A Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated sleep specialist weighs in on snoring: when it’s normal, how to curb it and when it warrants extra inspection –
Written by Molly Ramsey
There’s nothing rare about snoring. The American Academy of Sleep Disorders estimates that 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women regularly snore, with more than half of us guilty of the noisy habit at some point in our lives.
“Snoring is normal,” confirms pulmonary disease specialist Dr. William Dawson, director of the Roper St. Francis Healthcare Sleep/Wake Disorders Center. “The sound occurs when air flows against relaxed, or floppy, throat tissue during an inhalation while we sleep, creating audible vibrations,” he explains. Certain lifestyle and medical factors make a person more prone to having that floppy throat tissue, including smoking, drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime, being overweight and having allergies or nasal conditions like a deviated septum. (Curtailing these activities, losing weight and resolving any underlying nasal issues can often resolve mild cases of snoring.)
While snoring itself isn’t harmful, it can sometimes be a red flag for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious condition that can lead to severe daytime fatigue, hypertension and an increased risk for cardiovascular conditions like heart attack and stroke. “At a certain point, the airway becomes so small and floppy that it collapses—that’s apnea,” says Dr. Dawson, who adds that someone with OSA will stop breathing for a few seconds then wake with a gasp or snort multiple times each night.
“In general, the louder you snore, the more likely it is to be disease related,” he says. Snoring so loudly that you wake yourself or a bed partner is a chief symptom of OSA. See the sidebar at right for more, and for information on a new at-home sleep test available through Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
Warning Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, an estimated 22 million Americans have OSA—80 percent of whom are undiagnosed and unaware. The condition is most common among men in their 40s, 50s and 60s, but women and those younger or older experience it as well. Because it occurs while you’re sleeping, OSA can be hard to catch—especially if you sleep alone.
Symptoms of OSA Include:
- Multiple nighttime wakings, even if no snores are heard.
- A witness: someone sees you stop breathing for a few seconds then gasp or snort for air during the night.
- Morning hypertension. “Blood pressure normally lowers during sleep,” says Dr. Dawson. “But sleep apnea exacerbates hypertension,
so sleep apnea patients often record their highest blood pressure in the mornings.”
The Roper St. Francis Healthcare Sleep/Wake Disorders Center diagnoses and treats issues ranging from OSA and insomnia to restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. For OSA, a new disposable at-home test called the WatchPAT ONE is now available and covered by many insurance plans, if you meet certain criteria and it’s ordered by a primary care doctor or specialist. The test uses a wristband, fingertip device and small microphone attached to your chest to measure snore decibel, oxygen level and heart rate. “The test is affordable, quick, fairly easy, reliable, comfortable and roughly 95 percent accurate,” says Dr. Dawson. Talk to your doctor about a referral or call the center for more information at (843) 724-2246.
Q: Do OTC nasal strips help prevent snoring?
A: “They do work for some people—it’s worth a try,” says Dr. Dawson. “You’ll know after the first time if they will work for you. Decongesting with nose drops might help too.”