When Snoring Can Kill You

Snoring isn’t just annoying, it can be a major warning sign of a deadly condition.

Snoring may not just be annoying to your partner .. it can be a sign that you have a potentially deadly disorder called Sleep Apnea.   Sleep Apnea is actually a very common disorder throughout the world. Basically, sleep apnea presents itself at night with interrupted breathing. This period of interrupted breathing may last anywhere from 3-10 seconds. Overall, sleep apnea is more commonly seen in individuals who are overweight but sometimes may be occur in thin individuals with abnormal anatomy of the throat. Another feature that is almost unanimously associated with sleep apnea is snoring.

When sleep apnea occurs, the individual tends to snore loudly and inevitably will complain of excessive fatigue after a full night’s sleep. Sleep apnea is classified as obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is many times more common than central sleep apnea and tends to occur when muscles in the mouth and neck become feeble/weak. When an individual has central sleep apnea, the brain for some unknown reason fails to send proper signals to arouse breathing while one is sleeping. There are a few patients who have a combination of these two types of sleep apnea.

What are signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

The classic signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Despite having a good night’s rest, the individual feels very tired and drowsy the next day.
  • Constant loud snoring is a typical symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Family members will always vouch about the loud snoring noises at night.
  • Some individuals may spontaneously stop breathing for a few seconds on a regular basis.
  • Frequently the individual may wake up in the middle of deep sleep and complain of a sensation of choking or difficulty breathing.
  • Because the mouth tends to be open during sleep apnea, individuals do complain of a dry mouth.
  • Open mouth breathing at night frequently leads to complaints of a sore throat over time.
  • Besides feeling tired and drowsy the following day, morning headache is a frequent complaint.
  • Many individuals with sleep apnea wake up numerous times during the night. The sleep is restless.

How is diagnosis of sleep apnea made?

In most patients, the diagnosis of sleep apnea can be made on the clinical history and physical examination. Sometimes if the diagnosis is in doubt, one may be required to spend a night in a sleep laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.

How is sleep apnea treated?

The treatment of sleep apnea is not difficult but recover is slow. Most cases of sleep apnea are initially treated non-surgically and involve a change in lifestyle such as losing weight, becoming more active, discontinuing smoking and sleeping with the head of bed elevated. These simple measures can help relieve sleep apnea in more than 80 percent of cases.

When sleep apnea is moderate to severe, one may need to use  sleep apnea devices like  continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This treatment does work well and can help open up blocked airways in the mouth and throat. The only major negative about CPAP devices is that they do require some time getting used to. There are many other devices on the market- all which either elevated the head or prevent the mouth from opening during the night. Surgery is never the first choice treatment for sleep apnea and is only undertaken when the above supportive measures have failed.

How does CPAP help?

There are many styles of CPAP masks. To use the device, one wears a tight fitting mask over the face during sleep. Oxygen is then delivered under pressure and this helps to keep the large airways open.

CPAP masks do help patients breathe easier and allow for a good night’s sleep. Before buying a CPAP mask, one should try out a mask to determine if it is the right size and fit. Since oxygen does tend to dry out the mouth and oral cavity, it is important to add a humidifier to the equipment. The response after CPAP masks is rapid, but in cases where the individual fails to respond, one may want to try BiPAP.

Some individuals do find CPAP masks quite tight and restrictive and thus compliance is low. Today, there are nasal CPAP devices available but they are not as effective as the facial masks. Most machines for delivering oxygen are automatic and their use is relatively easy. The majority of CPAP devices allow for use of humidifier. Other accessories required with CPAP include an oxygen concentrator and an oxygen tank. All respiratory products including CPAP mask and oxygen do require a physician’s prescription.