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Frequent snoring may be a sign that you have sleep apnea.

If you snore regularly, you’ve probably fielded quite a few jokes about it from your family and friends—and learned to laugh at yourself along the way. You’re also likely aware of just how much your loud snoring can affect the quality of sleep that you and your partner get; some nights, it might even drive your partner to sleep on the couch. But did you know that snoring can be a sign of a bigger issue?

About half of people who snore loudly have a condition called obstructive sleep apnea, which has a range of symptoms that can negatively affect your daily life and your long-term health.

When you have sleep apnea, you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods of time throughout the night; in obstructive sleep apnea, this happens because the muscles in your throat relax when you go to sleep, allowing the tongue to slide backward or your throat to narrow, obstructing your airway. Since a condition that literally causes you to stop breathing is never ideal, it’s vital that you get tested for sleep apnea if you exhibit some of its symptoms and that you receive treatment for it if you’re diagnosed.

If you’re not quite sure whether or not you fit the bill for sleep apnea, we’ve included information about it—as well as what we can do to help alleviate the symptoms and risks of the condition.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Snoring, especially when it’s loud and occurs regularly, is one of the major signs of sleep apnea, but it’s not a guarantee that you have it.

There are other symptoms you can look out for, including:

  • Persistent fatigue during the day, often despite getting a good amount of sleep
  • Forgetfulness
  • Sleeping restlessly or waking up frequently at night
  • Waking up with headaches
  • Mood changes
  • Waking )up with a dry mouth or sore, dry throat

You don’t need to experience all of these symptoms; some people with the condition sleep the whole night without waking up—or at least, without remembering waking up—but experience unexplainable fatigue no matter how many hours they set aside for sleep. If you’re experiencing a few of these symptoms, you should contact a sleep doctor right away to get tested for sleep apnea.

Short- and Long-term Risks

If it’s left untreated, sleep apnea can be disruptive and dangerous in your daily life. The fatigue and difficulty concentrating that sleep apnea causes, for example, can impact your performance at work or school and can increase your likelihood of getting in a car accident. This is especially true if you have ADHD, as sleep apnea can worsen your symptoms.

Unfortunately, sleep apnea can also greatly impact your long-term health by increasing your risk of getting many different health issues. One study found that these effects are partially due to chronic hypoxia, which is when there isn’t enough oxygen on a cellular level to perform bodily functions. Over time, this contributes to cellular aging and impacts the function of your body’s systems on a large scale, increasing the likelihood that you’ll get diseases such as:

  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Alzheimers (according to this recent study)

These daily and long-term risks make it vital for you to get tested for sleep apnea and to seek out a treatment that works for you.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

CPAP Machine

Once you’ve undergone a sleep study and received a diagnosis of sleep apnea, you can begin to look at treatment options. While CPAP machines are a common and effective treatment for sleep apnea, they have their fair share of downsides. The machines use a mask to blow oxygen into your throat, preventing your airway from narrowing and ensuring you’re getting enough oxygen throughout the night.

The machines are quiet and won’t disturb your partner, but many people find the mask uncomfortable; the tubes that connect the mask to the CPAP machine can feel awkward and get in your way throughout the night, making it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. Additionally, CPAP machines are high-maintenance, requiring daily cleaning, and if you travel a lot you’ll likely need to buy a smaller machine to take with you. Despite their downsides, CPAP machines remain a popular and effective treatment for many people, especially people with more serious cases of sleep apnea.

Oral Appliance

Thankfully, however, CPAP machines aren’t your only treatment option. Specialized oral appliances are an alternative treatment that’s proven to be effective for sleep apnea, greatly reducing or eliminating your snoring and keeping your airway clear. The appliances, which fit like a mouth guard or retainer, work by moving your jaw forward into a position that keeps your airway open throughout the night. Since everyone’s mouth and airway is unique, your dentist will use X-rays of your teeth and jaw, as well as dental impressions, to design an oral appliance specifically for you; this ensures that the appliance keeps your jaw in the ideal position.

These oral appliances are easy to clean and pack for travel, making them much more convenient than CPAP machines, and are designed to be comfortable. Your appliance might take a little getting used to, but it shouldn’t interfere with your sleep—in fact, you should wake up feeling more refreshed and energized than you have in a long time!

Although sleep apnea can impact your daily life and long-term health negatively if it isn’t treated, you now have more treatment options than ever before. If you’re dreading the idea of wrestling with the tubes of a CPAP machine each night or cleaning it out every day, an oral appliance might be perfect for you. You can call our office any time to set up an appointment to discuss oral appliances in more detail.