Is It Snoring or Sleep Apnea? How to Tell and What to Do

If you find yourself sawing logs while sleeping you’re not alone; an estimated 45% of adults snore at least occasionally. Most of the time snoring is harmless– to everything but your bed partner’s sleep quality– but it can also be a sign of a dangerous sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).

So, how do you know when it’s just snoring or when it’s something more serious? Read on to learn about the connection between snoring and sleep apnea, and what you can do about both.

Do You Have Sleep Apnea If You Snore?

Snoring is strongly associated with sleep apnea, but not everyone who snores has OSA. In fact, not everyone who has sleep apnea snores! 

Snoring is just the vibration caused when some part of your upper airway partially blocks your airflow. That blockage can happen anywhere from the back of the throat, to your soft palate or uvula, all the way to your nose, and can be caused by anything from allergies, nasal congestion, sinus infection, or even just the natural shape of your body. Getting older or gaining weight can also contribute to snoring.

Loud snoring is often one of the first symptoms of sleep apnea, because it’s one of the most noticeable; however, with OSA, snoring will be accompanied by breathing pauses that can last up to 10 seconds or longer. In sleep apnea patients these pauses are most often caused when the soft tissues of the upper airway lose muscle tone and collapse. OSA is a serious sleep disorder that is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Not all snorers will have sleep apnea, so how do you know when it’s more than just snoring? Sleep apnea will usually be accompanied by one or more of these common symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequently wake up with sore throat or dry mouth
  • Frequently wake up with headache
  • Gasping or choking during the night
  • Someone witnessing breathing pauses

Only a sleep study can diagnose the presence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, so if you experience these symptoms you should talk to your doctor or sleep specialist right away.

What Are the Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea?

Anyone can have OSA, whether you’re overweight or skinny, old or young, male or female; however, there are certain risk factors that make sleep apnea more likely:

Obesity

Being overweight is one of the strongest factors associated with OSA. Excess fat and tissue can narrow your airways and put additional strain on your throat muscles.

Being Male

Men or those assigned male at birth are more likely to have Obstructive Sleep Apnea by up to 5-to-1.

Being Older Than 50

Both men and women are more likely to have sleep apnea as they grow older.

Having a Large Neck

You’re more likely to have OSA with a neck circumference of 17 inches or more in men, or 16 inches or more in women. That’s because both muscle and fat can narrow your airways.

Chronic Nasal Problems

People with chronic nasal congestion are more likely to experience OSA. This includes anatomical obstructions like a deviated septum, and inflammation from frequent colds and allergies.

Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol can relax the muscles in the throat to the point where they collapse. This is especially true if you drink within a few hours before going to sleep.

Smoking

Smoking can irritate your airways and cause inflammation. It can also further reduce your oxygen levels during apnea events.

How to Treat Snoring (or Sleep Apnea)

Luckily, if your snoring is not connected to sleep apnea, you may be able to treat it with some easy lifestyle changes:

  • Change sleeping positions. When you sleep on your back or stomach, your airways are fighting gravity. Trying a new sleep position may be enough to snore no more.
  • Try nasal strips or sprays. Nasal strips adhere to your skin like a bandaid, and help to keep your nasal passages open. If allergies or nasal congestion are the cause of your snoring, your sleep medicine specialist may also recommend a saline or medicated nasal spray.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. If you’re serious about stopping your snoring, skip the spirits… or at least stop drinking within four hours of going to bed.
  • Weight loss. If narrow airways are the cause of your woes, losing weight may be enough to cure your snoring for good.

If these changes don’t help, it may be that your snoring is caused by your anatomy. In this case, the way you treat it will depend on the cause. If, for example, your snoring is caused by your tongue, your doctor may recommend an oral appliance like a tongue retainer or mouthpieces that advance your lower jaw. Or if your snoring is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids, your doctor may recommend neck surgery to remove the obstruction. 

On the other hand, if your snoring is caused by Obstructive Sleep Apnea you’ll need a more effective treatment. If you suspect your snoring may be linked to sleep apnea you should talk to your doctor right away in order to prevent health problems like increased risk of heart failure or arrhythmias. In this case, your doctor will most likely prescribe a CPAP machine.

CPAP, or ‘Continuous Positive Airway Pressure’, uses a stream of pressurized air to gently keep your airways open during sleep. CPAP therapy is considered the most effective non-invasive treatment for OSA. 

If you’ve been prescribed a CPAP machine, Aeroflow Sleep can help! From contacting your doctor, to handling the insurance paperwork for you, Aeroflow Sleep makes it easy to get CPAP through insurance. Because neither snoring nor sleep apnea should stop you from getting a good night’s sleep!

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