Snoring and Sleep Apnea

What’s the difference between Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Both of these are included in the category of sleep disorders. Snoring is considered more of an annoyance caused by the vibration of the oral tissues in the back of the throat while sleeping. Sleep Apnea, on the other hand, is considered a medical condition that can have more serious health effects. There are eight different causes of sleep apnea, but for the sake of this article, we will focus more on getting proper diagnosis and treatment options. The symptoms can be similar but the treatments are different. Gasping, snorting, choking and loud snoring noises along with daytime drowsiness are common symptoms found with both.


Snoring could be causes by a number of contributing factors and sometimes can be corrected with a modification in habits, diet or addressing allergies. Some factors such as aging can also impact snoring. If a person develops a cold or allergy, they might tend to breath through their mouth instead of their nose. The back of the soft palate could be collapsing in between breaths, creating a vibration. Having a large tongue or a collapsed arch space in the upper jaw can also block the airway. Smoking can affect the tissues in the throat as well as being overweight can also cause snoring due to excess tissue in the neck area.

Some options to help treat snoring

In some cases, suggesting adjusting your sleep position in bed, like rolling over onto your side, so your tongue doesn’t block the airway will help. Losing weight can potentially lessen the amount of tissue blocking the airway. Some people suggest drinking more water, less alcohol, stop smoking and taking allergy medications have proven to help with snoring. There are also anti-snoring pillows that lift you neck back – similar to the position used when giving CPR to open up the airway space. Breathing strips that go over your nose that you can pick up from the pharmacy can also be helpful to open the nasal passages.

Sleep Apnea

This is considered a medical condition because it means you are stopping breathing several times throughout the night. This can happen in both children and adults. While it tends to happen more in older overweight men, children and women do experience it as well. The lack of oxygen to the brain and lack of quality rest has been associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and more. Bags under the eyes from lack of quality sleep, daytime drowsiness and a thicker neck circumference are some of the common indicators (but not always) of potential sleep apnea.

Obstruction or partial blockage of the airways space can cause hypopnea, whereas complete obstruction can cause something referred to as apnea. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) causes oxygen deprivation which can also cause mood and anxiety disorders from untreated sleep disorders.

Options to Treat Sleep Apnea

Before we suggest anything, it is advised that you have a “Sleep Test” which is done either at a clinic or using a take-home device. This will measure the frequency of the sleep apnea experiences or times that you stop breathing throughout the night. Lack of quality sleep can be dangerous to your health and can contribute to sleepiness during the day or while driving or sitting in front of a TV. This sleep test MUST be interpreted by a Medical Physician before a dentist can advise or treat “sleep apnea”.

Often, the first option is to suggest a variation of the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine. This is the mask that fits over your nose with a hose and a machine connected via a hose to pump air through your nose. There are several types of these. Not everyone can tolerate them and if you travel, it can be cumbersome to carry around this unit.

In severe cases, surgery may be indicated. This could include removing the adenoids, the tonsils or even trimming the back of the upper portion of the palate to open the airway. This could be more drastic. In some cases, a deviated nasal septum or large epiglottis can contribute to this.

A third option more commonly used for treatment of mild to moderate cases is an Oral Appliance created by a dentist. Oral Airway Therapy (OAT) involves taking an impression of the mouth and carefully creating a custom-fitted appliance that will move the lower jaw (mandible) forward to allow for increased airway and better airflow. Generally, this is worn at night while sleeping and allows for more normal breathing to occur. In many cases, since this is considered a medical condition with larger health implications, Medical Insurance can sometimes be used to cover some of the costs.

Who should be tested for Sleep Apnea and at What Age?

As mentioned above, even young children should be evaluated for tongue tie or large tonsils or adenoids blocking the airway. Early intervention can prevent learning disorders being misdiagnosed due to lack of quality sleep and awareness. At our office, we evaluate all our patients for sleep apnea and may recommend taking a sleep test to “rule out” sleep apnea if other symptoms are present. If you snore or have a partner who snores, don’t wait to let it become a problem before treating it!

Call our office today to have a “complete health check-up“!

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