The sound of snoring is caused by the airways in your nose and throat being partially or completely blocked. It causes problems for both the snorer and anyone who sleeps with or near them.
Sleep apnea is a more serious condition that occurs when the air blockage causes you to stop breathing at least 5 times an hour, for over 10 seconds each time. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that can ultimately lead to death.
If you’re suspected of suffering from sleep apnea, your doctor will arrange for you to have your nose and throat examined to find any obvious causes of obstruction. This could include an anatomical abnormality or nasal polyps. The exam is handled with either an endoscopic exam or a CT scan.
After the initial diagnosis is done you’ll be sent to a sleep lab where you will undergo a study of your sleeping patterns.
A sleep study monitors your body while you sleep. Some of the measurements that will be tracked include:
– blood oxygen levels
– blood pressure
– heart rate
– chest & diaphragm movement
– brain activity
You’ll stay overnight in a special sleep lab where these tests will be done with equipment that is attached to you while you sleep. (It’s not as bad as it sounds – you will be able to sleep!)
If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you’ll probably be told to avoid any kind of sleep medications and alcohol. If you’re overweight, you’ll be advised to lose the extra weight. You may also be told to start sleeping on your side.
These three simple things can sometimes be enough to solve the problem.
If this is not enough to remedy the problem, you may undergo other sleep apnea treatments such as positive pressure ventilation, in which you will be given a tightly fitting nasal mask through which air is pumped. The increased air pressure can help to keep your airways open.
If these treatments still don’t solve the problem, you may have to undergo surgery.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of the condition and generally responds to treatment. Central sleep apnea, in which there can be brain or nerve damage, is often not as responsive to treatment. In these cases you may need to treat them with drugs that stimulate your breathing.