We all have that relative who falls asleep at parties and snores so loud it shakes the house. We may joke about it, but snoring is no laughing matter. It could be a warning sign of sleep apnea.
Snoring and sleep apnea are associated with serious health problems and can be life-threatening. You may recall former Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro defensive lineman Reggie White whose sudden and untimely death was blamed, in part, on complications associated with sleep apnea. The frightening thought is that the majority of people with sleep apnea are unaware that they suffer from this disorder and remain untreated.
Sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a narrowing or complete obstruction of the airway during sleep. The airway is composed of muscles that relax during sleep, causing a blockage of the airway. The obstruction can occur in the nose, mouth and throat and could cause interrupted breathing patterns and a lack of oxygen flow to the vital organs of the body. Most patients with sleep apnea are not aware of this blockage and think that they've gotten a normal night's sleep.
What can you do if you suspect sleep apnea?
Since many symptoms of sleep apnea occur while sleeping, ask your bed partner to listen for snoring, gasping, choking or breath holding at night. If you do not have a bed partner, be aware of the daytime symptoms associated with sleep apnea such as: fatigue, dry mouth, morning headaches, poor memory and irritability. If any of these signs or symptoms are present, you should be evaluated by your doctor.
Your doctor can recommend a range of therapies that are best suited to you that can include a weight loss program and exercise. If significant apnea is diagnosed, a CPAP mask or surgery may be recommended.
Left untreated, sleep apnea is associated with severe health and social problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke, which may cause irreversible damage.
Thinksnoring and sleep apnea are only your problems? Think again. If your significant other is kept awake by you snoring, they have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, weight gain and other health problems. Snorers are also more likely to be at risk for falling asleep while driving or having accidents at work.
Do yourself a favor and talk to a physician. In many cases, the risk of serious health problems associated with sleep apnea can be eliminated soon after treatment begins.
Q&A: Have questions about sleep disorders or snoring and sleep apnea? Ask Dr. Sesso.