What is sleep apnea?
People suffering from sleep apnea stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time during sleep. Sleep apnea can be classified into two categories: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical obstruction to the upper airways. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send signals to the muscles that control breathing. Both types of sleep apnea stop breathing and cause sleep disturbance.
Sleep apnea affects as many as one out of 10 Americans. Sleep apnea is more common in men than women. It’s also more common in people who are overweight. A leading risk factor for sleep apnea is obesity. Sleep apnea can also lead to other health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disesase, or stroke. Continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, is an effective form of treatment for both types of sleep apnea.
How does sleep apnea occur?
During normal sleep, the throat muscles relax. Your airway can become blocked if there is too little room inside your throat or too much tissue pressing on the outside of your throat. Blockage halts the movement of air, and the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. The drop in oxygen causes the brain to rouse you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway.
If you suffer from sleep apnea, this cycle may repeat 50 or more times an hour, impairing your ability to reach deep, restful sleep. You may not remember waking up. However, these arousals lead to daytime sleepiness.
Risk factors of sleep apnea
Being overweight is a leading risk factor of sleep apnea. Weight gain may cause a narrowing of your airway. Other risk factors include:
- Excessive drinking
- Lung disease
- Abnormal sleep patterns
- Hereditary factors
- A narrowed airway
- Other medical conditions
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
If you have sleep apnea, your body receives less oxygen when you don’t sleep well. The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring interrupted by pauses in breathing; followed by loud gasps
- Not feeling rested when you wake up in the morning
- Dry mouth when you wake up
- Headaches in the morning
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety, irritability, or depression
- Sleepiness while driving
Many people who snore do not have sleep apnea. But nearly everyone who has sleep apnea snores. If you snore and do not enjoy a good night of rest, contact Gwinnett Sleep.
How do we diagnose sleep apnea?
For mild cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking. For more severe cases of sleep apnea, treatment options are available. To diagnose sleep apnea, Gwinnett Sleep doctors will:
- Inquire about your family’s health history
- Examine your throat and nasal passages
- Conduct a sleep study at our sleep disorders clinic. Your heart rate, brain waves, chest movement, and blood oxygen levels will be measured while you sleep. The study will help to determine if the movement of air slows during sleep or if your air movement stops completely. It will also show how often this occurs during sleep.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious, long-term health effects. Sleep apnea may increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and sudden death. Effective treatment of sleep apnea may result in normal blood pressure, relief of fatigue, and weight loss.
The most common treatment is the utilization of a machine that sends pressurized air into your nose and throat at night. How much pressure you need is determined by the sleep study. Your health care provider will carefully supervise your usage of this breathing machine; minor adjustments may need to be made so it works right for you. This treatment is called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).
Sleep apnea can be cured if it is caused by a reversible problem such as weight gain; or it can be treated with surgery. For most people, however, sleep apnea will be a persistent problem, and the CPAP machine will need to be utilized regularly to maintain quality sleep and prevent serious complications of sleep apnea.
If you have pressure on your throat because of excess fatty tissue in your throat, your health care provider may suggest a weight-loss program. It may be hard for you to lose weight because you are extremely tired and lack the energy to exercise. Use of the breathing machine may help you rest well enough to initiate diet changes and increase physical activity.
Surgery may be an option if you cannot use the breathing machine regularly and properly. This procedure may include improving the air passage in the nose, removing the tonsils, or moving the back of the tongue forward.
Experimental treatments include:
- Medications that increase muscle tone during sleep
- Pacemakers sense when blockages are occurring during sleep and stimulate throat muscles to open up the throat before you wake up.
It is too early to determine if these experimental treatments will become acceptable treatments of sleep apnea.
Healthy sleep is important If you struggle with sleep over a long period of time, it’s time to consult a sleep specialist. Seeking a sleep medicine specialist could also be beneficial if you believe you are experiencing a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. If you are looking to get quality sleep and improve your overall health, call Gwinnett Sleep at 678-582-1929 to schedule an appointment today.