Sleep apnea is a fairly common medical condition that is often undetected in individuals. Most sleep apnea sufferers snore, but not all snoring individuals have apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can have many serious health consequences, and potentially be deadly.
Sleep apnea occurs during sleep and most individuals are completely unaware of it occurring. It is usually a bed partner that noticing chronic snoring, sleep interruptions and even witnessed breathing interruptions that causes alarm.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Of these, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common. A person that experiences untreated sleep apnea can have hundreds of apnea episodes throughout the night, sometimes lasting a minute or more.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common of the three types of sleep apnea.
During OSA sleep, the muscles in the throat relax. The jaw also relaxes and drifts back causing the back of the tongue also to fall back blocking the airway.
- The airway is either partially or completely blocked, air and oxygen struggle to reach the lungs.
- Eventually, oxygen-starved blood in the brain tells the body to awaken so that the airway can get wider and unobstructed. The person can breathe again for a moment until the next episode. Sometimes there are gasps or snorts witnessed at this time.
- The awakenings are so brief; most people are not aware of them.
- Loud snoring mixed with periods of silence is typical but not always present especially in children.
Obstructive sleep apnea disrupts sleep and results in lower oxygen levels in the blood and brain. Oxygen deprivation can trigger a negative impact in many areas of one’s health and well-being.
- High blood pressure
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Cerebrovascular Disease
- Cardiac Arrhythmia
- Myocardial Ischemia
- Higher incidence of strokes
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Quality of Life:
- Snoring disturbances
- Sleepiness during wake hours (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness- EDS)
- Family and relationship problems
- Morning headaches
- Poor job performance
- An increase in trips to the bathroom during sleep (nocturia)
- Sleepiness during driving
- Increase in work-related accidents
- Decreased sex drive
- Overall decreased quality of life
- Quality of life of a bed partner can also be severely affected
- Irritability and personality changes
- Insomnia –like symptoms, difficulty staying asleep or falling asleep
- Memory problems
- Weight gain
- Tossing and turning during sleep, fragmented sleep
- Feeling unrefreshed upon awakening
Snoring is one of the primary symptoms of sleep apnea. Other symptoms may be also present.
A thorough medical evaluation is the 1st place to start in discovering if you are at risk for sleep apnea or other sleep disordered breathing.
Most individuals start with visiting a primary care physician. From there these individuals may be referred directly through a sleep testing process or to a sleep physician for further guidance and evaluation.
If you like to know more about which medical providers to consult with, read What Kind of Physician Should I Seek to Find Out if I Have Apnea?
Sleep tests are the only way to give you a thorough diagnosis whether you have apnea, or ’benign’ snoring without apnea events, or a different sleep breathing disorder.
There are several types of sleep-snoring evaluation processes to test if you have apnea:
- An overnight stay at a sleep testing facility. This type of study is usually performed at a facility within a room that looks like a hotel room. A polysomnogram uses sensors to various parts of your body recording brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, and movements. It is considered the gold standard of sleep diagnosis.
- A home sleep test unit used on sight in your home. Although not as detailed as a sleep lab test, this type of testing is being prescribed more commonly than in the past years.
- Which test is prescribed may be determined by:
- What other medical symptoms or conditions you may have
- The preference/knowledge of the medical provider
- Access to care
- Insurance guidelines
The type of OSA treatment prescribed by the sleep physician depends on several factors including apnea severity, other patient medical conditions , and patient lifestyle considerations (traveling, compliance attitude, and more).
- Weight loss
- CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device) or a similar device –administered by sleep technicians in conjunction with sleep physicians
- Professional Custom Oral Appliances – The use of dental device prescribed by the sleep physician and ordered or fabricated through a sleep trained dentist
- Positional Therapy (See our Patient Resources page for Positional Sleep Devices and Equipment)
- Surgery (Airway -associated)– several types
- Inspire surgery-an implanted stimulator sends signals to the muscles of the airway while you sleep