What is Sleep Apnea and How is it Different From Snoring?

Sleep Apnea, pronounced app-knee-uh and translated from Greek to “without breath, is an unwelcome disease that rudely interrupts your breathing as you sleep. Those who suffer from this potentially life-threatening disorder experience breath stoppages during their sleep, sometimes in excess of a hundred times and lasting from several seconds to upwards of a minute.

Of the over 18 million Americans affected by Sleep Apnea, according to the National Sleep Foundation, men are more likely to be diagnosed, with African-Americans and Hispanics among the ethnicities with the highest reported cases. Male adults, over the age of 40 and those who are overweight tend to be the typical Sleep Apnea suffered, but the disorder doesn’t discriminate and be present in anyone, including children and individuals who are not overweight.

Sleep Apnea is becoming more common, yet an alarming amount of patients are silent sufferers, remaining undiagnosed due to lack of awareness. Left untreated, this disorder can have serious implications resulting in high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, weight gain, impotence, headaches, memory problems, etc. With a host of health-related consequences when left untreated, Sleep Apnea can be diagnosed and treatment can alleviate most symptoms, allowing sufferers to live a seemingly normal life.

Sleep Apnea can be diagnosed as one of three types: obstructive, central and mixed; with obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSC) being the most common of the three. OSC occurs as a result of an obstruction or blockage in the airway, most often when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses closes as the muscles relax during sleep. There is no obstruction in the airway with central Sleep Apnea; instead the brain fails to send the memo for the muscles to breathe. The final type of Sleep Apnea is a mix of the two previously mentioned, hence the name mixed. With this combination, the sufferer deals with both a partial obstruction and a brain that is inconsistent with sending signals to the muscles to breathe. Regardless of the type, Sleep Apnea can be a debilitating disorder if left untreated, because it results in a fragmented sleep that causes the sufferer to feel tired all the time, along with a slew of other complications.

Snoring is not the same thing as Sleep Apnea, as snoring refers to the vibrations of the tissues caused by airflow through the nose, mouth and throat. While not a sleep disorder on its own, snoring can serve as an indicator of an underlying medical condition, especially for leading to a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea, as extremely loud snoring one of the main symptoms of this disorder. Other indicators include waking up throughout the night breathless, daytime sleepiness, chronic fatigue, frequently waking up after a night’s sleep with a headache or dry mouth, etc. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, speaking with your medical care provider can help lead to diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating sleep disorder.