Snoring is a significant problem for many people, but it often goes undiagnosed or gets passed off as an irritation, with people being unaware that they are causing more damage to their health by not getting treated, especially if their snoring points to untreated Sleep Apnoea, a serious and potentially life threatening condition.
Snoring is defined as noisy breathing through the mouth and nose during sleep, and a recent study found that 34% of men are habitual snorers, with up to 50% reporting snoring (Young et al, 2002). As common as snoring is, it is no joke - it may be seen as an inconvenience to bed partners and other occupants of the household, in actual fact, snoring can be a sign of more sinister health problems.
According to Respiratory and Sleep Physician Dr Linda Schachter (MBBS, FRACP, Phd), who has over 10 years' experience in respiratory and sleep medicine, habitual snoring is a strong indicator of sleep apnoea, a dangerous medical condition that becomes more prevalent as we get older and gain weight "Sleep apnoea is potentially life threatening due to the repetitive pauses in breathing, the airway collapses. These pauses can last 10 seconds or longer during sleep. Partners of snorers often comment that the Sleep Apnoea sufferer will stop breathing in their sleep, and choke or gasp on waking up, which obviously worries them".
Dr Schachter says that a few obvious signs indicate Sleep Apnoea: "A person who may have sleep apnoea often feels tired, they need to nap during the day, especially during moments of quiet activity, which we call Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, and after waking up they often feel as if they have not slept at all".
Dr Schachter recommends that individuals with symptoms of Sleep Apnoea get diagnosed and treated early, because untreated Sleep Apnoea may increase the risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and strokes. It can also cause other serious health problems, such as
- fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness, which directly lead to higher risk of motor vehicle accidents and workplace accidents,
- personality changes,
- impotence; and
- decreased memory.
The good news is that Sleep Apnoea, Snoring and other sleep disorders such as periodic leg movements and insomnia can be now diagnosed by using a convenient portable sleep monitoring device in your own home. This device measures breathing, oxygen levels, brain pattern, sleeping positions and leg movements. It can also monitor the effectiveness of treatment for snoring and sleep apnoea such as mandibular advancement splints (MAS) and continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP). This sleep monitoring service is now available through Sleep Services Australia Australia, who have outlets around Australia..
Dr Schachter says that once diagnosed, people can get treated straight away: "If you are diagnosed with Sleep Apnoea, depending on severity of snoring and sleep apnoea, there are different options available. One of these is MAS, which is a customised mouth guard that pushes the bottom jaw forward opening the top of the airway. This is used in people with snoring and less severe forms of sleep apnoea. For severe sleep apnoea sufferers, the treatment of choice is CPAP, which involves wearing a mask over the nose during sleep, and air is pumped in through the mask into the upper airway, opening up the airway."
The first step is to get diagnosed – this involves completing a self-evaluation questionnaire, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (available at your doctor's surgery or by calling Sleep Services Australia), and discussing your questionnaire results with your General Practitioner, who can refer you for a home based sleep study with Sleep Services Australia (SSA), who also offer CPAP treatment. For more information on Snoring, Sleep Apnoea, or home-based sleep studies and all forms of sleep disorder treatment, call Sleep Services Australia on 1300 TO SLEEP (1300 867 533) or visit their website.