Myth or Fact: Snoring Can Point to Health Risks

Does someone you care about snore? Maybe you’ve heard that you do. Snoring can be annoying for others and maybe a bit embarrassing for the snorer.

But snoring can also be a sign of a more serious health problem. Sometimes it can be caused by a condition where people experience brief pauses of breathing during sleep, causing a drop in oxygen levels. This condition is known as obstructive sleep apnea.

What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Why is this important? Obstructive sleep apnea is common. Half of overweight people have sleep apnea, as extra weight around the neck and on the chest can make nighttime breathing difficulties worse. But there are plenty of normal weight individuals with sleep apnea as well, which can sometimes be secondary to enlarged tonsils or a large tongue.

You have a higher risk for sleep apnea if you:

  • Are overweight.
  • Are male. However, women can also suffer from sleep apnea and its ill effects.
  • Have small airways or enlarged tonsils.
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea.
  • Have children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids who snore loudly.

Risks of Sleep Apnea

If you have sleep apnea, your interrupted sleep during the night can cause you to be drowsy during the day. Daytime drowsiness can leave you with a higher risk for accidents and injury.

People with sleep apnea also have a higher risk for a number of health conditions.

Stroke — Loud snoring, whether caused by sleep apnea or not, can increase the risk of carotid atherosclerosis. This is a narrowing of the carotid arteries (supplying blood to the brain) caused by fatty plaque deposits. Excessive plaque in the carotid arteries can cause stroke. The longer and louder a person snores, the greater the long-term risk for stroke. by the vibrations of snoring.

Heart disease — Snoring and sleep apnea have been linked to cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. These conditions increase the risk for heart attack.

Treating sleep apnea with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine can reduce the risk for heart disease.

Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) — Sleep apnea or long-term snoring can increase the risk for irregular heart rhythm. People with sleep apnea have an increased chance for atrial fibrillation or AFib. This is a type of arrhythmia where the heart’s upper and lower chambers don’t beat in proper rhythm.

Using a CPAP machine may lower the risk for AFib.

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease or heart burn) — People with sleep apnea may also have GERD. The throat normally closes as air moves in and out during sleep. With sleep apnea, the throat can remain open allowing stomach contents to flow up into the esophagus. This creates the heart burn some people feel.

Being overweight can prompt both sleep apnea and GERD. The symptoms of both conditions tend to ease as a person loses weight.

Headache — Studies have found a link between sleep apnea and sufferers waking with morning headaches.

Mental health problems — Chronic lack of sound sleep due to sleep apnea can result in a range of mental health issues, from irritability to depression.

How To Reduce Snoring

Chronic snorers should see a health care professional. At-home and professional treatments are available that can reduce snoring and leave the snorer and others sleeping more restfully.

Lose weight — This is a good first step for curbing snoring. Slimming down may reduce or even eliminate snoring. Plus losing weight has a number of other health benefits for systems and organs all over your body.

Don’t sleep on your back — Back sleepers are more prone to snoring. To stay off your back once asleep, try a body pillow or wear a soft backpack filled with towels or a blanket.

Snoring mouthpiece — It looks like a mouth guard. It positions the jaw to help keep the airway open and reduce or stop snoring. A mouthpiece is a good option if your snoring is less severe. Snoring mouthpieces are available online, or visit with your health care provider about recommendations.

Avoid alcohol — Alcohol relaxes muscles. This can loosen the tissues in your throat and make you snore even more. If snoring is a problem for you or your partner, skip drinks such as wine in the evening. Also skip other sedatives and muscle relaxing drugs.

Stop smoking — Smoke irritates your airways and causes swelling, which prompts snoring.

CPAP — This is a small, comfortable device you wear when sleeping, similar to nasal oxygen. The devices are nearly 100 percent effective in treating sleep apnea (when used as prescribed).

If these approaches don’t work out for you, check with your health care provider for other sleep treatments.

Meet the Author

  • Colleen Plein, MD, specializes in otolaryngology: head and neck surgery at Aurora Health Center in Racine, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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