Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring is the sound 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 apnea (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.
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 air-way narrowing.
When Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs, the tongue is sucked against the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway, causing air flow 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 apnea 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
apnea. 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 also the health and well-being of his or her bedpartner leading to marital difficulties and in some cases, divorce.