Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Severe snoring can be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea which is very common and potentially life-threatening medical disorder that prevents airflow during sleep. More than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, and many are not receiving treatment.
Sleep apnea occurs when tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway, reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to all of your organs including your heart and brain. People with sleep apnea may snore loudly and stop breathing for short periods of time. When the blood-oxygen level drops low enough, the body momentarily wakes up. It can happen so fast that you may not be aware you woke up. This can happen hundreds of times a night, and you may wake up in the morning feeling unrefreshed.
In addition to snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea can cause memory loss, morning headaches, irritability, depression, decreased sex drive and impaired concentration. Sleep apnea patients have a much higher risk of stroke and heart problems, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. Sleep apnea patients are also more likely to be involved in an accident at the workplace or while driving.
Signs of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea patient are often older, obese and have thick necks, but men and women of any age or body type can have sleep apnea. The sleep disorder progressively worsens with age and weight gain. Listed below are some common signs of sleep apnea:
- Unintentionally falling asleep during the day
- General daytime sleepiness
- Unrefreshed sleep
- Waking from sleep with a choking sound or gasping for breath
- Loud snoring
- If you have have these symptoms, you might have sleep apnea.
- Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
The first step is to perform an overnight sleep study to properly diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. The test, also known as a Polysomnogram, will chart your brain waves, heart beat and breathing during sleep. It also records arm and leg movement.
A sleep specialist will look for other conditions that may mimic or worsen the symptoms of OSA, such as:
- Another sleep disorder
- A medical condition
- Medication use
- A mental health disorder
- Substance abuse
A sleep specialist will take your symptoms into consideration during diagnosis. Prior to the appointment, ask your partner if you snore loudly, stop breathing or gasp for breath during the night. The sleep specialist will also want to know if you gained weight or stopped exercising before your symptoms began.
The sleep specialist may ask you to keep a sleep diary for two weeks to track the following information.
- What time you went to bed each night
- What time you got up in the morning
- How many times you woke up during the night
- Whether you felt rested when you woke up
- If you took naps during the day
- Whether you felt sleepy or rested throughout the day
Once you are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, it can be treated by the following methods:
- Oral Appliance Therapy
- Upper Airway Surgery
These techniques may be used alone or in combination with other treatments for sleep apnea, including behavioral changes or CPAP. Behavioral therapies include weight loss, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco and sleeping on your side, and may reduce the severity of sleep apnea.