Quality sleep is important for overall health and wellness. But according to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders, impacting an estimated 25 million people. It refers to experiencing pauses in breathing during sleep which happens repeatedly. This stopping and starting of breathing impacts how much oxygen the body is receiving and could contribute to serious medical conditions.
Types & Symptoms
There are 3 main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive: the most common type of sleep apnea, occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat relaxes and this collapsing causes a narrowing of the airways (or closing) which prevents air from traveling through. The brain senses this and wakes you so that your airways can open up. This happens so quickly that you don’t remember or sense being roused from your sleep
- Central: less common, central sleep apnea is the result of the brain not sending signals to the muscles responsible for breathing.
The combination of these types is known as complex sleep apnea syndrome or mixed sleep apnea. These three types share common symptoms which includes:
- Loud snoring
- Gasp or choke for air during sleep
- Start and stop breathing during sleep
- Dry mouth after waking up
- Grogginess, difficulty concentrating
- Exhaustion during the day
These symptoms depend on the degree of sleep apnea (mild to severe).
People of all ages can experience sleep apnea and there are a variety of factors can contribute to its development including:
- Excess weight: extra weight around the neck and upper airways can impact breathing which is why obesity is a risk factor
- Aging: risk increases with age, older adults are more likely to experience sleep apnea
- Nasal congestion: resulting from allergies, flu, or other issues which makes it more challenging to breathe increases the risk
- Substances: smoking, opioid medications which can contribute to inflammation can contribute to sleep apnea.
- Medical conditions: including hypertension, congestive heart failure, diabetes, dementia, stroke etc. increase the risk of sleep apnea
To diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation. You could also be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor; a cardiologist to take a look at your heart, or a neurologist to evaluate your nervous system.
Treating Sleep Apnea
There are numerous ways to address sleep apnea. The approach to treatment depends on the underlying cause that is triggering it. Treatment can range from self-managed interventions, therapies, and surgery:
- Lifestyle changes: can include losing weight, eliminate smoking, changing diet to reduce sodium intake, using different medications, increasing physical activity, sleeping on your side rather than on your back etc.
- Managing allergies: alleviating nasal congestion through over the counter medications and/or natural remedies (antihistamines, decongestants, dehumidifier, rinsing nasal pathways etc.).
- Therapies: for more moderate to severe sleep apnea, your doctor could recommend therapies including:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): a machine that provides air pressure through a mask worn over the nose while you sleep. The air pressure is greater than that of the environment which enables airways to stay open.
- Other devices: there are airway pressure devices that serve as alternatives to CPAP machines which some may find uncomfortable.
- Oral instruments: there are different oral appliances designed to keep the throat open by bringing the jaw forward.
- Surgery: surgical treatment is typically the last option, used if other treatments have not been effective. There are a few types of surgeries that could be recommended including:
- Tissue removal: involves removing tissue in: the back of the mouth, top of the throat, and tonsils.
- Tissue shrinkage: rather than removing the tissue, this option involves using radio-frequency to shrink the tissue.
- Reposition jaw: this moves the jaw forward which creates more space behind the tongue, reducing the likelihood of collapse.
If you experience sleep apnea and the symptoms are disrupting daily life, seek treatment. There are useful ways you can treat sleep apnea that enhances the quality of your sleep! Contact us today to learn more about our sleep services.