(NewsUSA) - Many couples accept snoring as an inevitable part of nightly life. But snoring warrants more than shrugging your shoulders and buying ear plugs -- snoring may indicate serious health problems.
Snoring happens when the soft tissues in the back of your throat relax, so they vibrate as you breathe. If those tissues get too relaxed, they can actually block your airway, cutting off your breathing.
This condition, called "obstructive sleep apnea," prevents quality sleep. The brain, not wanting to starve from lack of oxygen, wakes patients when they stop breathing, sometimes hundreds of times per night. According to the American Board of Internal Medicine, 50 to 60 percent of those who snore have sleep apnea.
Most patients are unaware of the problem, because they don't remember waking up throughout the night. For this reason, it's important to speak to a doctor if you experience loud snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, sore throat or high blood pressure.
Risk factors for sleep apnea include being male, being overweight, drinking alcohol and having a large neck or a history of nasal problems. The American Sleep Apnea Association provides a quiz that can help you determine your "Snore Score," or the likelihood that you have sleep apnea. You can take the quiz at www.sleepapnea.org.
Obstructive sleep apnea isn't just annoying. When you stop breathing, your heart beats faster, raising your blood pressure and increasing your chances of heart attack and stroke. Insufficient sleep can affect your job performance and ability to perform basic functions, like driving a car.
There are treatments for sleep apnea, ranging from simple lifestyle changes to breathing machines to surgery. Speaking to your doctor about snoring will not only improve your quality of life -- it may help your partner get a good night's rest, too.
For more information, visit www.sleepapnea.org.