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Snoring vs sleep apnea

What's the difference?


Snoring is a common problem that it is often regarded more as a nuisance, rather than a health issue. Although occasional light snoring is usually not a cause for concern, loud or habitual snoring may be a symptom of a sleep related breathing disorder. As we fall asleep, the muscles of the throat relax, causing a constriction of airway space between the back of the nose and lower part of the throat. As the airway narrows, soft tissues in the throat begin to vibrate, producing the sound of snoring. If the airway becomes too narrow, normal breathing may become disrupted.

Sleep apnea

The term "apnea" means lack of breath. Sleep apnea occurs when the airway space closes due to excessive muscle relaxation. In some cases, the airway obstruction is only partial. This is described as a hypopnea, which means a reduction in airflow. A person who suffers from sleep apnea may have dozens or even hundreds of apneas and hypopneas throughout the night.

With every episode, the sleeping brain responds with an attempt to reopen the airway. This causes a partial arousal from sleep. Consequently, the apnea sufferer feels tired and sleepy during the day. The lack of normal air exchange also leads to changes in oxygen levels in the blood. The increased work of breathing, along with reduced oxygen levels, causes stress on the heart and other body organs.

Common symptoms associated with sleep apnea may include:

  • Loud snoring, snorts, gasps during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Nocturnal acid reflux

    Fortunately, once diagnosed, obstructive sleep apnea can be successfully treated. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is the nightly use of a bedside device that delivers continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) through a small nasal mask or nasal pillows. Other treatment options may include dental devices or surgical procedures for increasing the airway space; supervised weight loss; treatment of nasal obstruction caused by allergies, nasal polyps or deviated nasal passages; or the treatment of underlying medical conditions that may aggravate or contribute to the problem.

    © 2008 N. Butkov


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