If You Snore, Do You Have OSA?
Let’s face it. People snore. So do pets and wild animals. (I once saw the cutest video of a snoring hummingbird.)
Snoring occurs when the tissues in the throat relax enough to create a partial blockage of the airway as you sleep. This creates a noisy vibration.
Whether it’s a super soft, sweet sound (like when a baby snores) or an ear-splitting racket keeping an entire apartment building’s residents up at night depends on several factors.
Do you snore? Most snorers are unaware they do. Which makes it double trouble when they realize their snoring might actually be obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). So, what’s the difference between snoring and OSA?
What causes snoring?
Anyone can snore. It’s not a big deal if it’s infrequent. It happens. Chief reasons why you might occasionally snore include:
If you doze while seated and your head bobs forward, that narrows the available breathing space in the airway, creating friction that leads to snoring. Also, you might only snore when you sleep on your back. When you turn to either side, your snoring might go away.
Alcohol at bedtime practically guarantees you’ll snore. Other relaxing substances that cause snoring include some medications and cigarettes.1-3 Why cigarettes? For many, smoking has a stimulating effect. However, it irritates the airway, causing tissues to swell and narrow, leading to snoring.
Illness or injury
The symptoms of upper respiratory illness — a head cold, bronchitis, allergies — can cause snoring, thanks to inflamed tissues and excessive mucus. Injuries or congenital defects can lead to snoring problems, such as a deviated septum.
You’ll lose muscle tone throughout the body as you age. The lost tone of the muscles that help you breathe and swallow can result in snoring.
A higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with snoring. More weight from fat pads in the neck compresses the airway as you sleep in a reclined position.4,5
When it’s more than snoring
For those who snore, it’s the result of one or more of the factors cited here. When it doesn’t lead to OSA, doctors call it primary snoring.6
To resolve primary snoring, snore guards, breathing strips, throat exercises, positional therapies, and other simple treatments can reduce or eliminate snoring.
Signs that snoring indicates OSA
A high body-mass index (BMI) is particularly linked to OSA.7 However, other signs can be just as telling. It could be OSA if:
- You snore frequently and loudly
- You experience pauses in breathing as you sleep that cause choking, gasping for air, or groaning
- You’re extremely tired during the day; many with OSA initially complain of excessive daytime sleepiness
- You carry extra weight in your neck, still have tonsils, and/or your dentist told you your tongue is large or your mouth is small
- You awaken several times to use the bathroom, but don’t have bladder or prostate problems
- Your blood pressure is high, but exercise and medication don’t help
- You awaken frequently at night even while taking insomnia medications
- You awaken to a pounding heart and heavy sweating, especially in the latter part of your sleep period right before your normal wake time
Clearly, bodyweight is only part of the concern. Keep in mind, you don’t need to be overweight to experience OSA. Lots of people with OSA are quite fit, even athletic.8
Talk to your bed partner
Maybe you’re a primary snorer, or maybe you have OSA. Either way, your condition may disrupt your sleep partner, family, or roommate’s sleep. Relationships can suffer when loved ones are kept awake by noisy breathing (or lack thereof) from bed partners. Their health can suffer much like someone who has sleep deprivation or insomnia.9
If they insist you snore, believe them, then do something about it. Snoring may not be OSA, but it can still affect your overall health and should be treated.10
What if your snoring is actually OSA?
You wouldn’t be alone. Millions of Americans have OSA and a considerable number of them don’t know it.11 It’s a hidden condition that, if left untreated, leads to chronic health problems, such as:12
- High blood pressure and higher stroke risk
- Atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Depression, anxiety, mood disorders
- Higher risks for drowsy-driving accidents
How can you know for sure?
OSA isn’t necessarily a consequence of snoring. Some people will always snore and never deal with the chronic problems that OSA brings.
However, heavy frequent snoring is considered a symptom of OSA that demands investigation. The best way to find out if you have OSA? Only a sleep test, either in your home or at a sleep clinic, will solve that mystery.
Did you snore before you were diagnosed with sleep apnea? Share your story of how you were diagnosed with sleep apnea below.
What did you do before your first sleep study? (check all that apply)