnosis. It may be necessary to do a sleep study overnight in a lab or at home with special equipment.
Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor may suggest one of many treatments. Treatments that may help snoring include losing weight, avoiding alcohol, staying hydrated and changing the pillow or sleep position. Sleep apnea may require more advanced treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) or an oral appliance.