Many individuals are mildly affected by snoring during sleep. For some people, however, snoring can indicate the presence of a more-serious medical condition with additional complications. If your snoring is chronic and involves choking episodes, you are most likely suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that is created by obstruction from enlarged throat tissue, tonsils, and adenoids. These enlarged structures block upper airway passages during sleep, making breathing labored and difficult. Noisy and persistent snoring is a common sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Pauses of breathing often punctuate snoring in those with this condition, and choking or gasping usually follows these pauses. Individuals with obstructive sleep apnea have continual shallow or irregular breathing during sleep, and may even stop breathing up to hundreds of times per night.
An estimated 12 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea. During an obstructive sleep apnea episode, the chest muscles and diaphragm labor extensively to open the blocked airway and restore airflow to the lungs. Breathing usually resumes with a loud choking sound, gasp, or body jerk. Someone with sleep apnea generally will not remember these episodes, since the body stirs just enough to tighten the throat muscles and open the windpipe. Sleeping partners of those with sleep apnea are often the first to notice these choking episodes and may become alarmed at the labored breathing of the snorer.
Choking, gasping, and experiencing the other effects of sleep apnea reduces the flow of oxygen to vital organs during sleep, causing irregular heart rhythms and daytime sleepiness. If left untreated, this condition can lead to extensive cardiovascular issues and impair daily activities. See your doctor to address any concerns about choking during sleep and to suggest lifestyle adjustments such as weight loss and quitting smoking. He or she may refer you to a specialist or a surgeon to reduce sleep apnea and related breathing issues.