Despite all the jokes, cartoons and comical depictions of snoring in pop culture, snoring is a symptom of a potentially life-threatening disorder called sleep apnea. The annual Sleeptember® campaign of the American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) is helping bring attention to this often chronic, debilitating and overlooked sleep disorder.
Let’s break some myths. You don’t have to be overweight, male or an adult to suffer from sleep apnea. ASAA says only a small percentage of those who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) get treated, yet if untreated, OSA can contribute to potentially fatal medical problems.
The National Sleep Foundation warns that “sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease and mood and memory problems. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of drowsy driving.”
Here’s one self-test offered by ASAA to determine if you or a family member might be at risk:
- Are you a loud and/or regular snorer?
- Have you ever been observed to gasp or stop breathing during sleep?
- Do you feel tired or groggy upon awakening, or do you awaken with a headache?
- Are you often tired or fatigued during waking hours?
- Do you fall asleep sitting, reading, watching TV or driving?
- Do you often have problems with memory or concentration?
According to ASAA, if you have one or more of these symptoms, you are at higher risk for having obstructive sleep apnea. If you are also overweight, have a large neck and/or have high blood pressure the risk increases even more.
Another well-established self-test is the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, originally developed by Dr. Murray Johns at the Epworth Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
People with sleep apnea can be successfully treated. Weight loss can help. There are medical devices (CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure) to keep breathing passages open. For some sufferers, surgery to remove soft tissue at the back of the throat and enlarge the upper airway is an option.
If you, or someone you know snores, please consult a sleep doctor. Find an accredited sleep center here.
About the Contributor
Helen Sullivan is Communications Counsel for the CertiPUR-US® program.