When Snoring Isn’t Just Annoying: Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Feb 6, 2013 -  Everyone knows someone who snores. Whether it’s your mom, your child, or a spouse who snores so loudly that you have to seek refuge on the couch to get some sleep, we’ve all heard it and have had to deal with it. But could that noise be more than a nuisance? Snoring may be an indicator of a medical problem. How do you know when it’s time to talk to a doctor about snoring?

In fact, did you know nearly half of adults snore at some time? Of those, half are habitual snorers who may keep their partners awake just about every night by snoring in most sleeping positions.

Is it just an annoying habit or a medical problem like sleep apnea?
So what does a person need to do get some sleep around here? Well, the first thing to do is identify what the cause might be. In some cases, a child or a spouse might have a cold or bad allergies. In fact, snoring may be caused by a number of things, including allergies or enlarged tonsils.

However, about 20 to 50 percent of snorers may have obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder where throat tissue narrows or blocks the airway so badly that the snorer briefly stops breathing. Each time, the person awakens momentarily, but most of the time isn’t aware of it. If you have a habitual snorer in your home, take a minute to observe them. See if they seem to stop breathing. It can be scary to watch, but if you find they do seem to stop breathing altogether, it is time to call the doctor.

Other signs it may be sleep apnea
Sometimes it may be hard to catch someone in the act – especially if it’s all you can do to get some sleep yourself. Here are a few other symptoms you can look for in a person who might have sleep apnea.

Possible symptoms of sleep apnea
  • decreased alertness during the day
  • persistent drowsiness or fatigue
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • depression
  • stopped breathing for few seconds at night
Severe cases can cause a drop in oxygen, straining the heart. This is especially bad for people with heart disease or high blood pressure. So if you think a loved one may be suffering from sleep apnea, it’s important to seek treatment.

Health risks associated with sleep apnea and other sleep problems include:
  • Heart Attacks
  • Stroke
  • Congestive Heart failure
  • Increased blood sugars and Type II diabetes risk
  • Increased risk of accidents, especially while driving
  • Increased mortality
How do I find out if I have sleep apnea?
So now that you’ve determined it’s more than just snoring, let’s talk about the types of tests your doctor or a specialist might recommend tests to determine your sleep disorder. Most often these tests are performed at a sleep center.

Polysomnography. This test records a variety of body functions while you sleep, like electrical activity of the brain, eye movement, muscle activity, heart rate, respiratory effort, airflow, and blood oxygen levels. This is the most comprehensive test for sleep apnea.

This option may be suitable for certain people with a probability of obstructive sleep apnea. This simplified test can be done in the comfort of one’s own home for those whose insurance or personal circumstances require HST.

Either way your doctor or a sleep specialist can determine which test may be best for you. ECHN has a Sleep Disorders Center at Manchester Memorial Hospital, where patients undergo testing to diagnose sleep-related disorders. Board-certified sleep medicine physicians then review each test to determine treatment requirements.

The results say sleep apnea; what’s the next step?
Once your sleep center tests come back, you or your loved one will work with your doctor to create a plan that will hopefully end in a good night’s sleep. Each person is different and depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, you doctor may recommend a mix of weight loss (even a 10 percent weight loss can reduce the number of apneic events for most patients), change of sleeping positions, evaluation of the upper airway for obstruction (and correction where necessary), or wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask on the nose while sleeping. Other therapies may include a jaw positioning device or possible surgery. CPAP has shown to be the more effective of the named therapies.

It’s not sleep apnea, but I am still snoring. Now what?
If your results say you have minimal to no sleep apnea but you still feel tired from your snoring, you should talk to your doctor about other ways to cut your snoring. Here are some simple ways to reduce your snoring just by changing some of your habits.
  • Control your weight. Extra pounds can aggravate snoring.
  • Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquilizers. They blunt the body's drive to breathe, worsening the risk for sleep apnea.
  • Sleep on your side. On your back, the tongue tends to fall into the throat, reducing air flow. You snore as you breathe through your mouth to compensate.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, with an adequate sleep period. Lack of rest may worsen snoring.
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
If you think you or a loved one might have sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder, the first step to a good night’s sleep is seeking help. In eastern Connecticut help is nearby with the ECHN Sleep Disorders Center at Manchester Memorial Hospital. It’s staffed by sleep professionals and trained specialists dedicated to helping you obtain a good night’s sleep. Scheduled sleep testing times are based on YOUR sleep routine, no matter what that may be. We even offer a Pediatric Sleep Program. Find out more about our services by calling the ECHN Sleep Disorders Center at 860.647.6881.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Jones, Niya, MD
Last Annual Review Date: 7/17/2012

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Weisbart, Ed, MD
Last Annual Review Date: 5/23/2012
© 2000-2012 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fincannon, Joy, RN, MN
Online Medical Reviewer: Oken, Emily, MD
Last Annual Review Date: 5/3/2008
Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications


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