Snoring is very common -- half of all Americans do it occasionally. It's not necessarily cause for concern, though it can disrupt other people's sleep and strain relationships.
A sign that air isn't flowing freely, snoring can be triggered by a lot of things such as nasal congestion from a cold or allergies, swollen tonsils, pain and sleep medications, drinking alcohol or smoking. Sleeping on your side or using nasal spray or a room humidifier to keep your nose clear may help with intermittent snoring.
Chronic snoring that impacts a person's waking hours could signal a serious sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A condition that affects 18 million Americans, OSA occurs when muscles in the back of the throat relax, which disrupts breathing. Signs of OSA include gasping or choking in your sleep and feeling drowsy during the day. People with OSA are often unaware and think they're sleeping straight through, so the person sharing their bed can play an important role in spotting the condition.
OSA is serious because sleep deprivation can cause drops in blood oxygen levels and stresses the nervous system. "People with sleep apnea have been shown to be at a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases, particularly hypertension, stroke, and diabetes," said Thomas Roth, M.D., director of the Center for Sleep Disorders and Research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The good news is OSA can be treated. Lifestyle changes like weight loss, exercise, and quitting smoking and drinking can help or even cure mild cases of sleep apnea.
Your doctor may recommend a device known as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine -- a mask worn at night that delivers air pressure to keep airway passages open. A molded mouthpiece, similar to a dental guard, can help correct jaw or tongue problems and keep the throat open.
As Tucker Woodson, M.D., director of the Froedtert Hospital/Medical College of Wisconsin Sleep Disorders Program in Milwaukee points out, "if you're not sleeping well, good health is hard to come by."
Is Snoring Dangerous? originally appeared on Everyday Health