About Snoring & Sleep Apnoea
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Snoring is the noise of obstructed breathing during sleep. While snoring may be harmless (benign snoring), it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition, which progresses from upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) to obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).
When you breathe normally, air passes through the nose and past the flexible structures in the back of the throat such as the soft palate, uvula and tongue. While you are awake, muscles hold the airway open. When you fall asleep, these muscles relax, but, normally, the airway stays open.
Sleep Apnoea Device
Printed Sleep Apnoea Device
Snoring occurs when the structures in the throat are large and when the muscles relax enough to cause the airway to narrow and partially obstruct the flow of air. As air tries to pass through these obstructions, the throat structures vibrate causing the sound we know as snoring. Large tonsils, a long soft palate and uvula and excess fat deposits contribute to airway narrowing.
When obstructive sleep apnoea occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway, causing airflow to stop. When the oxygen level in the brain becomes low enough the sleeper partially awakens, the obstruction in the throat clears, and the flow of air starts again – usually with a loud gasp. People with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) have disrupted sleep, and low blood oxygen levels.
OSA has been associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and excessive daytime sleepiness. The condition known as upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) lies midway between benign snoring and true obstructive sleep apnoea. People with UARS suffer many of the symptoms of OSA but normal sleep testing will be negative.
Snoring not only affects the health and well being of the person snoring but can also effect the health and well being of his or her bed partner. This can lead to relationship difficulties due to the disruption caused by excessive noise to a bed partner’s normal sleep patterns.
The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have. The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
When to see a doctor
Loud snoring can indicate a potentially serious problem, but not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Talk to your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you fatigued, sleepy and irritable.
For more information on sleep related issues visit www.irishsleepsociety.org