What is snoring and what is apnea?
Snoring is the name given the typical breathing sound triggered during sleep. It is usually produced by the vibration of tissues (the soft palate, uvula) and the side-walls of the pharynx when inhaled air passes through.
Sleep apnea is what we call the period of time when the flow of air through the passageway that we breathe (the nose and the pharynx) is disrupted for at least 10 seconds.
Obstructive sleep apnea is triggered by an obstruction of the airway while the snoring person is trying to breathe. Consequently, oxygen saturation of the blood falls and the attempt to breathe gets harder, resulting in the individual awakening whereupon the apnea stops.
How often does it occur?
Snoring is frequent; it is estimated that 25% of adult men and 15% of adult women snore every night. Of those who snore, sleep apnea appears in 35% up to and including 60%.
What causes and aggravates snoring and apnea?
Factors which increase the likelihood of someone snoring and experiencing apnea are mainly the following: increased body weight (obesity), age (40 years+), gender (men are 8 times more likely to experience apnea), smoking, alcohol, tranquilizers/sedatives, various endocrine system anomalies (e.g. hypothyroidism), and of course, anatomical anomalies of the nose, mouth and pharynx.
How do apnea and snoring affect my life?
Apnea often causes sleepiness and fatigue during the daytime, morning headaches, decreased mental powers: memory loss and impaired concentration (increasing the danger of having motor vehicle accidents), in addition to reduced work efficacy and sexual dysfunction.
Low blood oxygen levels lead to high blood pressure, heart flutter, heart failure, heart attack and even stroke.
Therefore, snoring and apnea, besides the serious problem they cause for the people who sleep with us, can be a serious threat to our health, physical and psychological.
How can my doctor help me?
A clinical examination by an otolaryngologist can quite often reveal a number of causes: crooked nasal septum, polyps or allergic rhinitis, long and thick uvula and soft palate, overgrown tonsils and adenoids, a thickening of the pharyngeal walls, large tongue, receding lower jaw and more rarely, tumors that obstruct the respiratory airways, and so on.
An examination of an individual who snores or suffers from sleep apnea includes a clinical examination and sleep study, which not only detects the presence of a problem, but the magnitude and severity of the problem as well. Subsequently, a close examination of the factors that can be remedied should follow: those that pertain to the quality of life – of the patient – as well as those that need to be handled surgically by the attending otolaryngologist. Surgical interventions for obstructive sleep apnea have been simplified to a great degree in recent years and are usually performed using local anaesthesia causing only minimal pain due to the use of radio frequency (RF) or special «hardening» materials.
At the same time, if the apnea syndrome is life threatening, then it should be discussed whether to use a C-PAP until cardiorespiratory function recovers to a level acceptable for surgical intervention. The use of a C-PAP is also necessary if the syndrome is severe and there is no possibility of treating it surgically, something which your doctor will decide.
In order to find out if you need to worry about your snoring and if it is affecting your quality of life and relationships, score the following questions by marking:
0=I never snore
1=Rarely (once or fewer times per week)
2=Often (2-3 times per week)
3=Most of the time (4 or more times per week)
|My snoring affects my relationship with the person I sleep with.|
|My snoring makes my partner irritable or tired.|
|My snoring requires us to sleep in different beds.|
|My snoring is loud.|
|My snoring affects all people when I sleep away from home (hotel, other people’s houses etc.)|
If you score is higher or equal to 5, then your snoring affects the quality of your life and your relationships. It is important that you discuss it with your doctor.
EPWORTH SLEEPINESS QUESTIONNAIRE
Score the likelihood of your becoming sleepy or falling asleep in each of the following situations:
0=no chance of becoming sleepy or falling asleep
|Sitting and reading|
|Sitting, inactive, in a public place (e.g. theatre or meeting)|
|As a passenger in a car for 1 hour (without a break)|
|Lying down in the afternoon|
|Sitting and talking with someone|
|Sitting quietly after a meal without alcohol|
|In a car, while stopped for a few minutes in traffic|
If your total score is equal to or greater than 6, it is likely that you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and you need to visit your doctor.