Snoring is the sound of partially obstructed breathing during sleep. Snoring occurs when the soft tissue structures of the upper airway collapse onto themselves and vibrate against each other as we attempt to move air through them. Large tonsils, a long soft palate, a large tongue, the uvula and excess fat deposits in the throat all contribute to airway narrowing and snoring. Usually the more narrow the airway space, the louder or more habitual the snoring.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
While snoring can be harmless, it can also be the sign of a more serious medical condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) occurs when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat. This blocks the upper airway causing air flow to stop. When the oxygen level drops low enough, the brain moves out of deep sleep and the individual partially awakes. The airway contracts and opens causing obstruction in the throat to clear. The flow of air starts again usually with a loud gasp. When the air flow starts again you then move back into a deep sleep. The airway muscles collapse, as you awaken with a gasp. The airway clears once again as the process repeats itself. This scenario may occur many times during the night. The combination of low oxygen levels and fragmented sleep are the major contributors to most of the ill effects that the sleep apnea patient suffers. In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness studies show that sleep apnea patients are much more likely to suffer from heart problems (heart attack, congestive heart failure, hypertension), strokes, as well as having higher incidence of work related and driving related accidents.
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Screening for sleep apnea
We can screen patients for sleep apnea based on a thorough oral exam, medical history, and high resolution pulse oximetry testing.
Diagnosis of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Since OSA is a serious medical condition, it must be diagnosed by a physician. Diagnosis is based on the results of an overnight sleep study called a Polysomnogram (PSG). Other factors of determining OSA are patient evaluation and history.