Everything You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

Do you know what’s happening to your health while you’re asleep? You might not even realize it, but some health conditions can put your life in danger while you’re trying to get a good night’s rest. Sleep apnea is a condition that affects approximately one in every five adults – or 18 million Americans. However, just 20 percent of those who are suffering from sleep apnea have actually gotten a diagnosis and are treating the condition. If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, you can search online to find information.

Sleep apnea can affect people of all ages, including children. And because so many people never get a diagnosis or treatment, it’s important to understand the facts about sleep apnea. It could make a difference both in your quality of life and your health. To learn about the symptoms and effects of sleep apnea, search online.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a health condition that directly affects your sleep – but it can have effects on other aspects of your health and well-being too. 

Sleep apnea is technically a sleep disorder. It occurs while you’re asleep; your breathing is interrupted, and you may not get the oxygen you need. Sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing multiple times throughout the night, sometimes as many as hundreds of times. As a result, your brain and your body cannot get the right amount of oxygen.

There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of the two, and it’s caused by a blockage in the airway. Most often, that blockage occurs when soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses while you’re sleeping.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by your throat muscles relaxing while you’re asleep. When they relax too much, you can’t breathe normally. As a result, your brain will wake you from your sleep so you can reopen your airway and get oxygen once again. However, these brief wake-ups are usually so quick that you might not even realize you’re waking up repeatedly.

Sleep apnea can be caused by a number of different factors. Certain physical, lifestyle, and even genetic aspects can affect your chances of developing this sleep disorder. You can have an increased risk for sleep apnea if you have any of the following factors:

  • Are male.
  • Have a large neck (17 inches or more for men, 16 inches or more for women).
  • Are overweight.
  • Have certain physical features, such as large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jawbone.
  • Are age 40 or older.
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea.
  • Experience nasal obstruction, like a deviated septum, allergies, or other sinus problems.

You can talk with your doctor about your individual risk for sleep apnea, and if sleep apnea might be brought on by anything in your current or past health history.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms

How do so many people go without a sleep apnea diagnosis? Often, it’s because they don’t recognize the disorder’s symptoms. Many of the symptoms of sleep apnea can seem like simple frustrations. They can also be symptoms of other health conditions, which can make determining whether or not you have sleep apnea more challenging.

The symptoms of sleep apnea aren’t really seen during the night. They can also be very subtle, which can lead you to brush them off as insignificant. However, if you’re experiencing any of the following, you could be experiencing the symptoms of sleep apnea:

  • Feeling excessively sleepy during the day.
  • Snoring loudly when you’re asleep.
  • Having episodes of stopped breathing while you sleep.
  • Waking up abruptly, with gasping and choking.
  • Experiencing headaches in the morning.
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
  • Difficulty concentrating throughout the day.
  • Mood changes, including depression or irritability.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Sweating at night, particularly when you’re sleeping.
  • A decrease in libido.

Certain symptoms are more serious than others. For example, if you’re snoring so loud that you’re disturbing others’ sleep – or even your own sleep – it’s time to see a doctor. If you keep waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air or choking, you need to see a doctor. It’s also important to seek medical attention if you find yourself falling asleep during the day or experiencing intermittent pauses in breathing at night.

How Sleep Apnea is Diagnosed

When you see your doctor about any potential sleep apnea symptoms, there are a number of different ways your doctor can determine what’s causing them. Sleep apnea can be diagnosed through a combination of different tests and examinations.

Your doctor will first perform a physical exam. This is your opportunity to share any symptoms you’re experiencing. You may need to fill out a questionnaire about your symptoms, and your doctor may closely examine your head and neck.

From there, your doctor can order any of the following tests:

  • A polysomnogram, which is a sleep study performed overnight in a hospital or medical center. Your vital signs and functions will be monitored while you sleep.
  • EEG, which monitors brain waves before, during, and after sleep.
  • EOM, which records your eye movements.
  • EMG, which tracks muscles as they relax and move.
  • EKG, which looks at your heart for signs of heart disease.
  • Pulse oximetry, which uses a device to test oxygen levels in your blood.
  • Blood tests to check oxygen content, saturation, and pressure in your blood.

One of these tests or a combination of these tests can help your doctor determine whether or not you have sleep apnea. They will offer the insight necessary to make an official diagnosis.

Treating Sleep Apnea

If you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor will determine what kind of treatment is best for your needs. 

Sleep apnea is a disorder that needs to be managed and dealt with. If left alone, it can cause serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, or even diabetes. It can even cause dangerous, deadly accidents if you’re falling asleep throughout your daily activities.

Fortunately, treating sleep apnea can be done in a number of different ways. Your treatment will depend on what’s causing your sleep apnea and how serious it is.

Sleep apnea can, in some cases, be treated with lifestyle changes. Cutting out alcohol, stopping smoking, losing weight, and changing the position you sleep in can make a noticeable difference.

Other treatment options include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which involves wearing a mask that keeps your airway open while you sleep.
  • Surgery to stiffen, shrink, or remove tissue and tonsils. 
  • A mandibular repositioning device (MRD), which is a custom oral device that keeps your jaw in a forward position while you sleep to offer more airway space.

With treatment, you should no longer feel tired during the day, experience mental changes as the result of lack of sleep, and lessen the strain of improper breathing. Sticking to your treatment regimen can also prevent serious complications from happening.

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Oct 6, 2020