Both obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and snoring can disrupt your sleep. And although the two conditions frequently go hand in hand, they don’t always.
Consequently, sleep disorders like OSA often go undiagnosed, as not every patient shares the same symptoms.
Left untreated, OSA can have serious health consequences, including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Since your doctor or oral surgeon isn’t around to observe your nighttime symptoms, understanding the differences between snoring and sleep apnea is the first step to diagnosis and successful treatment.
Snoring is a Symptom of Obstructive Sleep Apnea — Sometimes
Loud, habitual snoring is one of the most common warning signs of obstructive sleep apnea. And in fact, most patients who have OSA are snorers.
However, not everyone who snores has OSA. Snoring can be the result of other factors including allergies, weight gain and alcohol use. Anatomical obstructions (broken nose, deviated septum or enlarged tonsils) may also be to blame, and the risk of snoring increases with age.
Snoring is typically associated with OSA when it is accompanied by repeated pauses in breathing that last for several seconds or as long as a minute. Gasping or choking upon waking may also indicate OSA. But snoring without at least one of these additional symptoms is probably not related to obstructive apnea.
Other Potential Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Patients with OSA don’t always snore or wake up feeling as if they are choking or gasping for breath. Breathing disturbances can be subtle, and therefore often go unnoticed.
For that reason, physicians and oral surgeons analyze other symptoms to help diagnose sleep disorders. Complaints of insomnia, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, mood disturbances or a lack of energy may prompt a thorough evaluation for OSA.
Other seemingly unrelated symptoms may include weight gain, irritability, nightmares, problems with attention or concentration and dry mouth or throat.
Some common risk factors frequently associated with OSA are being overweight, having a large neck circumference (17-plus inches for men, 15-plus inches for women), nasal congestion, smoking and drinking alcohol. If you are male, older or have a family history, your risk is also greater.
Could You Have Sleep Apnea?
If you think you might have OSA or another sleep disorder, it’s important that you schedule a consultation.
Meanwhile, start keeping a sleep diary. Write down the times you go to sleep, wake up and take naps every day. Also keep track of how alert or sleepy you feel throughout the day, and make note if you experience any of the symptoms noted above.
You can also ask your sleeping companion to make an audio or video recording of your snoring and interrupted breathing patterns.
This information, along with a physical examination, can help us determine whether you may be at risk for OSA or another medical condition. To formally diagnose your condition, you will likely be asked to complete an overnight sleep study, either at a clinic or with a home-based monitor.
If you are diagnosed with OSA, we can explain your treatment options. We typically begin by recommending conservative treatment first, but if that isn’t successful, oral surgery can provide immediate relief.
The experienced doctors of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah, serving the greater Salt Lake City area, have the experience and qualifications to successfully diagnose and treat OSA. Contact our Cottonwood Heights, South Jordan or Tooele office today to schedule your evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea.