What you need to know about sleep apnea

What you need to know about sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is one of the more underdiagnosed and undertreated conditions among Americans.  Many people may be suffering from various symptoms having no idea that the root of the problem is due to poor sleep quality caused by sleep apnea.

Millions of Americans are affected by this chronic condition with at least 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men not getting a good night’s sleep.  It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of people who have unsatisfactory sleep have not yet been diagnosed with it.

The most common cause of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea/Hypopnea Syndrome (OSAHS) caused by the repetitive closing of a person’s airway – the trachea – while they are asleep. 

Apnea means the seconds (more than 10 seconds) when breathing stops because of the obstructed movement of air while hypopnea are seconds of abnormal and decreased breathing due to obstruction.

Here are the facts everyone should be aware of concerning sleep apnea to recognize if it is affecting them.

·      Sleep apnea is more than just obnoxious snoring

Snoring is a symptom but even more dangerous is the fact that a person can actually stop breathing up to 400 times during the night.  The length of a breathless pause can last anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds in which a sudden snort kicks in breathing again.  The cycle of start/stop breathing disrupts the sleep cycle leaving a person feeling extremely tired the next day.

·      Sleep apnea can causes many symptoms

One reason why sleep apnea tends to get overlooked by a doctor or someone with it is because the symptoms of it are very broad.  Because of poor sleep, a person can begin to experience depression, fatigue, trouble concentrating, a dry mouth and sore throat along with unexplained high blood pressure, daytime headaches, and incontinence while sleeping (nocturia).

·      Sleep apnea affects daytime activities

When a person is unable to achieve a night of uninterrupted sleep, this takes a toll on their body and mind.  Not recognizing what the cause is or not seeking treatment for it can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness linked to car accidents, job-related injuries, heart attacks and strokes, diabetes or other serious complications.  Anytime someone is having trouble staying awake during the day, they need to seek help from their doctor to be evaluated for an overnight sleep study.

·      Breathing is blocked by sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea causes the back of the throat to be blocked by the tongue, tonsils and other tissue.  Air is unable to get in when a person tries to take a breath.  Another form of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea – due to a neurological condition such as a stroke – is when the brain doesn’t always signal the body to breathe when it should.

·      Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages and genders

It is more common in people after the age of 40, but sleep apnea can affect all ages.  As many as one in ten children have sleep apnea but usually the symptoms are mild and they tend to outgrow it.

Individuals who are overweight, a man, African-American, or Latino or with a family history are more likely to develop it.  It is more likely to affect women after they have gone through menopause.

·      Do not rely on alcohol or sleeping pills to help

One of the worst things someone can do is to use alcohol or sleeping pills to try to get a better night’s sleep.  Both can make you drowsy but the quality of sleep is reduced.  The muscles in the back of your throat relax making it easier for the airway to become blocked in people with sleep apnea.

Strategies that may help sleep apnea

·      Losing weight – Those extra pounds can exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea.  Even just a small percentage of weight loss (5%) can make a difference.

·      Lying on your side – Sleeping on your side tends to open the throat while lying on your back can block the airway due to gravity pulling the tissues in the throat down. 

·      Using a dental mouthpiece – Someone with mild sleep apnea could discuss with theirdentist or orthodontist to custom make a mouthpiece or oral appliance to wear during the night opening the airway while they sleep.  The device helps adjust the position of the lower jaw and tongue, keeping the airway open.

·      CPAP machine – A continuous positive airway pressure machine helps give a steady stream of air into the airway.  The flow can be adjusted and is the most common treatment for adults with moderate to severe sleep apnea.

·      Surgery – This form of treatment (tonsillectomy) might be for children who have large tonsils blocking the airway.  For adults with large tonsils, surgery can shrink or stiffen floppy tissues.  Surgery is not the solution for everyone and needs to be thoroughly evaluated discussed with a doctor. 

Bottom line

Sleep apnea is to be taken seriously and there are ways to deal with it.  Anytime anyone is experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, particularly extreme daytime sleepiness, have a consultation with a doctor who can diagnose sleep apnea and decide the best course of action to take.  Once sleep apnea can be treated, a person will often begin to feel much better and more like themselves than what they have in a long time.