Knowledge Center

What to Do If You Think You Have Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea? Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that temporarily interrupts breathing during sleep. Breathing may stop and start a few times to a few hundred times a night depending on the severity of the condition.

Many people do not know they suffer from this sleep disorder. This article provides information on what is sleep apnea, types of sleep apnea, symptoms, and treatment.

Types of Sleep Apnea

• Obstructive sleep apnea

• Central sleep apnea

• Complex sleep apnea syndrome

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common type of sleep apnea. It causes repeated blocking of the airway, reducing the amount of air that gets to the lungs. Heavy snoring results from the narrowing of the air passage. It also deprives the brain and body of oxygen making this condition a potentially serious disorder.

Breathing pauses occur when the tissue at the back of the throat collapses. Sleeping on your back increases the chance of this happening.

Older adults, males, and people who are overweight, smoke, have nasal congestion or naturally narrow throat or airways, and those who use sedatives, tranquilizers or alcohol are more likely to develop sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Feeling tired and sleep-deprived when you wake are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. This is because the body is waking up several times throughout the sleep cycle, although you may not be aware of each time you wake. Other sleep apnea symptoms include:

• Loud snoring and gasping for breath while sleeping (as witnessed by someone)

• Waking with a headache or dry mouth

• Feeling fatigued throughout the day

• Excessive daytime sleepiness or falling asleep unintentionally

• Difficulty concentrating or poor memory

• Irritability

• Trouble staying asleep (insomnia)

Sleep Apnea Effects on Health

People who have long-term sleep apnea are at risk of developing the following conditions:

• Heart disease

• Stroke

• High blood pressure

• Depression

• Diabetes

• Acid reflux

• Adult asthma

• Memory loss

• Weakened immune system

Sleep Apnea Treatment

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea due to sleep apnea symptoms, you should see your doctor or a medical sleep specialist. A home sleep apnea test or in-lab sleep study (nocturnal polysomnography) may be used to diagnose the condition. You may need to see other specialists to determine what is actually causing your sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea treatment can reduce your symptoms and the risk of heart problems or other health conditions. Common treatment types are:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This therapy is provided using a CPAP machine that delivers air pressure through a mask during sleep. It prevents breathing pauses and snoring by keeping the upper air passages open. CPAP is the most common and effective sleep apnea treatment.

Oral Appliance Therapy: Using a special appliance to keep the airway open during sleep is another option. It works by bringing the jaw forward and can relieve snoring and mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea.

Surgery: Surgical treatment is more last resort. Tissues from the back of your mouth including your tonsils and adenoids may be shrunk or removed. In severe cases, using implants, repositioning the jaw, or creating a new air passage (tracheostomy) may be necessary.

Avoiding alcohol and certain medications, exercising, losing weight, and sleeping on your side or tummy are some home remedies that can help improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.

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