Snoring and Sleep Apnea: Annoying or potentially dangerous


Many things can affect how easily your lungs bring oxygen in and push carbon dioxide out.  One of the most common is severe snoring—the kind that leaves the sleeper choking and gasping for breath.

What does excessive snoring indicate?

Almost 50% of adults snore at least occasionally.  Snoring occurs when something in the throat obstructs the flow of air.  This air vibrating in your throat is what causes the snoring sound.  Some people who snore have what is called sleep apnea.  This is defined as any period in your sleep where you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time. 

The blockage that causes snoring can stop the flow of air.  Aging causes the tissues in the throat to get softer, fatter and saggy.   When we sleep and our muscles relax, the fatty tissue collapses, covering the throat passage so no air can get in or out.  The result—Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

What are the dangers of Obstructive Sleep Apnea for aging adults?

Sleep apnea affects up to 20% of elderly adults.  One result is that those affected never fall into a deep, restful sleep.  A study at the University of Pennsylvania Health System conducted over a 5 year period showed that half of the participants experienced excessive daytime sleepiness.  This problem creates an increased risk of falling, cognitive deficits, and functional impairments.  Sleep Apnea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke and heart attack.

If you suspect you or your senior loved one may have sleep apnea ask your doctor to refer you to be tested.  You and your loved ones will rest easier!

Published on April 5, 2012.