Are you drowsy during the day with no explanation? Do you snore
loudly or wake up breathless in the middle of the night? If you are
experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be one of more than 12
million Americans who are affected by sleep apnea.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breathing stops
periodically during sleep, as many as 20-30 times per hour. Each time
you stop breathing in your sleep, the resulting lack of oxygen alerts
your brain, which temporarily wakes you up to restart proper breathing.
Since the time spent awake is so brief, most people with sleep apnea
don't remember it, and many feel like they are getting a good night's
sleep when, in fact, they are not. The constant wake-sleep, wake-sleep
cycle prevents those with sleep apnea from achieving deep sleep,
resulting in a constant drowsy feeling during the day.
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 at
- 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. The most common is
called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and occurs due to a physical
blockage, usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the
throat. Less common is central sleep apnea (CSA), in which breathing
stops because the muscles involved do not receive the proper signal from
the brain. Some people suffer from "mixed" or "complex" sleep apnea,
which is a combination of obstructive and central.
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, it can lead to high blood pressure, increasing 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 is sleep apnea treated?
Treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of each
individual case, and the type of apnea. Basic treatment can be
behavioral - for instance, patients are instructed to lose weight, stop
smoking, consume less alcohol, or sleep on their sides instead of on
their backs. Beyond that, oral devices can be used to position the
mouth in such a way that prevents throat blockage and opens the airway.
In more severe cases, surgery may also be an option.
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. Dr. Feldman is a
member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.