Sleep apnea is a very common, potentially serious condition in which your breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. When breathing stops during sleep, the air going to the lungs is limited and may cause you to snore loudly or make choking noises as you try to breathe at night. Eventually, the lack of oxygen signals your brain which temporarily wakes you up and restarts proper breathing. However, individuals with sleep apnea may wake up tens to hundreds of times during the night without realizing it, which means that the brain and the rest of the body may not be getting all the oxygen it needs to function. Individuals with sleep apnea often feel constantly drowsy and extremely tired throughout the day due to the constant cycling of wake-sleep coupled with the lack of oxygen reaching the brain.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF SLEEP APNEA?
One or more of these symptoms present could indicate sleep apnea. If you are experiencing symptoms, feel free to contact us for more information.
Frequent loud snoring
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
Gasping for air during sleep
Waking up at night short of breath
Snorting or choking sounds during the night
(indicating a restart of breathing)
Extreme daytime sleepiness and fatigue
Decreased attention, vigilance, concentration, and motor skills
Waking up during the night to urinate often
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SLEEP APNEA?
There are three categories of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form and occurs due to a physical blockage, which in many cases is usually the soft tissue collapsing in the back of the throat. Approximately four percent of men and two percent of women have this kind of sleep apnea. A less common form of apnea is central sleep apnea (CSA), which is estimated to be around 20% or less of all sleep apnea cases. Patients with CSA stop breathing because their muscles aren’t receiving proper brain signals. Lastly, some people suffer from “mixed” or “complex” sleep apnea, which is a combination of obstructive and central apneas.
WHAT ARE RISK FACTORS FOR SLEEP APNEA?
Men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women, and it is more common in older adults (40+) than younger adults and children. Risk factors that could increase the chance of sleep apnea include being obese, smoking, drinking, or having a family history of sleep apnea
IS SLEEP APNEA DANGEROUS?
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a series of negative long-term consequences such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weight gain, and in severe cases, even job impairment and motor vehicle crashes. Complications with medication or surgery may arise as sedation and lying flat on your back can worsen sleep apnea. If you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, contact your family doctor immediately.
HOW IS SLEEP APNEA TREATED?
Patients with milder cases of sleep apnea may be able to treat the condition with lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or sleeping on their sides rather than their backs. If those measures alone aren’t enough to improve symptoms, other treatments are available. Many patients use a Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine which delivers air through a mask while they sleep. The air pressure in the mask is positioned to prevent throat blockage and keep airway passages open. In severe cases, if all other treatments have failed, surgery may be an option.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SUSPECT THAT SOMEONE IN MY FAMILY SUFFERS FROM SLEEP APNEA?
Contact your family doctor or our practice and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. To diagnose the issue, you may have to participate in a sleep study to be recommended to appropriate treatment.