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What is the Difference Between Snoring and Sleep Apnea?

Posted On October 14, 2015
October 14, 2015

About 90 million Americans suffer from snoring activity during sleep. Roughly fifty percent of these people are primary snorers (a snorer without Sleep Apnea), the other half may have a serious sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). While OSA will almost always leads to loud and frequent snoring, snoring does not always indicate OSA.


Snoring occurs when free flowing air hits an obstruction moving through the collapsible passages in the back of the mouth and nose and causes vibration. While you sleep, the muscles of your throat relax, your tongue falls backward, and your throat becomes narrow and “floppy.”
As you breathe, the walls of the throat begin to vibrate giving the characteristic sound of snoring. The narrower your airway becomes, the greater the vibration and the louder your snoring. The collapsible part of the air way is where the tongue and upper throat meet the soft palate and uvula. Depending on an individual’s anatomy and other lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption and body weight, the sound of the vibration can be louder or softer.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Loud frequent snoring is one of the indicators of OSA, a sleep disorder defined as the unconscious stoppage of breathing for short periods of time throughout a night’s sleep. With OSA, there is a soft tissue obstruction of the upper airway, which negatively impacts the flow of air.
Pauses in breathing can be just a few seconds to minutes, and occur as little as five to as many as 30 times per hour. OSA is further characterized as a partial reduction (hypopnea) to complete pauses (apnea) in breathing that can last longer than 10 seconds. Depending upon the number of times per hour these episodes are experienced during the course of a night, the severity is classified as mild, moderate or severe.

What is the difference between snoring and Sleep Apnea?

The main difference between snoring and Sleep Apnea is the unconscious stoppage of breathing while you sleep. Regardless of the severity of OSA, airflow and breathing are negatively impacted. With no or little air freely flowing to the lungs, there is a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood. Therefore, if not diagnosed or treated, it comes as no surprise that OSA is a debilitating and life-shortening condition that can impact a person’s life.

Sleep Apnea Indicators

  • Intense Snoring
  • Daytime Sleepiness and Excessive Fatigue
  • Poor Concentration
  • Obesity
  • Neck Circumference of Greater than 17 inches
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Family History

Sleep Apnea Risks

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

Only a physician will be able diagnose whether your snore is a mild vibration of tissue or a blockage of the airway causing sleep apnea. A quick home sleep test can be prescribed by your physician and will measure your risk for sleep apnea. Your physician will then be able to help you decide which treatment option is best for you.

Early recognition and diagnosis of sleep conditions will significantly improve the quality of care given to a patient. Treating patients sleep conditions will lower their associated risks for more serious medical maladies significantly. If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, been diagnosed or would like to find out how you can avoid the high risk of developing other conditions, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a consultation.

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