Does my snoring mean that I have obstructive sleep apnea?

To determine if your snoring is a sign that you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you would need to see a doctor who is a sleep specialist for a complete sleep evaluation. This may involve either an overnight sleep study at a sleep center or a home sleep apnea test. The sleep doctor will interpret the data from your sleep study to make a diagnosis.

This content originally appeared on the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) website.
If your snoring causes an obstruction you may have sleep apnea, but there are many people who snore who do not have sleep apnea. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine if a sleep study would be appropriate to evaluate for sleep apnea.
Craig L. Schwimmer, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
No. Snoring is far more common than sleep apnea. But loud, habitual snoring is the hallmark of sleep apnea, so if someone snores regularly and has any symptoms of sleep apnea (poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches), or suffers from high blood pressure, weight gain or erectile dysfunction, they should be evaluated.

Most people who have obstructive sleep apnea snore. However, snoring by itself does not necessarily mean that you have obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorder. Your snoring may be caused by other factors. However, if you snore and feel fatigued during the day, talk to your doctor. If you do have sleep apnea, it should be treated.

Not necessarily. Snoring is the noise that is created when you are breathing and air is flowing past the soft palate and back of the throat area causing vibrations in the tissue. If the airway gets completely blocked, air doesn't get into the lungs and you have a moment when you stop breathing - this is sleep apnea. The number of these incidences determines the severity of the sleep apnea. So, you can have snoring without sleep apnea but if you have sleep apnea, you usually have a snoring problem.

Ravi S. Aysola, MD
Pulmonary Disease
Snoring does not necessarily indicate sleep apnea. At one end of the snoring spectrum, there's what's called primary snoring: someone who snores and the snoring doesn’t interfere with his or her sleep nor his or her partner’s sleep. That kind of snoring, because it doesn't interfere with sleep, doesn’t cause oxygen levels to drop or create a fragmented sleep pattern, which are symptoms of sleep apnea.
Phil Westbrook
Sleep Medicine
Well, if you snore you are certainly more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than someone who does not snore. In fact if you truly do not snore your chances of having significant OSA are just about zero. Of course you only snore when you are asleep, so the only way you know for sure if you do not snore is if your bed-partner tells you. If you are a really loud snorer, the chances are you may not have a bed-partner.

Snoring is the acoustic signature of a throat that is partially collapsed. During sleep, when the muscles responsible for holding our upper airway open as we breathe in become less active, the throat narrows slightly. This occurs in almost everyone, and so in all of us there is a slight increase in the resistance to the flow of air as we expand our lungs during sleep. This does not interfere with our breathing significantly so it is no big deal. However if the size or collapsibility of the airway is abnormal, the narrowing that occurs with sleep is enough that the flow of air is restricted and the speed of the air though the collapsible portion must increase. This increase in airflow causes the floppy parts of the airway to vibrate and create the annoying sound we call snoring.

So snoring is a sign of partial airway collapse and what we call inspiratory flow limitation. If it occurs only occasionally it is probably not anything to be concerned about. However snoring that occurs every night or almost every night and is heavy or loud could be a sign of important sleep related breathing problems. Loud snorers are at greatly increased risk of having at least mild OSA. They are also at increased risk for sleeping alone.

So if you are a loud snorer and especially if someone has noticed that you appear to choke or gasp during sleep, or you are sleepy during the times you should be wide awake, you should tell your doctor about it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.