Snoring and Sleep Apnea: What You Need to Know

Jacques Conaway, MD

It’s normal to snore every now and then. But what if you, like millions of Americans, snore regularly night after night? Are you harmlessly sawing logs or could you be suffering from a potentially debilitating sleep disorder?

“Forty-five percent of normal adults snore at least occasionally. It is more common among men and individuals who are overweight and usually worsens with age,” says Jacques Conaway, MD, FAASM, medical director of the Sleep Centers at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

“Snoring may also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which has been linked to health issues, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. So, it should not be taken lightly,” he says.

Dr. Conaway notes that, all too often, snoring and sleep apnea are thought of as interchangeable. But not all people who snore have sleep apnea, while most people with sleep apnea snore.

Snoring can be caused by a number of different factors, including:

  • Sinus infections or colds
  • Allergies
  • Alcohol
  • A deviated septum
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Throat and airway blockages

“Snoring is a symptom of OSA resulting from a partial or full obstruction of the airway. These obstructions severely restrict or interrupt a person’s breathing, starving the body of oxygen and much-needed sleep,” Dr. Conaway adds. “This can cause other health issues, such as extreme daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, depression, and anxiety.”

The most accurate way to diagnose and treat a snoring problem is to meet with doctor. “Depending on the extent of your problem, a sleep study may be recommended. This analyzes how you sleep and how your body responds to issues related to sleep,” says Dr. Conaway. “Taking this first step prior to beginning any treatment prevents inaccurate self-diagnosis, inadequate treatment, and/or premature dismissal of the problem.”

Treatment for snoring and OSA depends on what is causing it and ranges from lifestyle alterations, such as weight loss, a decrease in alcohol consumption, and changing sleeping positions, to nasal strips, oral devices, technologies that help keep the airway open, and even surgery.

“It is vital to understand that even if you are not diagnosed with sleep apnea, snoring could still be adversely affecting your partner, the restfulness of your sleep, and your overall health,” says Dr. Conaway. “Talk to your doctor. There are treatments that can get your restful nights back.”

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