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Sleep Apnea

Overview of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which you may stop breathing. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and feel tired even after you have gotten a full night of sleep. There are a few different types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include: irritability, sleepiness, difficulty staying awake, morning headaches, difficulty paying attention throughout the day, waking up with a dry mouth, gasping for air in the middle of the night, snoring, and episodes where you do not breathe while asleep. Snoring and not breathing while asleep is typically reported by someone else for you.

You will want to see your physician if you have any signs of sleep apnea. Not everyone that has sleep apnea snores, so do not base your quality of sleep on that alone. Our practice now offers home sleep testing, where you do not have to go to the lab anymore.

Sleep Apnea Causes

Obstructive Sleep Apnea occurs when the muscles that are located in the back of the throat relax. This muscle is responsible for supporting the soft palate, the uvula, the tonsils, and the side walls of the throat and tongue. When these muscles are relaxed, your airways close in when you breathe, which means that you are not getting enough air. When your brain realizes that you are not getting enough oxygen, it wakes you back up so that you can open your airway. You typically do not realize that your brain has wakened you up. You might snort, choke, or gasp for air. This usually happens between 5-30 times each hour.

Central sleep apnea is the less common form of sleep apnea but happens when your brain does not send signals to the breathing muscles. This means that you make not breathe for a short period of time.

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

While sleep apnea can affect just about anyone, there are certain risk factors that will put you at a higher risk for having sleep apnea. If you are overweight, then the fat deposits around your upper airway may make it difficult to breathe. People with thicker necks usually have narrower airways. If you have a narrow throat, then your tonsils or adenoids may enlarge and block the airways even more. Other factors include: being male, older age, family history, use of alcohol, smoking, nasal congestion, heart disorders, or stroke.

Sleep Apnea Complications

Sleep apnea should be taken care of immediately, as there are many complications that come with it. Since you are not able to get a full night’s rest, then you will experience severe daytime drowsiness and even irritability. You will find that you are not able to concentrate at work, relax, or even drive. People with sleep apnea are more likely to be in a car crash or in a workplace accident. Children that have sleep apnea are more likely to perform poorly in school. Sudden drops in oxygen also have a serious strain on your heart, so you will be more likely to have high blood pressure or a variety of different heart problems. You are also at risk for things such as: type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or liver problems. It is also likely that you will not respond to certain medications or surgery as well as people that do not have sleep apnea. If you snore loudly or gasp for air, you may be keeping your partner awake too. Partners of people with sleep apnea do not typically get a good night’s rest either.

Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

A proper diagnosis is important for you to continue living your best life. Your physician will begin by evaluating your symptoms and sleep history. Typically, your partner’s input is very important on this. From here, your physician will make plans for you to take a home sleep study home or will schedule you for an appointment at the sleep lab. Overnight monitoring will allow your physician to watch your breathing and body functions while you are asleep. During nocturnal polysomnography, you are hooked up to equipment that will monitor your heart, lungs, brain activity, movement, and breathing patterns. During a home sleep study, your heart rate, breathing patterns, air flow, and blood oxygen levels will be monitored. Test results are usually given back within a week. From here, your physician can begin with a proper treatment plan.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

In cases where sleep apnea is not severe, your physician may recommend making a few various lifestyle changes. If you are a smoker, then you will need to quit smoking immediately. If you have been unable to quit in the past, then ask your physician for resources so that you are able to quit. If you are overweight, then you will need to lose the excess weight. Losing weight can be done by making simple diet changes, exercising, or increasing your water intake. Sometimes, sleep apnea is caused by allergies. If this is the case, your physician will recommend treatment for your allergies.

If these steps do not help you with a better night’s sleep, or if you have more severe symptoms, then you will need a higher level of treatment. Certain devices or even surgery can help you breathe better at night. The most common form of treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), which will deliver air pressure through a mask while you sleep to ensure that you are receiving oxygen. These masks are more comfortable than they have been in the past. Patients find that these machines are not as cumbersome as they have been in the past.

Some surgical options may be considered if treatment does not seem to be working for you. These options include: tissue removal or shrinkage, jaw repositioning, implants where plastic rods are put into the soft palate, nerve stimulation, or creating a new passageway. Other surgeries to enlarge the space through which you breathe include: removing the tonsils or adenoids or even weight loss surgery.