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When Snoring Isn’t Just Snoring: Sleep Apnea and Its Impact on Overall Health

Snoring is a common nighttime disturbance, so it’s often seen as a harmless annoyance. While this is true for some people, for others snoring can indicate a more serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea can have a significant impact on overall health.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses can last for a few seconds to as long as minutes and occur multiple times throughout the course of the night. While some pauses in breathing are considered normal, too many is a cause for concern. There are 3 types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea, OSA, is the most common form. OSA occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax too much, failing to keep the airway open.
  • Central Sleep Apnea, CSA, is less common. It has neurological causes; the brain fails to signal to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing, so they don’t work to breathe.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea is a combination of the first two types of sleep apnea.

Loud, chronic snoring is often one of the primary signs of sleep apnea, especially in patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Other signs of breathing issues at night include excessive daytime sleepiness, waking up with a gasp or choking sensation, memory and concentration issues, irritability and frequent wakings at night.

So why is sleep apnea so concerning? It can have serious consequences for overall health if left untreated. Sleep apnea disrupts sleep patterns, impacting the body’s ability to rest and recharge overnight. Sleep apnea is also associated with cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke, because of the strain it puts on the cardiovascular system. Sleep apnea can also cause metabolic issues such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Nighttime wakings can affect the pattern of hunger-regulating hormones, leading to weight gain. Sleep apnea can also impair cognitive functioning, putting sufferers at greater risk for accidents.

If you suspect you (or a loved one) has sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest a sleep study to diagnose the condition. The good news is that there are multiple treatment options available. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines deliver a constant flow of air through a mask worn at night to keep the airways open. Oral devices can reposition the jaw and tongue, preventing obstruction. Lifestyle modifications, like losing weight, avoiding alcohol, and sleeping in different positions, can also help.

Have other questions about sleep apnea? Call Biltmore ENT at (602) 560-1085.