Understanding And Treating Sleep Apnea

Getting plenty of sleep is one of the best ways that adults and children alike can promote overall physical health. Unfortunately, sleep disorders can interfere with our natural sleep schedules and prevent us from getting the restful, healthy sleep we need. One example of such a sleep disorder is sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that affects one’s ability to breathe while they sleep and prevents them from sleeping soundly through the night. People with untreated sleep apnea will actually briefly and repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night.

Sometimes, this pause in breathing happens when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open. In other cases, the brain fails to correctly control breathing during sleep. In either case, a person with sleep apnea will awaken from a deep slumber just long enough to restart their breathing before they experience a severe lack of oxygen. This series of events can repeat hundreds of times throughout the night.

Currently more than 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. That’s approximately 1 in every 15 Americans! Yet 80 percent of the people with this disorder have not been diagnosed with a problem, and so are not receiving treatment for it. People with sleep apnea are often unaware that they have the condition. Although people with sleep apnea wake up regularly throughout the night, they usually immediately doze right back into a fitful form of sleep. Because of this, many people who have sleep apnea only visit a doctor after friends or family recommend that they do so.

Risk Factors

While people can develop sleep apnea at any age, you are more likely develop this disorder if you:

  • Are a male
  • Are overweight
  • Are over the age of 40
  • Have a larger than average neck (i.e. a circumference of 17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
  • Suffer from a deviated septum, allergies, sinus problems, or gastroesophageal reflux
  • Have large tonsils, a large tongue or a small jaw bone
  • Have a relative who had/has sleep apnea

Signs of Sleep Apnea

Because they are getting less high quality sleep each night, many sleep apnea sufferers report symptoms such as exhaustion, sleepiness or lack of energy during the day. Those with sleep apnea also often report the following symptoms:

  • Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
  • Extremely loud snoring
  • Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
  • Sleepiness while driving
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless sleep
  • Forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex
  • Recurrent awakenings or insomnia

The Effects Of Sleep Apnea

Although the exhaustion associated with sleep apnea can be difficult enough to manage, the long-term effects of living with untreated sleep apnea can also be quite serious. These effects include potentially developing the following symptoms or conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure, an irregular heartbeat, and heart attacks
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Worsening of ADHD
  • Headaches

What Should I Do If I Have Sleep Apnea?

An initial diagnosis of sleep apnea often comes with orders to wear a machine to treat the disorder. While this is a legitimate treatment, it’s not one that every patient may be comfortable with. If this describes you, and you are interested in an alternate line of treatment to address your diagnosis, please come to see Laurel ENT’s physicians to see if there are other treatment options for your case.