Undoubtedly, the most telltale sign of sleep apnea is snoring. But does everyone who snores have sleep apnea?
The answer to this question is no – with a “but.” It is possible to have obstructive sleep apnea without the presence of snoring. But if you or someone you love snores, it’s definitely a sign that it’s time to examine other symptoms and check in with your doctor.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which there is partial or complete blockage of the airway during sleep. This causes breathing pauses, which may last from a few seconds up to several minutes. These episodes are usually accompanied by loud snoring. In some cases, however, these episodes do not cause any noticeable disturbance at all.
Why Do People With Sleep Apnea Snore?
Snoring occurs when the soft tissues in your throat relax and collapse into your upper airways. The collapse creates turbulence and vibration within the airways, causing them to vibrate like a drum. When the vibrations reach the back of your throat, they stimulate nerves that send signals to your brain, telling it that you are awake. Your brain interprets this signal as a wake-up call and sends messages to your muscles to open your mouth and breathe.
In people with OSA, the soft tissues around the nose and throat do not collapse completely. Instead, the soft tissues remain partially relaxed, allowing the passage of air through the airways, which creates vibrations and the noise of snoring.
The Effects of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea has many effects on your body. It can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety, irritability, memory problems, headaches and even weight gain. The good news is that OSA can be treated with simple lifestyle changes and medications.
The Signs of Sleep Apnea
Snoring is certainly the most common symptom of OSA, but there are other signs that may indicate the condition. These include:
Excessive daytime sleepiness. Having sleep apnea means you don’t get restful sleep, which in turn can make you tired during the day. Daytime sleepiness is a common problem among those with sleep disorders.
Fatigue. Many sleep apnea sufferers mention that they feel tired no matter “how much sleep they get.”
Poor concentration. Sleep deprivation can cause poor memory recall and decreased ability to focus.
Weight gain. The more severe your sleep apnea, the greater the weight gain. This is because sleep apnea causes you to lose muscle mass while gaining fat.
Depression. People with untreated sleep apnea often report feeling depressed.
Irritability. You might find yourself snapping at people because you’re tired and dealing with daytime sleepiness.
Insomnia. Some people have trouble falling asleep, even though they are tired. They may be experiencing restlessness caused by sleep apnea.
Headaches. Snoring can trigger headaches, as can the lack of oxygen that develops as a result of OSA.
Heartburn. Experts aren’t sure why, but there seems to be a connection between chronic acid reflux and OSA.
High blood pressure. Untreated sleep apnea can cause hypertension, which puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Memory loss. Studies show that people who suffer from sleep apnea have impaired memory retention and learning abilities.
Strokes. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that patients with untreated sleep apnea were twice as likely to have strokes than those without sleep apnea.
Weight gain. If you have sleep apnea, you’ll probably put on weight, and you’ll probably find that weight is harder to get off.
Silent Sleep Apnea
So, can sleep apnea be silent? Yes, it can. There are two types of sleep apnea: central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles controlling the upper airway. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there’s an obstruction in the throat or nasal passages. Both types of sleep apnea are associated with loud snoring. However, not all people with sleep apnea snore loudly. For example, if you have mild sleep apnea, you may not snore at all.
Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
There are several treatment options available for sleep apnea. They include:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP machines use pressurized air to keep your airways open. While wearing the machine, you will spend most of your time sleeping.
Oral appliances. These devices work like braces and hold your jaw in place while you sleep.
Surgery. Surgical procedures such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) and laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) remove tissue from the soft palate and tongue area.
How Does Sleep Apnea Affect Me?
If you suspect you have sleep apnea or if you’ve been diagnosed with it, you should see a doctor. He or she will perform tests to determine whether you actually have the disorder. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will recommend treatment options based on your specific needs.