Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person stops breathing repeatedly during their sleep. They may stop breathing anywhere between five to sometimes over a hundred times a night while their asleep. Sleep apnea affects approximately 18 million Americans.
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, daytime fatigue or sleepiness, sudden awakening with a sensation of gasping or choking, morning headaches and restlessness during sleep.
There are 3 different types of sleep apnea. The most common one is obstructive sleep apnea. This is caused by a complete or partial blockage of the airway by soft tissue in the back of the throat which collapses and closes during sleep. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep, reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood and cause irregular heart rhythm. In central sleep apnea, the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to innervate the respiratory muscles to breathe. Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central apnea.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can have serious effects on your health. These include high blood pressure, headaches, heart disease, stroke, automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel, depression, and other ailments.
The “gold standard” for diagnosing sleep apnea is with polysomnography. This is an overnight sleep study done in a lab, supervised by a technician. During this test, several different parameters will be observed and recorded when you sleep. Your heart rate, body position, airflow, and oxygen saturation levels are just a few of them.
CPAP therapy is usually the preferred treatment for most people with obstructive sleep apnea. Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea you may consider a dental appliance, which repositions the lower jaw and moves the tongue forward. If you have severe apnea and are unable to tolerate CPAP treatment using hypoglossal nerve stimulation maybe be warranted. Surgery may be indicated for people who have an enlarged amount of tissue obstructing airflow through the nose or throat, such as large turbinates, a deviated septum, markedly enlarged tonsils, enlarged uvula or an abnormally narrow throat.