Can Snoring Kill You?
Some people who snore may have a health condition call obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or just sleep apnea for short. Often people take this condition for granted, but if you or a loved one has this condition that is not being treated it can cause very serious health problems.
Facts About Sleep Apnea
- Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a collapsing of the upper air passages during sleep, causing a blockage of air to the lungs.
- The blockage of airflow to the lungs causes the oxygen in the blood to be too low and disrupted sleep.
- The snoring in people with obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the air trying to squeeze through the narrowed or blocked airway.
- Loud, habitual snoring
- Snoring interrupted by pauses (usually lasting for about 10 seconds or more), then gasps
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening frequently
- Morning headaches
- Poor quality of sleep and not feeling refreshed upon awakening
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Poor performance at work or school
Other problems that may occur with this condition:
- Depression that becomes worse
Loss of sex drive
- Hyperactive behavior, especially in children
- Leg swelling (if severe)
- Heart arrhythmias
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
Because of daytime sleepiness, people with sleep apnea have an increased risk of:
- Motor vehicle accidents from driving while sleepy
- Industrial accidents from falling asleep on the job
Testing and treatment
Obstructive sleep apnea is easily diagnosed by undergoing a painless test called a polysomnography or simply a sleep study. This test is performed at night in a qualified sleep lab by a trained technician. The results of the sleep study are read by a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders.
The treatment goal in sleep apnea is to keep the airway open so that breathing does not stop during sleep. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most likely first treatment for obstructive sleep apnea in most people. CPAP is delivered by a machine while wearing a tight-fitting face mask.
Lifestyle changes that may relieve symptoms of sleep apnea in some people (in mild cases of sleep apnea):
- Avoiding alcohol or sedatives at bedtime, which can make symptoms worse
- Avoiding sleeping on the back may help with mild sleep apnea (some people have sewed a tennis ball in the back of a t-shirt to keep themselves off their back while sleeping)
- Losing weight may decrease the number of apnea spells during the night
Again, if you or a loved one has a few of these symptoms, talk to your health provider about having this serious and debilitating condition diagnosed and treated. For more helpful information on obstructive sleep apnea, visit the National Sleep Foundation Web site at www.sleepfoundation.org.
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