The science behind snoring and sleep apnea - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

The science behind snoring and sleep apnea

There is a battle going on in the bedroom for many couples and for some, it could actually be the sign of a major health problem.

Ah, the sound of slumber...snoring is filling the walls of many American bedrooms!  "Snoring for the patient is not the problem, it's everybody else in the room," said Dr. Keith DeSonier, an ENT specialist with ENT Associates and CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital.

Snoring is one of the main forces driving couples to sleep in separate bedrooms, and it is something Dr. DeSonier frequently treats in his practice.  "The palate, this flexible thing, starts vibrating and makes the snoring sound," he said.

We all have this flap, known as a "uvula," that tends to vibrate more in heavier people and those with thicker necks.  "The neck size and the tone of the neck, the tightness or the laxity of the muscles," said Dr. DeSonier.

While snoring can be annoying, it is not actually a health hazard. The health hazard comes when the muscles relax so much that the airway is blocked off.  "No air gets through, doesn't get through the nose and can't get through the mouth, that's the apnea. There is no noise when that happens," said Dr. DeSonier.

Sleep apnea can be life threatening if oxygen is cut off for too long - something that is only measured through sleep studies.  "It can show you that you had 60 apnic spells through the night where you held your breath 30 seconds, 45 seconds, one minute," said Dr. DeSonier.

A CPAP machine can be used to open the airway.  "That air flow will spread the distance," said Dr. DeSonier, "that keeps the uvula from flapping so much."

If it is just good old fashioned snoring to blame, allergy medicine can help ease congestion.  Rolling over can also make a difference or surgery could provide long term relief. 

Obstruction in the nasal cavity or even a crooked nose could also cause snoring.

Sleep apnea can be hard to self-diagnosis, unless you are waking up, feeling like you got no sleep. Spouses are typically the first ones to notice a partner's sleep apnea.

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