Of all the snoring related physical ailments, arguably the most severe and ironically least understood is a condition called Sleep Apnea. These two words should be emblazoned in the minds of every snorer, and anyone who lives with or cares about the safety and well being of a snorer.
The word apnea in the term sleep apnea derives from the Greek term for absence of breathing. That, in a nutshell, gives a sense of how dangerous sleep apnea can be; it literally refers to a condition where breathing stops during sleep.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
1) Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) - This most common form of apnea occurs when throat muscles relax.
2) Central Sleep Apnea - This form of apnea occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Sleep apnea and snoring are directly linked because during snoring the airway of the trachea is constantly subjected to repetitive collapse and obstruction; in fact, it is that collapse and obstruction that leads to the vibration that, ultimately, manifests itself as audible snoring. Obstructive Sleep Apnea thus occurs when, due to that continuous collapse of the airway, breathing actually stops.
Although Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs two to three times as often in older male adults, it can affect young or old, male or female. Even children can have sleep apnea, a problem more common than once thought.
Certain factors can put you more at risk of getting sleep apnea:
Obesity & excess weight (leading to an enlarged neck and excess soft tissue in the trachea)
Enlarged adenoids and/or tonsils (airway can become blocked when tonsils or adenoids are too large)
Sex and age (older men are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than women are)
Drinking alcohol (sedates the throat muscles and causes them to collapse)
Cigarette smoking (which inflames the upper airway)
While death is obviously possible due to Obstructive Sleep Apnea (and subsequent lack of breathing), there are many very serious effects that, while not fatal, are most certainly severe.
Even when it is not fatal, Sleep apnea deprives the body of essential oxygen; and hence, overall blood oxygen levels are reduced and concurrently, carbon dioxide levels rise. This can lead to toxic buildup that can cause heart disease, stroke, and brain damage.