Snoring can indicate serious health issues
Ryan Summerlin August 1, 2012
Dr. Seuss, the author also known as Theodore Geisel, is recognized worldwide for the infinite wisdom he presents behind fun, nonsensical rhymes. In The Sleep Book, he attempts to lull children to sleep with news flashes that report the path of a contagious yawn – a veritable sleep epidemic. And snoring characters abound with humor.
In real life, “sawing logs” is not humorous: It can be a sign of sleep apnea, vastly under-diagnosed and a very serious health threat. Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during the night, sometimes hundreds of times and often for a minute or longer. In most cases, the sleeper is unaware of these breath stoppages because they don’t trigger a full awakening.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans. At the same time the American College of Physicians notes that 80 to 90 percent of cases go undiagnosed. Risk factors include being male, overweight, and over the age of 40, but sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even among the young Dr. Seuss set whose airways can become obstructed through enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
The most common type of the condition is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA. During sleep, a person’s tongue falls back against their soft palate, and the soft palate and uvula fall back against the rear of the throat, effectively closing the airway.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious life-shortening consequences: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, diabetes, depression, automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel and other ailments. In children, sleep apnea causes irritability and a lack of focus, often mistaken for attention deficit disorders.
Though there are a number of different symptoms that lead to a sleep apnea diagnosis. We often start with the three S’s:
> Sleeping: Do you fall asleep and stay asleep? How long do you sleep? What is the quality of your sleep and how sleepy are you throughout the day?
> Sleeping partner alert: What does your companion report?
In my practice, I probably see one client daily whose diagnosis includes sleep apnea, and I’m treating another two to three cases monthly. It can be confusing because living at altitude also creates a fragile sleep environment as our bodies seek extra oxygen, our blood pH is altered and we experience sinus pressure changes.
Here in Summit County, the diagnosis and successful treatment of sleep apnea has skyrocketed due to a new and important communications process that will improve the overall health of our community significantly. Local health care practitioners are now informed anytime an overnight, hospitalized patient shows signs of sleep apnea.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you can be tested at home. Fitted with some diagnostic gear to measure airflow and brainwaves, the data collected may lead to a diagnosis. Overnight lab-based sleep studies are also available but can be costly.
For those mildly affected, weight loss, changing one’s sleep position and the use of a dental appliance to reposition the lower jaw and tongue can be hugely effective. For more serious cases, patients are fitted with a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP), a mask that fits over the nose and/or mouth, and gently blows air into through the breathing pathway to help keep it open during sleep. Once huge and noisy, some CPAP machines are now only the size of a shoebox and far quieter than most people imagine.
Treatment can be life changing. After a single night with a CPAP device, my patients report that they actually feel refreshed for the first time in years. If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, please visit your health care provider.
In the end, even Dr. Seuss recognizes the dangers of snoring, referring to his afflicted citizenry and where they choose to sleep, “They snore in a cave twenty miles out of town. If they snored closer in, they would snore the town down.”
At High Country Healthcare in Frisco, Dr. Elizabeth Winfield promotes wellness and preventive medicine, while treating acute and chronic illness. She offers low risk obstetric care, as well as care for the whole family from infancy to old age. For more info: www.HighCountryHealth.com.