Are you drowsy during the day with no explanation? Do you snore loudly or wake up breathless in the middle of the night? If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be one of more than 12 million Americans who is affected by sleep apnea.
WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops periodically during sleep, as often as 20 or 30 times an hour. Each time you stop breathing in your sleep, the resulting lack of oxygen alerts your brain, which temporarily wakes you up to restart proper breathing. Since the time spent awake is so brief, most people with sleep apnea don’t remember it. Many believe they are getting a good night’s sleep, when in fact they are not. The constant wake-sleep, wake-sleep cycle prevents those with sleep apnea from achieving deep sleep, resulting in a constant drowsy feeling during the day.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
The following symptoms can indicate the presence of sleep apnea. If you notice one or more of these, contact our practice.
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring at night
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Snorting or choking sounds during the night (indicating a restart of breathing)
- Headaches in the morning
- Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
- Extreme drowsiness throughout the day
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea There are three categories of sleep apnea. The most common is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs due to a physical blockage — usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the throat. Less common is central sleep apnea (CSA), in which breathing stops because the muscles involved don’t receive the proper signal from the brain. And some people suffer from “mixed” or “complex” sleep apnea, which is a combination of obstructive and central.
WHAT ARE RISK FACTORS?
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in males than females, and more common in older adults (40+) than younger adults and children. However, anyone — regardless of gender or age — can suffer from sleep apnea. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking, use of sedatives or tranquilizers, and family history. Central sleep apnea strikes most often in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors. It is also more common in males.
IS SLEEP APNEA DANGEROUS?
Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem. If left untreated, it can lead to high blood pressure and increased risk of heart failure and stroke. The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at work or school, as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery. Sleep apnea can also cause complications with medication or surgery: sedation by anesthesia can be risky, as can lay flat in bed after an operation. If you know or suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, let your family doctor know before you take prescription medication or undergoing surgery.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Treatments depend on the severity of each case, and the type of apnea. Basic treatment can be behavioral — for instance; patients are advised to lose weight, stop smoking, or sleep on their sides instead of on their backs. Beyond that, oral devices can be used to position the mouth in such a way that prevents throat blockage. In more severe cases, surgery may be the best option.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SUSPECT SOMEONE IN MY FAMILY SUFFERS FROM SLEEP APNEA?
Contact our practice, and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. The specialist may recommend a “sleep study” to diagnose the precise extent of the problem and can prescribe appropriate treatment. Depending on the patient’s situation, treatment may involve an oral device we can custom-create for you.