Snoring is much more than just a disturbing noise

Most of us don’t think of snoring as something to be overly concerned about — unless our partner is disrupting our sleep! But frequently, loud snoring may be a sign of sleep apnoea, a common and potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts as you sleep. DR PANG YOKE TEEN, Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, shares on the warning signs of sleep apnoea, how to distinguish it from normal snoring, the medical treatments available, and what you can do to help yourself.

Sleep apnoea affects the way you breathe when you’re sleeping. It is a medical condition characterised by repeated stoppage or decreased breathing. In untreated sleep apnoea, breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. These breathing pauses typically last 10 seconds or more and can occur up to hundreds of times a night, according to Dr Pang Yoke Teen. It occurs when part of the upper airway closes off interrupting breathing during sleep. This deprives you of oxygen until you wake and start breathing again. Often though, you will suddenly awake when this happens, have loud persistent snoring in most positions, sometimes grasping or choking, before gradually settling down to sleep again, usually without being consciously aware of the incident.

“Untreated sleep apnoea prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. When breathing is paused, you’re jolted out of your natural sleep rhythm. As a consequence, you spend more time in light sleep and less time in the deep, restorative sleep you need to be energetic, mentally sharp, and productive the next day.

This chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, and an increased risk of accidents,” says Dr Pang. Sleep apnoea can also lead to serious health problems over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. But with treatment, you can control the symptoms, get your sleep back on track, and start enjoying what it’s like to be refreshed and alert every day.

Children can also have sleep disturbances. They often have snoring, nosy breathing, restless sleep or sleep in awarkard position. In some cases, children also wake up at night with breathing difficulties. Due to poor sleep quality, they are lethargic in the day, and poor academic performance is also a result. The main problem in children are allergies, enlarged adenoids and tonsils. Once these are treated, sleep disturbances are efffectively eliminated,” says Dr Pang. Dr Pang sees many children for these problems as parents become more aware.


If you suspect that you may have sleep apnoea, seek medical help from an Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist or respiratory sleep physician. A thorough history will be taken, followed by a physical examination of the upper airway using a flexible nasoendoscopy. If indicated, allergy and sinus examination may be necessary as snoring often involved a congested and blocked nose. This may be caused by physical narrowing or as a response to allergies and sinusitis.

This is usually followed by treating any reversible conditions such as allergies and sinusitis. If reversing of these conditions does not relieve the problem, a sleep study will be arranged.

A Sleep Study helps to determine the quality of sleep, frequency and duration of the apnoea, the oxygen level in the blood, the heart rate, snoring levels, and position of sleep as well as depth of sleep. With all such information collected and analysed, the severity of sleep apnea can be determined. Now, home based sleep studies are available, making it more convenient for patient, and the familiar environment of the home also make the study more accurate.

Once diagnosis of sleep apnoea is made, your ENT Specialist will discuss with you the possible options.

This Article was published in Mind Your Body 7th July 2011.

Book an appointment with Dr. YT Pang to look at your ENT problems and get cured