Do you snore? Maybe. Does someone you love snore? You can answer that more easily.
The answer can affect your health in surprising ways.
Loud snoring is a classic symptom of sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a big deal, and about half the people who have it . . . don’t know it.
“People with untreated sleep apnea have three to five times as many heart attacks and strokes as the general population,” says ENT Gerard O’Halloran, MD. “It can aggravate high blood pressure and lead to heart attack or stroke. It can also contribute to depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and even car accidents caused by sleepy drivers.”
Sleep apnea is a common disorder with one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing stops for a few seconds or even minutes, and can occur 30 times or more per hour.
People who don’t know they have apnea “aren’t really aware that they’re as tired as they are,” Dr. O’Halloran says. “They just push through it.”
Signs of sleep apnea include:
Loud snoring. If you snore loudly, there’s about an 80% chance you have sleep apnea, Dr. O’Halloran says. “You can have sleep apnea without snoring, and snore without having apnea,” he adds.
Neck size. A study that simply measured men’s necks found that among men with a neck size of 17 inches and up, 80% had sleep apnea. Women with a neck size that’s 16 inches or bigger are at greater risk of sleep apnea, too.
Underbite. This causes your tongue to ride further back in your throat, blocking the airway at rest.
Big tonsils. They can block your airway when you throat relaxes during sleep.
Daytime sleepiness. If you fall asleep quickly at night, or want to nap after lunch, apnea may prevent you from being well-rested.
Treatment options include CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which uses mild air pressure (through a nasal tube or face mask) to keep the airways open. It’s reliable, but 25% to 30% of patients can’t tolerate it. CPAP machines require a prescription.
Dental appliance therapy uses a custom-made appliance that fits like a sports mouth guard to hold the jaw in a forward position to help keep the airway open.
Surgery may help people with mild sleep apnea if it’s caused by big tonsils, excessive tissue in the palate, or a nose that needs straightening, Dr. O’Halloran says.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, contact your primary doctor or ENT to see if a sleep study may be appropriate for you.
To make an appointment with Dr. O’Halloran in Northfield, Faribault or Lakeville, call (952) 469-0500.