What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes people to stop breathing momentarily while they sleep. The pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to almost a minute, and they happen several times an hour. It can be a mild, intermittent disorder or a serious, life-threatening condition if left untreated. In the United States alone, it is estimated that over 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, with most cases going undiagnosed and untreated.
Types of Sleep Apnea
The two main types of sleep apnea are Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). OSA occurs when the airway narrows or closes due to soft tissue collapsing in the throat during sleep. CSA occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. Both types of sleep apnea can cause significant health issues if left untreated.
Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, frequent waking up at night gasping for air, fatigue during the day, morning headaches, memory problems or difficulty concentrating during tasks and irritability/moodiness. Other less common signs and symptoms may include insomnia, high blood pressure, obesity or heartburn/acid reflux. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, you should immediately discuss these concerns with your doctor so that further testing can be done.
Diagnosis & Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a medical evaluation as well as overnight monitoring such as polysomnography or home-based testing such as oximetry and ambulatory monitoring systems. After diagnosis, treatment usually consists of lifestyle modifications such as losing weight or avoiding alcohol before bedtime along with other treatments like Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or oral appliances designed specifically for your mouth structure and anatomy. Surgery may also be an option depending on the individual’s situation but should only be considered after extensive discussion between the patient and physician.
Complications Associated With Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can lead to many complications including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression, among others, if left untreated for too long. Because it may disrupt normal daily activities, it can lead to decreased productivity at work or school which in turn can lead to stress or financial strain. Additionally, complications from using CPAP machines such as sinus infections or skin irritation are possible if the device is not properly used according to specific instructions provided by a healthcare professional.