Sleep experts in the UK reckon that people who share a bed with a snorer lose one hour of precious sleep a night.
Yet aside from depriving his or her partner of sleep, a regular snorer who doesn’t seek medical treatment might well be signing his or her death warrant.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing repeatedly or breathe very lightly and slowly. This condition can occur when the airways in the nose and throat are blocked during sleep (Obstructive sleep apnea: OSA) interrupting the flow of air, or can be a disorder affecting the mechanisms of the central nervous system that controls respiration (Central sleep apnea: CSA). In either case, it can significantly affect your health, including your blood vessels and blood pressure leading to heart attack and stroke.
Quite aside from its medical implications, sleep deprivation can also impact your social and professional life. It is a condition that requires immediate attention.
A bed partner often notices snoring and sleep apnea problems before the person afflicted by the condition. Apart from the snoring, other signs and symptoms include sleepiness during the day, morning headaches after awakening, feeling tired and sleepy despite getting plenty of sleep, dry mouth in the morning, weakness from an unknown cause, frequent passing of urine at night from an unknown cause, intellectual deterioration, poor memory or concentration, high blood pressure, a feeling of choking and frequent waking up at night. Some people may have other symptoms such as a feeling like something is caught in the throat, hearing loss, irritability, mood swings, being upset easily by family members or colleagues, and reduced sexual activity.
People who are overweight and/or who have certain facial bone or oral structures, such as a small jaw, short neck, long uvula, or large tonsils are more at risk of sleep apnea.
It is difficult to identify sleep apnea from snoring alone and an incorrect diagnosis can easily be made. To ensure accurate results, a study of sleep is performed in a specialised sleep lab. However, some obvious symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, choking or difficulty breathing during sleep, as well as excessive sleepiness. In contrast, regular snoring tends to be continuous and not loud with no sleepiness symptoms.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, please consult a doctor so as to assess the risk and undergo a scientific study in a sleep lab. The doctor will assess and diagnose the snoring, sleep apnea, oxygen saturation level and degree of severity, and then provide an appropriate treatment plan.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. This device helps a patient to breathe more easily during sleep by keeping the airway unblocked. Both snoring and sleep apnea can be treated in this way.
Various surgical treatments are available for normal snoring and sleep apnea in some mild cases or in cases of abnormal structures, such as large tonsils or for patients who are not allowed or do not want to use a CPAP device.
Other non-surgical measures, such as weight control, physical exercise and sleeping on one side are also recommended. Concomitant diseases such as hypothyroidism and allergic rhinitis should also be treated.
Dr Narathip Wangsuppasawad is a Pulmonologist at |Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital. Call the Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic at (02) 378 9000.