Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome

Loud snoring can be a sign that something is seriously wrong with your breathing during sleep. Snoring indicates that the airway is not fully open, and the distinctive sound of snoring comes from efforts to force air through the narrowed passageway. Sleep can become a time of increased health risk.

An estimated 10-30 percent of adults snore. For the majority of them, snoring has no serious medical consequences. For 5 percent — particularly overweight and middle-aged men — extremely loud nightly snoring is an indication of a potentially life-threatening disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS).

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

When you sleep, all of your body’s muscles relax more than they do during waking hours. This doesn’t cause problems for most people, but for those individuals with small throats, this relaxation lets the airway narrow and interferes with breathing. Alcohol, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers taken at bedtime also reduce muscle tone and can make the throat more likely to narrow and even collapse. Some people with OSAS sleep worse when they take a sleeping pill.

Warning Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Snoring may be so loud that it disturbs others’ sleep. A particular pattern of snoring interrupted by witnessed pauses, then gasps, reveals that the sleeper’s breathing stops and restarts.
Adults with OSAS have unrefreshing sleep, and can fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as at work, at the movies, or while driving.

Adults with OSAS can have trouble concentrating and can become usually forgetful, irritable, anxious, or depressed. They can also complain about frequent nighttime urination and morning dry mouth, and sometimes drooling. Children with OSAS may have trouble staying alert in class.

These problems usually appear slowly over many years. Sometimes OSAS symptoms go unnoticed, or their significance is downplayed. Family members, employers, or co-workers may be the first to recognize a pattern of inattentiveness or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

There are a variety of different treatment options for OSAS. The most effective therapy is called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Pressure from an air compressor helps air pass through nasal passages and into the throat via a small mask that is worn over the nose during sleep. This gentle pressure holds the throat open and allows normal sleep and breathing.

A formal overnight sleep study at Hoag Sleep Disorders Center is required to establish a diagnosis and to set the optimal CPAP. Other treatments include mouth devices and surgical procedures on the upper airway.