Sleep Apnea Information

What is sleep apnea?

“Apnea” means “without breath” in Greek. Therefore, sleep apnea is a common and potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which an individual will repeatedly stop breathing several times throughout the night. Each pause in breathing, or “apnea”, lasts 10 seconds to several minutes, which poses for some serious health risks. The interrupted sleep schedule causes tiredness, sleepiness during the day, headaches, heart problems and more. Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million Americans, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

What are the different types of sleep apnea?

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common type of sleep-disordered breathing, occurs when an individual’s upper throat muscles are so relaxed that it fails to keep the airway open during sleep. This causes a complete or partial blockage of airflow to the lungs, making breathing difficult. When the individual tries to breathe, any air that squeezes through the blockage can create loud snoring. Those with OSA often don’t realize that their sleep was interrupted throughout the night.

Central sleep apnea (CSA): Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when you repeatedly stop breathing during sleep because your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. In other words, your brain doesn’t tell you to breathe, so you don’t even try. Those with CSA often suffer from serious medical illnesses, including chronic heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, kidney failure, and brainstem damage. The symptoms of CSA include: chronic fatigue, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, poor memory, and restlessness. Snoring is a more common symptom for OSA than CSA.

Mixed sleep apnea: This is a combination of the two types mentioned above. The condition usually starts out with CSA, and then OSA.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

CPAP machine Many people with sleep apnea often don’t even realize that they have the condition. Usually, it’s the spouse or the bed partner that notices that there’s something wrong because they’ll hear loud snoring, snorting, gasps for air, or no breathing at all. For those who don’t have a sleeping partner, their condition can go undiagnosed for many years.

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA) are often similar. The common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • pauses in breathing during sleep
  • loud snoring, followed by periods of silence (more prominent in those with OSA)
  • excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath
  • morning headaches
  • poor memory and poor concentration
  • waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
  • high blood pressure

Buy cpap machine Excessive daytime sleepiness, or hypersomnia, is probably the most important symptom of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea have the tendency to drift off into sleep, which can be dangerous especially if the person falls asleep while driving or operating machinery. Be sure to contact your doctor if you suspect that you might have sleep apnea or some other sleep-related disorder.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone, but certain factors can put you more at risk:

  • Obesity– Obese individuals, including children, have a higher chance of having sleep apnea.
  • Large neck circumference– Those with a thicker neck (17+ inches in men and 16+ inches in women) may have a narrower airway.
  • Genetics– You may be at increased risk if you have family members with sleep apnea.
  • Being older– Although sleep apnea affects people of all ages, the condition is more common in adults over 60 years old.
  • Being male– Compared to women, men are twice as likely to be afflicted with sleep apnea, according to Mayo Clinic. However, a woman’s risk increases if she is overweight or has gone through menopause.
  • Race and ethnicity– African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic Americans have a higher risk of sleep apnea.
  • Smoking– People who smoke are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those who’ve never smoked, according to Mayo Clinic.
  • Heart disorders– People with heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure, are more likely to have central sleep apnea.
  • Sedation from alcohol and medication– Alcohol and certain medications can relax the throat muscles, to the point where the airway collapses and becomes blocked.
  • Neurological conditions and disorders– Medical conditions, such as stroke and brain tumors, can impair the brain’s ability to control breathing.

Are there special doctors for sleep apnea?

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, first speak with your primary care physician. He or she will perform a physical exam, evaluate your symptoms, and determine whether or not you need to see a sleep specialist. If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist), and if you have central sleep apnea (CSA), you may be referred to a cardiologist or neurologist.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Sleep apnea is diagnosed using a polysomnogram (PSG), otherwise known as a sleep study. This can be done overnight at a sleep center lab or in your own home. During a sleep study test, specialists will place sensors onto your face, scalp, and body to record your brain and muscle activity, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Based on the results of the PSG or home-based sleep test, a sleep specialist will determine whether you have sleep apnea and how severe it is.

How is sleep apnea treated?

The most effective treatment for moderate/severe sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, which means that a constant level of air pressure is delivered to the CPAP user throughout the night via the mouth and/or nose, to keep the airway open. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, headaches, and job impairment and car accidents, due to excessive daytime sleepiness.

If CPAP therapy does not work, there are other treatment options. In mild cases of sleep apnea, symptoms can improve by losing weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and changing sleep positions. Some people may choose to wear an oral appliance that is designed to keep the throat open. Surgery is an option, but should be regarded as a last resort. Surgical treatments may include: tissue removal (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, or UPPP), jaw repositioning, tonsils removal (common for children), or tracheostomy. Visit the American Sleep Apnea Association for more information on sleep apnea treatment options.

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