What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical condition which is characterized by an interruption of breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last several seconds at a time and occur 30 or more times during an hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. When breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep.As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
The main types of sleep apnea are:
Obstructive sleep apnea – the more common form which is often associated with loud snoring. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep.
Central sleep apnea – occurs when your brain doesn’t send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.Snoring typically doesn’t happen with central sleep apnea.
Complex sleep apnea syndrome – occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Untreated sleep apnea can:
- Increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes
- Increase the risk of, or worsen, heart failure
- Make arrhythmias ,or irregular heartbeats, more likely
- Increase the chance of having work-related or driving accidents
- Loud snoring, which is usually more prominent in obstructive sleep apnea
- Episodes of breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
Risk Factors for Obstructive Sleep Apnea:
- Excess weight: People who are obese have four times the risk of sleep apnea than people with normal weight.
- Thick neck: People with thicker necks may have narrower airways. For men, the risk increases if neck circumference is 17 inches and larger. In women, the risk increases if neck circumference is 15 inches or more.
- Being male: Men are twice as likely to have sleep apnea. However, women increase their risk if they’re overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
- Being older.
- Family history.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers.
- Smoking: Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who’ve never smoked.
Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms or may refer you to a sleep disorder center. There, a sleep specialist can help you decide on your need for a sleep study. The results of the sleep study dictate further treatment.
Treatments for Obstructive Sleep Apnea may include:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may benefit from a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask placed over your nose while you sleep. Although CPAP is the most common and reliable method of treating sleep apnea, some people find it cumbersome or uncomfortable.
Oral appliances. Another option is wearing an oral appliance designed to keep your throat open. Oral appliances are designed to open your throat by bringing your jaw forward which pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat and can relieve snoring and mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.Some appliances used in our practice are the TAP appliance, EMA appliance and the Silent Nite.
What can I do to make a difference?
There are some steps that can be taken at home to improve the symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. These include
- Losing excess weight.
- Avoid alcohol and certain medications such as sleeping pills.
- Sleep on your side or abdomen rather than on your back.
- Stop smoking