Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. Each pause in breathing is called an apnea and can last for several seconds to several minutes. An individual with sleep apnea is rarely aware of having difficulty breathing, even upon awakening. It is usually recognized by others witnessing the individual during episodes or is suspected due to daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with sleep disturbance.
Snoring is a much more common problem and generally gets worse with age and weight increase. Not all people who snore have sleep apnea but most people with sleep apnea snore.
The obstruction to the airway most commonly occurs in the throat at either the level of the soft palate or the base of the tongue. Much less frequently, the obstruction that causes sleep apnea occurs in the nose. To make the distinction between benign snoring and sleep apnea, a sleep study, known as polysomnography, is necessary. Sleep studies can be done in a sleep lab or in some cases done at home.
Snoring can usually be managed by changing sleep position, oral lubricants and nasal splints. The treatment usually requires either a breathing apparatus known as CPAP, an oral appliance or in more severe cases, surgery on the throat. Your otolaryngologist can assist in the diagnosis of snoring verses sleep apnea and make recommendations regarding treatment.