Snoring or sleep apnea? Know the differences and treatment options

About 90 million Americans suffer from snoring activity during sleep. While half of these people are simply just snoring, the other half may have a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). The two conditions are often inaccurately used interchangeably and may be incorrectly treated as a result. While OSA will almost always equal loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always equal OSA.

Understanding the differences between sleep apnea and snoring is the first step to effective treatment of both conditions (and to reducing noise for bed partners). For all the people across the country who are getting nudged or elbowed throughout the night, it’s important to know what their snoring means, and how they can silence it


Do your research

Knowing the difference between the two conditions is key in determining proper treatment. Snoring is the result of tissues in the throat relaxing enough that they partially block the airway and vibrate, creating a sound. Depending on an individual’s anatomy, among other lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and body weight, the sound of the vibration can be louder or softer.

Loud frequent snoring is one of the indicators of OSA, which is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. When people with OSA fall asleep, they can stop breathing for a few seconds to a minute or more. Both conditions can be caused or made worse by obesity, large tongue and tonsils, aging and head and neck shape.

Do talk to your doctor

If an individual is a frequent loud snorer, they should consult their doctor and be tested for sleep apnea before beginning any treatment. If you or your partner stops breathing, gasps or chokes during sleep, experiences excessive restlessness at night or feels sleepy during the day, it would be wise to bring it up with your doctor. Taking this first step prevents inaccurate self-diagnosis, inadequate treatment and dismissal of the problem. Your primary care physician will be able to refer you to a sleep specialist.

Do get treated

Snoring treatments range from lifestyle alterations, such as weight loss, a decrease in alcohol consumption and changing sleeping positions, to oral devices, nasal strips and even surgery. Treatment of OSA often involves more severe lifestyle modifications, upper airway surgery, oral appliances or a CPAP machine, a blower connected by a tube to a mask that fits over the mouth or nose, blowing air so that a continuous pressure in the airway is maintained. This constant pressure keeps the airway from collapsing allowing normal breathing.

Some sleep apnea patients experience difficulty using a CPAP machine, as it can be uncomfortable, embarrassing or just inconvenient. A new technology was recently developed called Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP), which many OSA and snoring patients have found success with. Provent Sleep Apnea Therapy is an alternative to CPAP that requires no mask, no machine, and no electricity. It is FDA cleared and clinically proven for the treatment of OSA. The non-invasive nasal device uses a MicroValve design that attaches over the nostrils and is secured in place with hypoallergenic adhesive. The valve opens and closes, redirecting air through small holes to create resistance when breathing out. Because Provent is a small, single-use, disposable device, it's discreet and convenient. This device works across OSA severity, body mass index (BMI), age, gender, race, and fits into most lifestyles. Provent is only available by prescription.

EPAP technology is also used in a snoring treatment, Theravent Advanced Nightly Snore Therapy. Also FDA cleared and clinically proven, Theravent is an over-the-counter nasal device that fits gently over the nostrils and creates positive pressure in the airway during exhalation. In clinical studies, 79 percent of bed partners reported that Theravent quieted their partner’s snoring. Talk to your doctor to see if EPAP therapy is right for you.


Do not dismiss snoring as natural

Often, snoring can be dismissed as a natural part of aging. While it’s true that snoring can increase over time with age and weight gain, it should not be accepted as an ordinary and standard juncture in life. It can, and should, be treated – for the sake of the snorer and their partner.

Do not underestimate the health risks

More than just a noisy nuisance, snoring and sleep apnea can have serious health ramifications. OSA sufferers usually move out of deep sleep into light sleep when their breathing pauses or becomes shallow, which lessens sleep quality. OSA can also trigger the release of stress hormones, change how your body uses energy, and make you feel tired and sleepy during the day. In addition, there are several potential negative health effects of inadequate sleep, such as weight gain, memory loss, skin aging and more.

There is also evidence that habitual snoring and OSA both lead to a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, certain cancers and even sudden death. Treating either condition can decrease these risks.

Do not forget that while you’re sleeping, others are not

While the snorer may not feel that the condition is disrupting his or her sleep, the partner being kept up all night by the noise may feel differently. Relationships can severely suffer if partners are irritated about being kept awake or having to sleep in separate rooms. Over 41 percent of women who say they need a good night’s sleep instead have it interrupted by a snoring partner. The lack of sleep or need for nighttime separation can foster resentment and decrease intimacy in relationships.

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Your health depends upon getting not only an adequate quantity of sleep, but ensuring that the sleep you get is quality sleep. If you or your partner experiences any symptoms of snoring or sleep apnea, consult a doctor. There are treatments, and you can get your restful nights back.

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Ronald A. Popper MD, FAASM, DABSMMedical Director

Ronald A. Popper is the founder and Medical Director of The Southern California Pulmonary and Sleep Disorders Medical Center since its inception in 1984. He is Board Certified in Sleep Disorders Medicine by both the American Board of Sleep Medic...

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