When Snoring Endangers Your Health

If you snore you aren’t alone – about 90 million Americans snore while they sleep. Many of these people are “primary snorers” meaning they are really obnoxious to share a bedroom with. For a large number of other snorers all the noise means that they have a serious sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which means they stop breathing during sleep. The two problems are usually lumped together which is a mistake — frequent loud snoring does not always indicate OSA, but having obstructive sleep apnea almost always means frequent loud snoring.


How can you tell if your snoring is dangerous? The only sure way to test for obstructive sleep apnea is to undergo an overnight sleep study. Sleep studies are typically done overnight in a sleep lab, but home sleep tests are becoming more widely available. During a sleep study you will be monitored for breathing, oxygen levels, movement, snoring and stoppages of breathing. A physician who is trained in sleep medicine will interpret the results of the study and provide a diagnosis. Obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed based upon how many times each hour the patient stops breathing during sleep for at least 10 seconds. Most of these pauses last between 10-30 seconds but some can last  a minute or more.

Obstructive sleep apnea causes people to stop breathing because the airway becomes obstructed, or blocked. The blockage is commonly caused by the tongue and soft tissues of the mouth and throat relaxing during sleep and falling back into the airway. A partial blockage of the airway causes snoring and when the airway is completely blocked breathing stops — until the brain realizes the body is low on oxygen and briefly wakens the sleeper with a gasp to begin breathing again. Meanwhile, while breathing is stopped the body is frantically trying to move oxygen throughout the body leading to increased blood pressure and heart rate.

The most common treatment offered for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP. A CPAP machine is a small machine that provides a steady stream of pressurized air into the throat via a mask worn while sleeping. This is a highly effective treatment but unfortunately, over half of patients prescribed CPAP simply can’t tolerate using the machine or sleeping with the masks and hoses.

A terrific option for patients who don’t want CPAP or can’t tolerate it is an oral appliance. Oral appliances to treat obstructive sleep apnea are highly effective and have been studied and approved by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. An oral appliance to treat sleep apnea is usually covered by medical insurance and must be made by a licensed dentist. There are appliances designed to treat simple snoring that are available over the internet but for a patient with obstructive sleep apnea these will not alleviate the stoppages of breathing and the health dangers associated with the disorder. Your sleep dentist will work with you to choose the appropriate oral appliance and ensure that proper adjustments are made over time to provide the optimal treatment.

Find out more about your options for treating OSA by contacting Wilbanks Smile Center in Toccoa, GA today at 706-886-9439 to schedule a consultation.