If you snore, chances are, someone around you has let you know about it. But snoring is more than just a nuisance. It’s a symptom of a far more serious problem.
When you snore, the soft tissues in the back of your throat rattle around, partially blocking the airway. This blockage frequently becomes complete, and breathing stops altogether until oxygen deprivation arouses you enough to start breathing again. These episodes of breathing cessation are called sleep apnea, and apart from cutting off your oxygen supply, they wreak havoc on sleep, blood pressure, weight, and several other areas of your health.
At the Whitaker Wellness Institute we use a simple test to screen for sleep apnea. All it involves is wearing a sensor and a small mask that are attached to a device that records your pulse, blood oxygen levels (oxygen saturation), and air flow throughout the night.
Several studies have shown that this simple test is surprisingly reliable—almost as effective as a full-blown sleep study in detecting sleep apnea. We also test patients who don’t have classic signs of obstructive sleep apnea but have related problems such as headaches upon awakening, poor exercise tolerance, hypertension, memory loss, history of stroke or heart attack, and lung disease.
This test is reasonably priced and you can do it in the privacy of your home. If the test indicates sleep apnea, it can be treated with a continuous or automatic positive airway pressure (CPAP/APAP) machine, which blows pressurized air into the nose via a small mask and prevents the soft tissues in the throat from collapsing.
Although CPAP and APAP are the Cadillacs of treatment options, they aren’t the only ones out there. There are exercises you can do to strengthen the tissues at the back of the throat. Some people have success with dental appliances that increase the diameter of the airway by bringing the jaw slightly forward, or prevent the tongue from relaxing back into the airway. Others do well by simply breathing oxygen through a nasal tube at night. Still others turn to surgery, but I would consider that a last resort.
Almost everyone with sleep apnea will benefit from losing weight. In fact, adequate weight loss completely eliminates the condition in many, and losing 20 to 30 pounds will result in significant improvements. Avoiding alcohol may also be helpful. This is especially true for individuals with mild cases, who may snore and have episodes of apnea only after having a drink. Taking sedatives or analgesics at bedtime can have similar effects, so getting off such drugs may help.
For more information on sleep apnea, visit our website.