What are the signs of sleep apnea?
The following symptoms can indicate the presence of sleep apnea. If you notice one or more of these, contact our practice.
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring at night
- Waking up at night short of breath
- Snorting or choking sounds during the night (indicating a restart of breathing)
- Headaches upon waking in the morning
- Falling asleep unintentionally during the day
- Extreme drowsiness throughout the day
Are there different types of sleep apnea?
There are three categories of sleep apnea:
Central Sleep Apneas (CSA) are controlled by your brain. It is a more rare condition. Your brain actually tells your body to stop breathing. Your body, through certain mechanisms, fights your brain and causes you to breath again. This occurs many times during the night.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a more common disease. It occurs when the base of your tongue causes an obstruction in your airway while sleeping.
Mixed Sleep Apnea occurs when a patient has a combination of both Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea.
Sleep apnea is quantified by the average amount of times a person either stops breathing (Apneic Event) or has a reduction in oxygenation level (Hypopneic Event) on an hourly basis. There are three grades of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Although this is an oversimplification, it is a good guide.
- Mild– when a person’s AHI is between 5 – 15 events per hour
- Moderate – when a person’s AHI is between 16 – 30 events per hour
- Severe – when a person’s AHI is greater than 30 events per hour
What are risk factors for sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in males than females, and more common in older adults (40+) than younger adults and children. However, anyone — regardless of gender or age — can suffer from sleep apnea. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking, use of sedatives or tranquilizers, and family history. Central sleep apnea strikes most often in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors. It is also more common in males.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
Sleep apnea is considered a serious medical problem and if left untreated can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke. The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at work or school, as well as danger when driving or operating heavy machinery. Sleep apnea can also cause complications with medication or surgery; sedation by anesthesia can be risky, as can lying flat in bed after an operation. If you know or suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, let your family doctor know before taking prescribed medication or having surgery.
How do you test for sleep apnea?
In most cases sleep apnea can only be diagnosed by a sleep physician in a sleep lab. The test is called a polysomnogram (PSG). The patient generally checks into a sleep lab for an overnight test. The patient sleeps at the lab and is studied during that nights rest. A PSG measures your breathing, pulse, and oxygenation levels. It also measures your brainwave patterns to see what stages of sleep you are in when you have apneic events.
Since Polysomnograms are costly tests, some insurance companies are beginning to do studies with ambulatory (Take Home) studies. The data from an ambulatory study is not as complete as that from a study done in the sleep lab. Your Physician will decide the best type of test for you.
How is sleep apnea treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the classification of each individual case, and the type of apnea. Basic treatment can be behavioral — for instance, patients are instructed to lose weight, stop smoking, or sleep on their sides instead of on their backs. Beyond that, There are 3 methods of treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
CPAP: is an anachronism for Constant Positive Air Pressure. The patient wears a mask which covers the mouth and or nose. That mask is connected to an air pump which blows air down your throat and opens up the obstruction. Although this is a highly effective treatment, many people find the mask and pump intrusive to their sleep. The resulting noncompliance means the disease is left untreated.
Surgical Intervention: If the cause of the obstruction can be identified, surgery can be performed to eliminate the obstruction. Even if surgery is done many times the apnea can return after a patient fully heals depending on the type of surgery performed.
Oral Appliance Therapy(OAT): Also called a Mandibular Advancement Splint (MAS). A device which is used during sleep to move your lower jaw forward. Your lower is attached to the base of your tongue which is usually the source of the obstruction. By moving your lower jaw forward it helps open the obstruction.
What is the connection between snoring and sleep apnea?
Snoring occurs when the airway is partially blocked or collapsed while sleeping. This narrowing of the airway can cause the tissues of the throat to flutter and cause noise. The more restricted the airflow the louder the noise. Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea and not everyone that has sleep apnea snores. If a patient has loud restrictive snoring without apneic or hypopneic events, it is usually considered Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS). This can be a precursor to Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
What should I do if I suspect that someone in my family suffers from sleep apnea?
Contact our practice, and we can refer you to a sleep apnea specialist. The specialist may recommend a “sleep study” to diagnose the precise extent of the problem, and can prescribe appropriate treatment. Depending on the patient’s situation, treatment may involve an oral device that we can custom-create for you.