What is snoring?
While this may seem obvious, snoring is the sound that a person makes when sleeping. It can be caused by a range of things, from short-term conditions such as congestion from a cold to serious conditions like sleep apnea.
The sound you make when snoring is caused when tissues in your nose or throat vibrate. This vibration happens when your airway is restricted by some kind of blockage. This can be from excessive phlegm or snot when you have a cold, a deviated septum in the nose, loose fatty tissue in the throat, swollen tonsils or adenoids, or even your tongue that has fallen backward into your throat.
Treatments for snoring are designed to remove or reduce the blockage so that you can breathe more easily. This could be done by using herbal remedies to clear blockages of phlegm, by surgically repairing or removing tissue that gets in the way, by opening airways to let in more air (repositioning the head and neck, or using nose strips to open the nostrils), by using a mouthpiece that holds your jaw forward, or even by doing exercises that improve the tone of the flesh in your mouth and throat.
Snoring is a problem all on its own. But, snoring can also be a sign of something more serious.
What is sleep apnea?
Quite literally, sleep apnea is when you stop breathing at night. Generally sleep apnea is caused when something completely blocks your airway, preventing air from getting past. Sufferers of sleep apnea will stop breathing repeatedly through the night.
When you stop breathing your brain becomes oxygen deprived for a short period of time. This causes it to send you a signal that partially awakens you so that you begin breathing again.
The blockage is generally caused by tissue that loses its tone as you sleep, thus falling into the airway. When you sleep on your back everything tends to get pulled into the back of your throat by gravity, making it possible for your airway to be blocked. Sometimes your jaw falls backwards, allowing your tongue to sink into your throat, blocking it and preventing normal breathing.
One of the most common indicators of sleep apnea is snoring. The characteristic breathing pattern of a person with sleep apnea starts with moderate to severe snoring, which suddenly stops. There is a period of no sound, when you are not breathing, followed by a sharp gasp or grunt which is followed by more snoring.
Another indicator of sleep apnea is increased fatigue and loss of energy during the day. A person can have several episodes of apnea in an hour, and these breaks in breathing greatly decrease the quality of oneís sleep.
Treatment for sleep apnea is somewhat different than that for snoring. While traditional snoring remedies can help, they may not be enough. If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea your doctor will probably recommend a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask. Sometimes surgery to remove the soft palate, adenoids, and tonsils is prescribed. The goal is to reduce the chance of blocking the airways with soft tissues.
How do I know the difference?
If you snore on a regular basis you should try talking to your doctor. This is especially important if you have an irregular breathing pattern at night. Your doctor will likely send you to a sleep lab where they will observe your sleep. From this visit the specialist will be able to assess your snoring, and discover any sleep apnea that may be occurring.
Sleep apnea is far more common than you might think. It can be very serious, for it is even possible to die from severe sleep apnea if you are not able to regain your breath. So if you snore a lot, donít take chances, and get it checked out.