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
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.