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Nobody likes to sleep next to someone who snores, but snoring often indicates a serious medical problem, obstructive sleep apnea. The standard medical treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, but CPAP is not the only treatment.

Twenty-eight million people just in the USA have sleep apnea, which some people refer to as "snoring on steroids". Snoring is a major health problem, and not just because of the risk of a sleepless bed partner's taking matters into his or her own hands.

Snoring, sleep apnea, and sleep disordered breathing are potentially devastaing to health. Audults who who snore are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Children who snore are more likely to have ADHD.

People who don't breathe normally at night are up to 68 percent more likely to develop cancer, due to the lack of oxygen in their bloodstreams. They are more likely to become obese or to get heart trouble. As their lungs fail to deliver enough oxygen to the bloodstream over and over again during the night, their hearts have to work harder. This increases blood pressure, which leads to atherosclerosis. It taxes the kidneys, which filter more blood and extract more urine. People who sleep poorly due to their breathing problems often have to get up to go to the bathroom one, two, or three times a night, not because they drank too much water before bedtime, but because their snoring and snorting forces their kidneys to work harder.

The diagnostic category "sleep-disordered breathing" covers a spectrum of problems that are increasingly dangerous to good health, primary snoring, upper airway resistance syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea hypopnea syndrome. All of these conditions involve snoring at night. All of these conditions cause sleepiness during the day. The common disease pathology in all three conditions is the distensibility of the airways, particularly the upper throat. For various reasons, the airway becomes smaller. When air is forced through a smaller opening, it moves faster. Like the air blowing over the wing of a plane, fast-moving air traveling through a breathing passage becomes "lighter." Eventually the column of air has so little pressure that the throat temporarily collapses and breathing stops.

Typically what the doctor orders for obstructive sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP machine. With a mask fitted snugly over the nose and mouth, the device forces air into the nostrils to keep up a constant flow. The problem with using the device is that it is impossible for some people to worry about what will happen if the power goes off. Others feel claustrophobic. They may dreams about being captured by many-tentacled space aliens, or feel like they are drowning. The air flow can dry out nose and throat, causing irritation that takes several hours to go away every morning, cracking mucus membranes and leaving them more exposed to bacterial and viral infection. The contant drone of the machine may be as unpleasant for bed partners as snoring.

There is no pill for obstructive sleep apnea. Fortunately, there are devices that work for many users that are not as confining, or noisy, or irritating as CPAP. Before you allow yourself to be tethered to a CPAP machine every night, you may want to try one or more of these less expensive, less confining alternatives.

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