Most people think of snoring as extremely annoying especially when it becomes too loud, too long or too frequent but not too many think that it is a sign of a serious medical disorder. But it is! Studies have shown that snoring can be harmful to health because obstructive sleep apnea may be close behind – too close for comfort, in fact.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a potentially serious, if not fatal, sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep without the affected individual’s recollection of it. This happens when the throat muscles sporadically relax and block the airways during sleep.

If you have two or more of the following symptoms, then you may have OSA and you must see your doctor immediately for proper treatment:

• Loud snoring that disturbs your sleep and those of others

• Shortness of breath after an abrupt awakening

• Waking up with a sore throat or a dry mouth

• Episodes of breathing cessations as observed by your bed-mate

• Excessive daytime sleepiness that may cause sleeping while working, watching television and even driving a vehicle

• Morning headaches

• Insomnia

• High blood pressure that seems difficult to manage despite medications

Don’t dismiss OSA as just a snoring problem because it is not. If you have been diagnosed with it, you have higher risks for:

• Cardiovascular issues like heart attacks and strokes because the sudden drops in blood oxygen levels to your heart and brain eventually damage these parts.

• Endothelial dysfunction, which refers to health issues in the lining of the blood vessels. A study in Romania indicated that people with OSA have stiffer arteries than non-afflicted individuals.

• Optic nerve swelling and glaucoma have also been connected to OSA.

• Daytime fatigue from lack of restful sleep, which can cause behavioral issues, fatigue and irritability.

But it is not just you who must deal with your OSA issue. Your partner will also suffer from sleepless nights because of your loud snoring and abrupt awakenings as well as worrying over your health.

Fortunately, OSA can be effectively treated. Your options include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which is effective but can be inconvenient because you have to wear a mask to sleep; bilevel posiyibe airway pressure (BPAP) is also used but to a lesser degree. Lifestyle changes like losing weight, avoiding alcoholic beverages, and quitting smoking are also recommended

The bottom line: Seek your doctor’s assistance immediately if you suspect OSA.