Don’t ignore the snore: When an annoyance can turn life-threatening

‘At first I was like in denial, but then it was concerning.’

ROANOKE, Va. – About half of people snore at some point in their lives, but for some, it can be a sign of a much bigger problem.

On Monday, 10 News addressed the major issues snoring can cause in relationships, but it can cause life-threatening complications for your health too.

For decades, Kathy Pellant has been helping patients suffering from snoring or sleep apnea improve their health and their relationships at Carilion's Sleep Center. Her work ended up hitting close to home.

"He started gaining a little bit of weight and started snoring," Kathy said.

This time, the familiar roar of the snore was coming from her husband, Eric. Given her knowledge, what started out as being annoyed over sleepless nights quickly turned into being concerned for his health.

"It scares you to death because you can't go back to sleep when you know they're doing that," Kathy said.

Kathy decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I started to tell him, 'You're not breathing,' and he kind of blew me off," Kathy said.

"I was like, 'Oh, no,' and she said, 'Yes, you do," Eric said.

"'This is why you're so tired and this is why you're so moody,' and he blew me off, blew me off and then one night I decided, I’m going to tape him," Kathy said.

"Sure enough, I was snoring and then there were times where I was just stopping. You couldn't hear me breathing," Eric said.

That's all it took for Eric to take action. He took the recording to his doctor who recommended a sleep study, ultimately diagnosing his sleep apnea.

“At first I was like in denial, but then it was concerning,” Eric said.

Dr. Frank Biscardi, who’s the director of Carilion’s Sleep Center, hears a lot of stories like Eric’s.

That’s why they track everything that happens during sleep: when a patient snores, but more importantly, when they don’t.

“In a 30-second period, they’re going about 20 seconds without breathing. Some of these are painful to look at," Biscardi said as he reviewed data from sleep studies.

Those long periods without breathing define sleep apnea and often serve as a wake-up call.

"They say, 'Doc, am I going to die if I stop breathing at night?' And no, the good Lord gave you this little reflex so you'll wake up and take a breath, but you'll get progressively more miserable over time," Biscardi said.

Sleep apnea is a condition affecting more than 10 percent of people.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep apnea can affect anyone, including children. The following factors; however, increase your risk:

  • Obesity
  • Thicker neck circumference
  • A narrowed airway
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Family history
  • Alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers
  • Smoking
  • Nasal congestion

"It not only makes people feel badly because they're tired all the time, they can't stay awake, but there are short-term and long-term consequences of it," Biscardi said.

The consequences could be life-threatening, like high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and risks outside of your health, that Eric has seen first-hand.

"We had gone to the beach and we were coming back and we had driven, the whole family was in the car and I drifted off onto the shoulder a little bit and that was what woke me up," Eric said.

He listened to doctor's orders, deciding to wear a CPAP, that improved his life, his family life and potentially saved his life.

"Not only are you going to sleep better but you're going to feel better and you're going to be a better person to be around," Eric said.

"Oh, the heavens opened because not only that I knew he would be healthier and I knew that he would be able to, I guess have better interactions with us," Kathy said.

"In the long run, you'll be better off," Eric said.

"Peace of mind and not being scared that I was going to lose him," Kathy said.

If you think your partner may have sleep apnea experts said you should record their snoring and listen for those pauses where they may not be breathing.

The best advice is to go see a doctor.

Click here to learn about sleep apnea treatment options.

Click here to learn more about Carilion’s Sleep Center, with locations in Roanoke, Westlake, the New River Valley and Lexington.

About the Author:

Jessica anchors 10 News on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 and 11 p.m. You can also catch her reporting during the week.