What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common condition that is characterized by the repetitive obstruction of airflow into your lungs during sleep, causing repeated pauses in breathing and resulting in negative health risks if left untreated. It is estimated over 18 million Americans suffer from this condition. For those affected, their airway to the lungs is most commonly blocked at the throat level of the soft palate. However, it is possible that obstructions appear in different levels of the throat.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Snoring is the most common symptom in patients. Those affected can stop breathing throughout the night, severely disturbing their sleep. The brain will continuously wake the individual to resume a normal breathing pattern, causing them to become more fatigued and tired throughout the day than others. Some common symptoms include:
- Loud & chronic snoring
- Choking or gasping during sleep
- Pauses in breathing during sleep
- Unrefreshing sleep and morning grogginess
- Dry mouth in the morning
- Headaches on awakening
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Night sweats
- Indigestion during the night
- Increased urination at night
- Daytime sleepiness
- Irritability and/or fatigue during the day
- Decreased libido
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
During sleep, the tongue, excess throat tissue, or relaxed throat muscles can block the airway to the lungs. As breathing reduces or stops, the body begins struggling for air and the oxygen level in the blood drops. The brain will wake the affected individual to resume the normal breathing for four or five breaths until the oxygen level rises and the individual then falls back to sleep. This repetitive process can continue throughout the night, resulting in negative health risks including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Irregular heart beats
- Congestive heart failure
How Do You Diagnose Sleep Apnea?
Diagnosing any disorder involves a sleep study overseen by a board certified sleep doctor completed in one of our state of the art sleep labs or from a take home sleep test. Before your study, sensors will be applied to your body for us to monitor various bodily parameters such as your brain waves, eye movements, oxygen levels, heart rate, and breathing patterns. Following the study, your doctor will interpret the data to make an accurate diagnosis.
What Treatments Are Available for Sleep Apnea?
- Nasal CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure): Nasal CPAP is a device that can be placed and used in the comfort of your home. The CPAP device works during sleep by gently blowing air from a machine into a mask applied over the person’s nose. The air pressure keeps the airway open, eliminating the apnea and frequent awakenings. Nasal CPAP is the most reliable treatment method available.
- Weight Loss: Even a small weight loss may make a difference and in most cases is required to cure it. Some doctors think that patients lose weight more easily and naturally if their disorder is treated first but being healthy often results in improved sleep.
- Positioning: Sleeping in a fetal position may reduce the severity of your symptoms. It can be difficult to change the way you sleep but learning to use pillows to position yourself comfortably on your side can help prevent obstructions to your airway during sleep.
- Dental appliances: Some appliances are used to help keep the tongue and lower jaw from falling backward during sleep. They are most effective for people with mild to moderate symptoms. They produce approximately a 50% improvement in the severity of apnea. Dentists who specialize in the management of apnea fit these devices.
- Surgery: Surgery to widen the breathing passage is an option in severe cases.