A common sleep problem, sleep apnea may need to be diagnosed by a sleep study. Learn more in the following article. If you or a loved one may be suffering from this sleep disorder or other problems, call us at 847-674-3600 for a sleep health appointment.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea occurs when you regularly stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of times in an hour that your breathing stops (apnea) or becomes very shallow (hypopnea). Apnea episodes may occur from 5 to 100 times an hour. More than five apneas per hour is abnormal. More than 30-40 per hour is considered severe sleep apnea.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and mixed sleep apnea, although obstructive sleep apnea — also called OSA — is by far the most common.
What causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
A blockage or narrowing of the airways in your nose, mouth, or throat generally causes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This usually occurs when the throat muscles and tongue relax during sleep and either completely or partially block the airway.
Sleep apnea can also occur if you have bone deformities of the jaw or face or larger than normal tissues in your nose, mouth, or throat. For example, you may have large tonsils. During the day when you are awake and standing up, this may not cause problems. However, when you lie down at night, your tonsils can press down on your airway, narrowing it and causing sleep apnea.
Other factors that make sleep apnea more likely include being obese, using certain medicines or alcohol before bed, and sleeping on your back.
What are the symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
The main symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring and feeling very sleepy during the day, although, many patients, even those with severe OSA deny daytime sleepiness. Your bed partner may notice periods when you stop breathing during sleep. Other symptoms may include tossing and turning during sleep, frequent awakenings during the night, waking up with a headache, and feeling irritated and unrested.
What are the health consequences of untreated Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea causes a great disruption in sleep and keeps you from reaching and maintaining the deeper stages of sleep. When you stop breathing or breathe very shallowly during your sleep, it may result in less oxygen in your blood. Over time, this lack of oxygen can lead to serious health problems. Also, every time you stop breathing, your brain is alerted to the problem and cause you to wake up briefly (usually so briefly that you don’t remember) and this in turn activates your adrenalin system which raises your blood pressure and heart rate.
If you have sleep apnea, you are 2-3 times more likely to get high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood pressure in your lungs (pulmonary hypertension), abnormal heart rate, heart failure, coronary artery disease (CAD), and stroke. You also have a higher risk of dementia, sexual dysfunction, obesity and diabetes.
If you have sleep apnea, you may have difficulty concentrating and feel tired throughout the day. Therefore, you may have poor work performance. You may fall asleep during a conversation or while you are driving or working. There is increasing awareness that drowsy driving can be as dangerous to you and others as drunk driving. You are also at higher risk for depression.
Who is affected?
Anyone from age 2 to 92 can suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. It was commonly thought to be a disorder of over-weight, middle-aged men, but sleep specialists are revising their opinion. Thin people often have a long narrow pharynx and that predisposes them to sleep apnea. Children have tonsils that are large relative to their small throats and they can have sleep apnea. Post-menopausal women have the same risk as men.
If you are sleepy during the day despite adequate sleep time, then sleep apnea should be investigated, especially if you’re told that you snore or stop breathing at night. Studies report that anywhere from 4%-24% of men suffer from OSA, and 2–15% of women. Both sexes over the age of 65 have a rate of 20–25%.
ONE PATIENT’S STORY
“I was diagnosed with sleep apnea two years ago and have been using the CPAP machine ever since. I have not gone one night without the machine and would find it difficult to ever sleep now without it. Treating my sleep apnea fundamentally changed my life — physically, emotionally and mentally. I was recently accepted into several top law schools, and I do not know how I would have been able to move forward with this career path without this treatment.
“Since [my diagnosis], I have urged friends who display similar symptoms to visit your clinic. I believe at this point I have referred about 3 or 4, and all of them had sleep apnea. I know I’m part of a demographic — young, male, active weightlifter, mid-20s, non-smoker, etc. — that does not believe sleep apnea affects them, since sleep apnea is commonly ascribed to the elderly or obese. Everyone whom I tell about my sleep apnea are shocked I have it. I have witnessed firsthand the miraculous effects of relieving my sleep apnea, and I have heard so many positive things from other friends who got treated at my behest, that I would love to continue passing the buck.” ~ Richard Scinteie
How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine you and ask you and possibly your bed partner questions about your lifestyle, snoring, sleep behavior, and how tired you feel during the day. If your doctor thinks you may have sleep apnea, he or she may suggest a sleep study. Sleep studies find out how often you stop breathing or have shallow breathing and how much oxygen you have in your blood during sleep. An overnight sleep study is the only way to determine if snoring is benign or it is a sign of OSA.
To help get to sleep more quickly, try keeping lights lower throughout the house at least one hour before bedtime.
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How is Sleep Apnea treated?
If you have mild sleep apnea, you may be able to treat it on your own by losing weight, developing good sleep habits, and avoiding alcohol and certain medicines before bed. If you have a mild or moderate form of the disorder you may be a candidate for a mouthpiece. Only a sleep specialist can help you decide what is appropriate for you.
If you have moderate to severe sleep apnea, you may need to use a breathing device called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) that prevents your airway from closing during sleep. Removing tonsils and adenoids is often a curative procedure for children with OSA. However, this rarely helps adults. There is a more radical surgery whereby all or part of soft palate is removed. This entails a lengthy, painful recovery period and less than 40% of patients will have their sleep apnea cured by these throat surgeries.
If you have questions or would like to make an appointment, …
…please give us a call at 847-674-3600. We can help you find out if you or someone you love has sleep apnea or another disorder that may benefit from treatment.