If your snoring causes you to wake up with a loud snort or gasp several times during the night, you may have a form of sleep apnea, a serious condition that can cause breathing to stop. To be diagnosed with this condition, the patient must have five episodes per hour of sleep in which he or she must stop breathing for at least 10 seconds per event and have an overall blood oxygen desaturation level of 3-4% with changes in EEG frequencies and data.
There are two types of sleep apnea…obstructive and continuous. The obstructive variety is caused by the muscles and tissues of the throat and air passageway becoming relaxed while sleeping, blocking airflow into the lungs. Those who suffer from the continuous category stop breathing throughout the night, but instead of the condition being caused by a blocked air passage, it is caused by the brain temporarily not sending signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Left untreated, this condition can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, depression, chronic fatigue and diabetes, so if your snoring wakes you up frequently, see your physician at once. Your doctor may recommend seeing a sleep specialist who will have you take an at-home sleep test or to spend the night at a sleep clinic.
Following a sleep test, if you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, more than likely you will be treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) which requires you to wear a nasal mask while asleep. With CPAP treatment, air is forced through the upper airway to prevent tissues from collapsing and blocking the air passageway. Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP), which is the treatment for Continuous Sleep Apnea, sends air in two ways—in an inhale/exhale pattern to help the patient breathe.
If positive airway pressure treatment does not work, sometimes surgery is an option. In any case, sleep apnea is nothing to dismiss and it is important that you talk to your otolaryngologist to determine the best treatment for you.