Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that keeps you from breathing properly when asleep at night. It affects over 12 million people in the US who reports signs like drowsiness during the day with no explanation, loud snoring and waking up breathless in the middle of the night, fatigue and feeling unfresh in the morning, poor daytime concentration and job performance, excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, and low libido and impotence.
Many people use the words sleep apnea and snoring interchangeably, but snoring is actually a symptom of sleep apnea. However, snoring is only linked to sleep apnea if the person also experiences silent breathing pauses that lead to gasping or choking sounds. Otherwise, snoring can be just snoring.
What it means when you have sleep apnea
Sleep apnea occurs when your throat walls collapse and close during sleep, blocking airflow. As a result, you’re unable to breathe temporarily (for between 10 and 60 seconds) until the brain detects a drop in oxygen levels and causes you to arouse slightly from your sleep so you can open the upper airway. This is usually accompanied by snorts and gasps, and you fall back asleep instantly. Most people suffering from sleep apnea never realize that they’re waking up, even if it happens dozens of times every night. This leads to fragmented sleep and other symptoms of sleep apnea. Including:
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is mostly caused by lifestyle factors, such as obesity and consuming alcohol in the evening, which causes the throat muscles to relax and interferes with the brain’s ability to control sleep breathing.
Other causes include:
- Medical conditions like large goiter or hypothyroidism
- Nasal congestion and obstruction
- Large tonsils – in children
- Some medications, like sedatives and sleeping tablets
- Facial bone shape, like undershot jaw
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, perhaps due to the symptoms or snoring and gasping complaints by your partner, you should visit your doctor in order to conduct a sleep study that will help to rule out other medical reasons and establish that sleep apnea is the only cause of the symptoms.
Common treatment options include:
- Healthy lifestyle changes – physical activity and diet change to achieve healthy weight, manage your drinking, develop good sleeping habits
- Breathing devices – CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure – machine
- Mouthpiece – tongue retaining device to hold the tongue in a favorable position, or mandibular repositioning oral appliance to hold the jaw in the right position
Other treatments may be recommended, including surgery, depending on your case. Please visit your doctor for a proper review of your specific case.