Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are snoring and sleep apnea the same thing?"
I know I snore pretty loud, but is this the same as sleep apnea? Should I have it treated or is snoring perfectly healthy?
This is a very good question, and one that we get all the time in the ENT (Ears Nose Throat) clinic. The short answer is "no" they are not the same. In order to understand snoring and sleep apnea, you must first understand something about the anatomy of the upper airway. The airway from your larynx (voice box) to your lungs is relatively rigid (like a PVC pipe) and as such is relatively resistant to collapse. The airway from your larynx to your lips is more of a muscular tube. While you are awake it easily stays open because you have muscle tone. When you lie flat so gravity is working against you, and also lose muscle tone, the already slightly floppy upper airway becomes even more floppy. Snoring is the sound that is made when the upper airway tissues are flopping around during inspiration. Apnea is when things become so floppy that they actually collapse and completely obstruct the airway. After a few seconds (or many seconds in some cases) of obstruction, the blood oxygen levels start to go down. Your brain doesn't like not having enough oxygen, so it wakes you up, restores muscle tone, and you can breath again. Until you fall asleep and start the whole cycle all over again. Snoring doesn't have any significant medical risks, but sleep apnea definitely does. If you are a bad snorer, and you aren't sure if you have sleep apnea, I would recommend making an appointment with your primary care physician, or a sleep specialist (or even an ENT) to get examined, and have a sleep study ordered. I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.