There is probably nothing more annoying than sleeping with a person who snores. If do you, you probably keep hoping that person will stop snoring so you can get some sleep. It might be quieter once they stop, but that may not be a good thing. The snoring might be a symptom of sleep apnea, which can be dangerous and possibly even life-threatening.

Sleep apnea is more than just someone’s tendency to snore during the night. The person stops breathing for several seconds; this can quickly become a life-threatening situation if the airflow into their lungs is cut off for more than 10 seconds.

Ten seconds may not sound like a long time, but to someone who suffers from sleep apnea, it can happen up to five times in a single hour. Someone who snores loudly every night is at much higher risk for developing sleep apnea than the person who only snores occasionally.

Several other telltale signs of sleep apnea that might appear include daytime fatigue, problems performing daily activities, sluggish thinking, and emotional distress. This kind of sleep apnea usually starts in middle age and affects fewer women than men.

It is important to be aware of some of the risk factors for sleep apnea, such as:

1) Hypertension, even if it is being treated with medication.

2) Weighing more than 120 percent of the proper weight for the person’s height and build.

3) Nasal passages narrower than normal.

4) Neck circumference that is larger than normal. This becomes especially dangerous when the measurement is more than 17″ for men and 16″ for women.

The only way to properly diagnose sleep apnea is with a medically supervised sleep study. This usually can be done using a home monitor to catch breathing interruptions, both in adults and children. Once diagnosed, there are several ways to treat the disorder.

1) Being fitted by an orthodontist for a device that is only worn at night. This appliance is designed to change the placement of the tongue so the airway stays clear for proper breathing.

2) Losing weight. It is also important to follow a regular exercise program. A lot of people have said their sleep apnea completely disappeared after they lost weight and were in a healthy range again.

3) Using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) mask. This is worn over the mouth and nose and continuously forces air into the nasal passages. Many people report that this is an uncomfortable way to sleep, but they do eventually get used to it. This method is extremely effective and it does help users get a restful night’s sleep.

4) Getting surgery. If none of the aforementioned methods work to treat the disorder, there are surgical procedures that can widen the palate, take out the tonsils, or restructure nasal cavities. Sometimes these procedures will stop the sleep apnea.

Snoring should not be ignored, because the health consequences can be disastrous. Not only is it not harmless, but it also can become life-threatening without warning. If you suspect you or a loved one might be so afflicted, seek a doctor who specializes in sleep apnea for evaluation and treatment.