Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) are breathing disorders which occur during sleep due to the narrowing or total closure of the airways. Unlike snoring, sleep apnoea is potentially a killer and requires attention. If you snore you may not have OSA but OSA is often associated with heavy snoring.
Snoring in itself is not dangerous but can be embarrassing and may disturb partners and people sharing a room. Snorers may not be aware of their snoring at first and it can go unnoticed for some time. When falling asleep, the muscle tissues in the upper nasal cavity (soft palate) and throat area relax and start to vibrate thus creating the snoring noise. Snoring may increase withincreasing age and lifestyle changes (e.g. putting on weight, less activity). At times the snorer can wake during the night gasping for air, which may be the first sign of a much bigger problem - Obstractive sleep Apnoea (OSA).
Factors affecting snoring
- Obesity and weight gain, particularly in the upper body and neck region, can increase the bulkiness of the soft tissues and restrict the upper airways. This may also be noticeable when awake e.g. breathing difficulties.
- Alcohol consumption results in greater muscle relaxation, including the soft tissues of the upper airways, when sleeping.
- Drugs including relaxants such as sleeping pills may have a similar effect to alcohol, and in addition to the snoring noises, limit the arousal response (waking up to breathe). This can leave the brain without oxygen for prolonged lengths of time.
- Nasal problems and deformities can restrict the upper airways resulting in breathing difficulties. This may be due to enlarged tonsils, septum deviation, swellings of the thyroid, nasal polyps, etc.
- Allergies to pollens, food or animals (e.g. cats) can all contribute to snoring problems. These may be seasonal and/or temporary.
- Males seem to snore more and at a younger age than females. However, women often catch up to their male counterparts following menopause.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)
When snoring, the flapping, noise-creating soft nasal/throat tissues collapse and the airways partially or completely close for some time. This may result in very shallow breathing or no breathing at all for a time – this is called an Apnoea. Apnoeas may be as short as a few seconds or as long as several minutes resulting in a lack of oxygen supply to the blood and brain. The sufferer has to wake him/herself up to breathe again. Thus sleep is disturbed and interrupted. Even though OSA sufferers may experience hundreds of apnoea episodes each night they are unlikely to remember any of them. Partners of OSA sufferers are often the first to bring this to their attention.