Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.
Millions of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, but many go undiagnosed and untreated, mainly because some of the telltale symptoms occur during sleep—frequent snoring, gasping for air, silent breathing pauses that can last seconds to minutes. Yet, as NHLBI-funded studies have found, sleep apnea can have severe health consequences over time if left untreated. The disorder has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and glaucoma. And new findings indicate that pregnant women with sleep apnea have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure and giving birth prematurely.
The fallout is not just on individuals, but the public at large: because many with the disorder feel persistent sleepiness even after a full night’s sleep, untreated sleep apnea has been associated with lower work performance and a higher risk of while driving and at work.
So, what should the average person know? Here’s a quick primer:
Who’s affected most by sleep apnea? People of all ages, genders, and races suffer from sleep apnea, but African-American males, Asians, Native Americans, and Hispanics appear to have it more, compared to European whites. Excessive weight gain tends to increase the likelihood of getting the disorder, and it affects the severity of the breathing, too. That’s because excessive fat can cause the airway walls to thicken and narrow the inside of the windpipe, making it harder to keep open. Finally, alcohol, smoking, and certain types of medications, such as opioid pain killers, can interfere with the control of breathing and increase the severity of sleep apnea.
Are there different kinds of apnea? Yes, there are two main types: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common, is caused by blockage of the upper airway and results in temporarily impaired airflow during sleep. This blockage sometimes causes loud snoring, snorting, and gasping, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send correct signals to your breathing muscles, resulting in breathing stoppage or abnormal breathing patterns. The frequency and severity of this stoppage is classified as mild, moderate or severe after an overnight sleep test has been performed.
What should you do if you think you have it? First take the short quiz on Sleep Apnea here.
If you score over 43 points we can arrange an appointment with a certified sleep physician, via telemedicine, in our Merritt Island or Hibiscus offices.
What treatments are currently available to help? No drugs are currently on the market for sleep apnea, but you can take certain steps to help keep the airway open during sleep. Losing weight, sleeping on your side, and exercising throat muscles can reduce, in some cases, the severity of mild obstructive sleep apnea. The two most common treatments for sleep apnea are CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) which involves an air pump, hose and mask; and a professionally fabricated oral appliance which keeps the airway open.
Are there other options? Surgery that widens breathing passages and implants that stimulate airway and tongue muscles: All may be recommended by a physician.
In our next article on sleep apnea, we will discuss the various treatments in detail to give you a broad understanding on which option might work best for you.
At Florida Snoring and Sleep Apnea Center, we work together with physicians, sleep centers and dentists to effectively design and implement an individual treatment plan for you to manage your sleep problem. This is a medical condition and it is covered under your medical insurance. We are providers for major medical plans.
Dr. Timothy Morris has been working successfully with patients like you for over 20 years. He has received extensive training in this field and stays up to date on the latest improvements in sleep medicine.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Morris, please contact one of the practices below: