Your wife claims that your snoring is keeping her awake at night. This doesn’t come as any surprise to you; you’re a man and that’s what men do (Well, that and scratch). So you go to the store and buy a package of those breathing strips that you’re supposed to wear on the bridge of your nose to keep you from snoring. After a few days you ask her if the strips are working. “You still snore like a bear,” she replies. While you may not realize you are snoring, you have noticed that lately you seem to wake up feeling sleepier than you were when you went to bed. So you schedule an appointment with your doctor thinking it’s probably your adenoids, but when you describe your symptoms to the doctor, he recommends that you do a sleep study. When the results come in, he calls to tell you that you have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that takes place while a person is fast asleep. People who have sleep apnea can literally stop breathing for up to 30 seconds per episode. These episodes can occur up to 400 times per night! And while each episode may not completely pull you from out of your sleep, you will notice the disruption in the way that you feel the next morning.
There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common form of sleep apnea is called obstructive and it takes place when the muscles in the throat relax. The second form of apnea is called central sleep apnea which takes place when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the corresponding muscles. Some people have a third type of apnea called complex sleep apnea which is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Who Gets Sleep Apnea?
Apnea is a common condition that can affect men, women, young and old. Other factors that may place a person at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea include the following:
Overweight/obesity: People who are overweight can develop fatty deposits that surround the airway and therefore block respiration.
Gender: More men are affected by sleep apnea than women.
Age: You are more likely to develop sleep apnea if you are over the age of 65.
Family history: You are more likely to develop sleep apnea at some point in your life if a member of your immediate family has it.
Hypertension: People with high blood pressure may also have sleep apnea.
What Are The Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea?
Since most symptoms of sleep apnea occur while you are asleep, you may not even be aware there is a problem until it is brought to your attention. Contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Unusual tiredness during the day
- Snoring (loud)
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Waking up with a headache
- Shortness of breath up on waking
Confirming Sleep Apnea
Nocturnal polysomnography, otherwise known as a sleep study, is the most effective way to determine whether or not a person has sleep apnea. During a sleep study, you are hooked up to many monitors that can evaluate the activity of your heart, lungs, and oxygen levels, among other things.
Your doctor may elect to conduct your testing at home by providing you with a portable monitoring device. This device will track the same functions as the one done in a sleep clinic.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
If your sleep apnea is not severe, your doctor may recommend that you make certain lifestyle changes. For instance, if you are overweight, your physician may place you on a diet. If you smoke, you should consider quitting. If you drink excessively or take tranquilizers on a regular basis, you may want to consider stopping. If you cannot stop on your own, ask your doctor for a recommendation or referral for a detox or treatment program.
If your apnea is not caused by any of the above factors, your doctor may recommend a mouthpiece that will realign the jaw and help you to breathe easier.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the most commonly prescribed treatment for apnea that is moderate to severe. In this type of therapy, a machine pumps air through a mask that covers your nose. With CPAP, the flow of the air is greater than regular room air. This continuous flow of air allows your breathing passages to remain open. As a result, you will stop snoring and your episodes of apnea will cease.
There are some cases in which your doctor may elect to surgically remove the tissue obstructing the airway.
While sleep apnea has the potential to be dangerous, safe and effective treatment is available. Reporting symptoms to your doctor is the first step you must take on the path to wellness.