To a layman the two words can be used interchangeably but to an expert it is totally wrong to mistake one for the other.
They both involve airflow (inhalation and exhalation) from the lungs. Besides that, both are related to sleep. But while primarily snoring refers to a milder condition, sleep apnea refers to a more serious and potentially life-threatening ailment.
So what’s the difference between sleep apnea and snoring?
Let’s find out.
The Difference Between Snoring And Sleep Apnea
In medical terms, snoring is simply referred to as the harsh or hoarse sound that occurs when airflow is obstructed in some way when you are asleep. As many as 50% of adults snore and though the condition is merely seen as a nuisance it may indicate a serious health problem.
Sleep Apnea on the other hand is a sleep disorder in which normal breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
Note that in primary snoring breathing does not stop and start and except for the partial blockage of air, everything else works fine.
According to Mayo Clinic, snoring occurs when the flow of air is interrupted by relaxed tissues in the throat causing some vibrations that create irritating sounds.
You can develop a snoring condition due to weight gain or consumption of alcohol.
How Does Snoring Occur?
Some types of sleep apnea (e.g. OSA) are closely related to snoring because they emanate from the throat area. However, more often than not, doctors have discovered that the effects of apnea are quite deeper and dire.
This may happen when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing patterns.
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Snoring And Sleep Apnea Have Different Symptoms
Although snoring is often associated with sleep apnea, not all snorers have (or are at the risk of) it.
Otherwise, the only symptom of snoring is the loud sound that comes out when one goes to sleep. Any other symptoms other than that may point to a problem more serious than the snoring itself.
They Have Different Causes
Snoring is caused by factors such as allergies, weight, alcohol consumption and the general anatomy of your mouth.
When you sleep and progress to deep sleep, the muscles in your soft palate, throat and tongue tend to relax in such a way that they partially block your throat.
The narrower your throat is, the more forceful the flow of air becomes and the louder the rattling sound.
Causes of sleep apnea are slightly related to those of snoring with the only difference being that the former’s are more critical than the latter’s. For instance, in apnea’s case there is blockage of airway just like in snoring.
However, this blockage is so severe that it lowers the level of oxygen in your blood until your brain senses an inability to sleep.
The brain then briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can re-open the throat.
If you have sleep apnea you are likely to experience frequent choking sessions accompanies by a gasping sound. This can happen successively throughout the night going to as many as 30 times an hour.
They Have Different Treatment
The best way to treat snoring is by change of lifestyle. Avoid alcohol close to nap time, lose weight, change your sleeping position and treat nasal decongestion. If that does not help then you can use anti-snoring devices such as chinstraps, tongue retaining devices or mouth guards.
As for sleep apnea treatment usually varies from use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) therapies. Surgery is also an option in treating OSA (it may not be a good option for snoring).
Your surgeon may therefore recommend a procedure called uvulopalatopharyng oplasty, which involves removal of tissues from the back of your mouth. An alternative form surgery is called tacheostomy and it involves creation of a new passageway to bypass the blocked air passage.
Perhaps the main difference in treatment of snoring and sleep apnea is that a snorer can comfortably use a device that encourages nose breathing (such as a tongue retaining device) but sleep apnea sufferers may face severe health consequences by doing that.
Snoring is different from sleep apnea in that it does not cause a total blockage of airflow. Sleep apnea is a more serious health condition because it is directly tied to oxygen supply and general functioning of the brain.