Is It Snoring or Sleep Apnea?


About 80 million people in North America snore.
Approximately 12 million Americans have sleep apnea.
So what’s the difference, and why does it matter?

Snoring is not necessarily sleep apnea. caused by the vibration of the soft palate and uvula, occurring when the airway becomes obstructed during sleep. Several things can obstruct the airway and cause you to snore, including allergies drinking before bed, being overweight and having large tonsils or a deviated septum.

It’s estimated that approximately 30% to 50% of the US population snore at one time or another, some significantly. If you snore now and then, you probably have nothing to worry about. Some non-medical methods to alleviate snoring are:

  • Weight loss — as little as 10 pounds may be enough to make a difference.
  • Change of sleeping position — you tend to snore more when sleeping on your back, so sleeping on your side may be helpful
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals — especially within two hours of bedtime
  • Avoid sedatives — sedatives can relax your throat muscles and increase the tendency for airway obstruction related to snoring


But chronic snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a more serious sleep disorder. People with sleep apnea stop breathing in their sleep – sometimes up to 100 hundred times an hour – for one minute or longer. Unlike simple snoring, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires medical attention. The risks of undiagnosed OSA include heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart disease and decreased libido. In addition, OSA causes daytime drowsiness that can result in accidents, lost productivity and interpersonal relationship problems. The symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe.

Common Treatments for Sleep Apnea

The good news is sleep apnea is treatable. The two most common ways to treat sleep apnea are continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP) therapy, which is administered by a physician, and oral appliance therapy, which is administered by a dentist. C-PAP therapy can be very effective for people with sleep apnea, but some find it difficult to sleep with a mask. More people are increasingly turning to the oral appliances administered by dentists. Oral appliances are small, flexible devices that look like mouthguards. They increase the airway space and reduce air velocity and soft tissue vibration (snoring) by moving the lower jaw into a forward position. Patients who have tried both say that oral appliances are more comfortable to wear, easier to care for and very cost-effective.

Surgery for Sleep Apnea

Surgery may be a viable alternative for some patients with OSA. However, it is important to keep in mind that no surgical procedure is universally successful. Every patient has a differently shaped nose and throat, so before surgery is considered your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon will measure the airway at several points and check for any abnormal flow of air from the nose to lungs.

In addition to a detailed history, Dr. McGann will assess the anatomic relationships in the maxillofacial region. With cephalometic (skull x-ray) analysis, the doctor can ascertain the level of obstruction. Sometimes a naso-pharyngeal exam is done with a flexible fiber-optic camera. To confirm the amount of cardiovascular compromise and decreased oxygenation levels, a sleep study may be recommended to monitor an individual overnight. The bones of the upper and lower jaw may be repositioned to increase the size of the airway (orthognathic surgery) . This procedure is done in the hospital under general anesthesia and requires a one to two day overnight stay in the hospital.

OSA is a very serious condition that needs careful attention and treatment. Depending on whether your OSA is mild, moderate or severe, your doctor will select the treatment that is best for you. Most major medical plans offer coverage for diagnosis and treatment; and rest assured, Dr. McGann has considerable experience and the necessary training and skill to properly diagnose and perform the treatment that is best for you.


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