Are You A Problem Snorer? It May Be Wise To Consider A Sleep Apnea Diagnosis
Most people snore, some just from time to time, others more frequently. Usually, regular snoring is caused by sleeping in a particular position, having a blocked nose, or drinking alcohol, or any number of other everyday factors. In most cases, these factors have little significant bearing on health.
The condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, on the other hand, is rather more serious, and is usually characterized by extremely loud snoring with an explosive, spluttering quality. It is caused by the soft tissues in the throat that collapse during sleep and block the airways. While this is highly unlikely to cause suffocation, the sufferer will be forced awake momentarily in order to clear the obstruction and allow easy breathing again.
This can happen hundreds of times during a single night, although the sufferer may not be aware of it, and is hugely disruptive to the rest of both the snorer and any sleeping partner sharing the room.
Possible Health Risks
Disrupted sleep naturally leads to fatigue, which can be dangerous in itself, as it increases the risks of accidents when carrying out activities such as driving. However, it also can lead to increased blood pressure and all the resulting problems, from heart disease to stroke risks. Furthermore, disrupted hormone levels heighten the risks of type 2 diabetes and erectile dysfunction.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea traditionally required an overnight stay in a medical facility, where the sufferer's sleeping patterns were monitored. Thanks to modern technology, patients can now sleep at home, wearing a wrist device that records vital signs such as pulse, breathing, and so on, giving the doctor all the information necessary to diagnose the condition.
In the case of "ordinary" snoring, a few lifestyle changes can often be enough to alleviate the problem. Losing weight, cutting back on alcohol before bed, or sleeping on your side rather than your back can help enormously.
In contrast, with cases of apnea, a physical intervention is usually necessary, and this can come in two forms.
- The most widely successful is known as continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. The patient sleeps with a face mask attached by tubes to a machine which uses compressed air to force the airways open. While the device successfully reduces snoring in most apnea sufferers, it is not a particularly convenient therapy, and some people find it unpleasant and difficult to stick to.
- A much less intrusive treatment is known as oral appliance therapy (OAT). An appliance similar to a mouthguard is designed and fitted, then worn overnight to hold the jaw in the correct position to keep airways open during sleep. This might seem uncomfortable and strange at first, but most patients find it much easier to get used to than CPAP, and it quickly becomes unnoticeable. If this appliance is effective in treating the condition, it is usually then worn for life, although regular checkups will be necessary to adjust the device as necessary.
What If You Suspect Sleep Apnea?
Apnea is a condition that requires two kinds of medical expert to treat. First, you'll need to see a doctor to obtain a diagnosis, after which you'll require a dentist to decide on the appropriate treatment. If you suspect apnea, consult your doctor as a first port of call, or mention it during your next dental appointment, upon which your dentist may refer you a specialist sleep physician.
It's possible to be totally unaware that you suffer from sleep apnea, although your sleeping partner will almost certainly be aware of your snoring. If you snore loudly and regularly, and are constantly fatigued, consult a medical professional to confirm or rule out what can be a serious condition if left untreated.