Sleep apnea is characterized by multiple episodes of interrupted breathing while sleeping.
It is usually accompanied by loud snoring, disrupted sleep, and daytime drowsiness. This condition can affect your quality of life and cause partners to sleep in separate rooms.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which places stress on the heart and lungs.
Snoring may be an indication of obstructed breathing and should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist, who can determine the cause of your snoring and offer treatment solutions.
Snoring vs Sleep Apnea
If you have ever woken yourself up or have been nudged by your partner, you know how frustrating snoring can be. However, since there are different forms of snoring, determining its causes is important to figure out the best treatment. Snoring not caused by sleep apnea is called primary snoring and can be the result of the following factors:
- Old age leads to relaxed throat muscles
- Throat or nose conditions like enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum (caused when the wall dividing the nose gets pushed to one side)
- Use of alcohol, muscle relaxants, or other depressants right before bedtime
- Sleep position
- Being overweight leads to more tissue around the neck and poor muscle tone.
Some of these factors are out of your control, but some are in your hands. For example, you can avoid drinking alcohol before going to bed or try sleeping on the side to avoid snoring.
In some cases, snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea and you would have to contact a physician immediately to decrease the risk of certain associated health conditions. The cause of your sleep apnea can be anything ranging from your anatomy to a medical condition, and anything that can block your airway while your sleep.
A few common causes include:
- Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism
- Large tonsils
- Neuromuscular conditions like muscular dystrophy or stroke
- Kidney or heart failure
- Genetic conditions like cleft palate or cleft lip
- Premature birth
The snoring caused by sleep apnea has different characteristics than that of primary snoring and can have serious consequences. If you experience the following signs while sleeping, you might have sleep apnea:
- Snoring very loudly
- Taking shallow breaths
- Feeling restless
- Pausing while breathing for 10 seconds or more
- Gasping or choking