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Is It Snoring Or Sleep Apnea?

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, highlights the distinction between snoring and sleep apnea and the potential health risks associated with the latter.


“Snoring is a common occurrence in many households and is often viewed as an annoyance rather than a serious health concern. However, for some individuals, snoring may indicate a more significant issue – sleep apnea,” says Murray Hewlett.


“While not all snorers have apnea, the two often go hand-in-hand. As snoring gets louder, chances of having sleep apnea are greater.”

What Is Snoring?

Snoring is the noisy sound produced when air flows past relaxed tissues in the throat usually during sleep, as it can also happen whilst awake. It can range from soft, gentle sounds to loud, disruptive noises. While snoring can be bothersome to both the person snoring and their sleep partner, in most cases, occasional snoring is not a cause for concern. About 45% of adults snore occasionally, while 25% snore regularly.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterised by repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep. These interruptions, known as apneas, can last seconds to minutes and may occur numerous times throughout the night. Sleep apnea affects about one in five adults to varying extents, with a higher prevalence observed in men than women.


There are three types of sleep apnea:


  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea(OSA)


This is the most common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively, leading to airway blockage. Studies show that cases of OSA have significantly increased in the last 20 years. The main reason is that obesity, a common risk factor for OSA, has risen substantially, and more people are now aware of sleep apnea, leading to more screenings and diagnoses.


  1. Central Sleep Apnea


This less common type of sleep apnea involves a failure of the brain to signal the muscles to breathe correctly. Central and Obstructive Sleep Apnea have similar symptoms like breathing pauses, frequent nighttime awakenings, and daytime sleepiness. However, Central Sleep Apnea is often linked to underlying illnesses, like brain tumors or conditions affecting the brainstem.


Common diseases connected to Central Sleep Apnea include severe obesity, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and chronic heart failure. Some medications can also contribute to Central Sleep Apnea.


  1. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome


In recent years, doctors have identified a third (rare) type of sleep apnea known as complex sleep apnea – a mix of OSA and Central Sleep Apnea. In Complex Sleep Apnea, breathing issues continue even after addressing and treating the airway blockage. This indicates that something other than the collapsing of throat muscles is causing the problem.

Complications of Sleep Apnea

All forms of sleep apnea can lead to fragmented sleep and reduced oxygen flow to vital organs, including the brain and heart. The consequences of untreated sleep apnea can include:


  • Increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressureheart disease, and stroke.
  • Daytime fatigue and decreased alertness can impact daily activities and even lead to accidents.
  • Impaired cognitive function, memory issues, and mood disturbances.
  • Reduced quality of life and overall well-being.

Recognising the Signs and Symptoms

Differentiating between snoring and sleep apnea can be challenging because snoring is a common feature of sleep apnea. However, there are key indicators that can help individuals and their loved ones identify potential sleep apnea:

Signs of Sleep Apnea

  • Witnessed pauses in breathing: A bed partner may observe moments when the person stops breathing during sleep.
  • Loud snoring followed by silence: Sleep apnea often involves loud snoring, followed by abrupt periods of silence when breathing temporarily stops.
  • Choking or gasping sounds: Individuals with sleep apnea may make choking or gasping noises as they resume breathing.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness: People with sleep apnea often feel excessively tired during the day, regardless of how long they’ve slept at night.
  • Morning headaches: Frequent morning headaches can be a sign of sleep apnea.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Impaired cognitive function and difficulty concentrating are common sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Mood changes: Irritability, mood swings, and even depression can be associated with untreated sleep apnea.

Signs of Snoring

  • Consistent, rhythmic noise: Snoring typically produces a rhythmic, repetitive sound.
  • Noisy but constant breathing: Snoring may continue throughout the night without significant interruptions.
  • Less severe daytime fatigue: Snorers may experience mild daytime fatigue but are generally less affected than those with sleep apnea.

Seeking Professional Help

If any signs of sleep apnea accompany snoring, seeking professional medical evaluation and diagnosis is crucial. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve an individual’s quality of life and reduce the associated risks.

Treatment options include lifestyle modifications, positional therapy, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices or oral appliances. Each treatment plan is tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health coverage provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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