When you sleep, your throat relaxes. Throat muscles become looser, and your airway narrows. As you
breathe, the flow of air can cause those relaxed, floppy tissues to vibrate. Snoring is the sound of tissues rumbling in your throat.
Loud, harsh snoring can be annoying and disruptive, especially to someone lying next to you. It can
also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that can cause your breathing to briefly halt during sleep, says Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family practice medicine clinic.
These short periods without breath, or apneas, can happen dozens or hundreds of times a night. They
occur when your airway becomes blocked or restricted by excess tissue. Without even knowing it, you may choke or gasp in your sleep. Over time, this pattern can be harmful to achieving restful sleep. It can also result in serious complications, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, difficulties after surgery, and fatty liver disease. Sleep apnea can also severely impact your alertness, memory, and driving ability, and in some cases it can result in depression and sexual problems.
Engineers in two NY commuter train crashes suffered from sleep apnea, and their fatigue and the
failure to test for the disorder caused the two separate crashes, according to federal investigators.
Overweight and older people are more apt to have the disorder, and men tend to be more prone to it
than women. Using alcohol, cigarettes, or sedatives can also increase your chances of having the
Besides snoring and breathing pauses, other symptoms of sleep apnea include dry mouth, gasping for
air during sleep, morning headaches, and sleepiness the next day. If you suspect you have the disorder, Dr. Lamy can perform a physical examination. He may recommend that you have a sleep study at home or monitoring in a sleep lab to confirm a diagnosis.
Lifestyle changes can sometimes ease mild cases of the disorder. Sleeping on your side is typically
better than sleeping on your back. Losing weight can have an impact, as can treating allergies to reduce nasal blockage. Avoid using alcohol, cigarettes, and sleeping pills to keep the disorder in check.
If prevention efforts fail, some treatment options exist. Typically, treatment for serious cases of sleep apnea involves the use of a machine and mask known as a continuous positive airway pressure device, or CPAP. The device is secured to your face and pumps air pressure through your nasal passages to keep them open during sleep. The mask can feel bulky, constrictive, and claustrophobic to some people, so compliance is not always very high. But in recent years, the devices have become more comfortable, quieter, and easier to use.
A smaller, less intrusive option is the Provent nasal patch. The disposable valve device fits over your
nostrils and stays in place with an adhesive. The valve redirects air through tiny holes to create
resistance when you exhale and keep your airway open. The patch works well for some people, but not for everyone. Those who breathe through their mouth or have allergies and congestion, for example, may not be able to use the patch.
Others may benefit from wearing an oral appliance designed to keep their throat open. The devices
bring the jaw forward, which can help ease mild sleep apnea.
In more severe cases, surgery to remove excess tissue and expand the airway may be an option. But
such procedures sometimes must be done more than once, and even then they don’t always work.
If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with Dr. Lamy to review
your symptoms and consider possible treatment options.