What is Sleep Apnea?
“Apnea” is not a word we use in everyday life! What does it mean? An apnea is a pause in someone’s breathing of at least 10 seconds while he or she sleeps.
If your breathing is stopping many times per night, it can interrupt your sleep without fully waking you up. That can make you much more tired than you should be. It can also reduce the crucial flow of oxygen that you need to stay healthy.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
One reason that some people have sleep apnea is because their tongue or upper throat tissue is pressing against the lower part of their throat. This blocks the airflow and can cause the touching tissues to vibrate, causing louder snoring.
Why does this develop? You might be sleeping in a different position, which changes the shape of your jaw and tissues. Your body shape may have changed in general, or some other factor might be repositioning your jaw.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
These are the common symptoms in a person who suffers from sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring (more prominent with obstructive sleep apnea)
- Abrupt awakenings from sleep
- Awakening with shortness of breath (central sleep apnea)
- Episodes of breathing cessation witnessed by another person
- Waking up with a headache in the morning
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Attention problems
If I snore does that mean I have sleep apnea?
Snoring and sleep apnea aren’t the same thing, although most people with sleep apnea do snore. When you snore, resistance to the airflow creates the noise while you’re sleeping. In sleep apnea, it’s not simply resistance, but there is a pronounced blockage to the degree that your brain awakens your body to open the airway.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three types of sleep apnea that someone can experience.
- Obstructive sleep apnea: OSA happens when the upper airway is too narrow or is blocked due to muscle laxity. It can also occur if your tonsils are enlarged or you are overweight.
- Central sleep apnea: CSA happens when your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. In many cases, CSA is due to an underlying medical problem or event, such as stroke, brain injury, or heart failure.
- Mixed apnea: Mixed apnea, also called complex apnea, is a combination of central and obstructive. It usually presents itself during treatment for OSA with CPAP.
What negative effects can sleep apnea have on the body?
At Pacific Northwest Smiles we have patients who discount the seriousness of sleep apnea, thinking it’s just a little snoring. That’s a risky line of thinking. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to numerous very serious health concerns:
- High blood pressure — Because you wake up over and over during the night, this process places stress on your body, activating your hormone systems. This raises your blood pressure.
- Heart disease — People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and atrial fibrillation.
- Type 2 diabetes — Sleep apnea is common in people with type 2 diabetes. This is because when your body is tired it has trouble effectively processing insulin.
- Weight gain — Sleep apnea can make your body release more of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you crave carbs and sweets.
- Adult asthma — Adult asthma and sleep apnea combined tend to cause the patient to suffer from more asthma attacks.
- Car accidents — People with sleep apnea are up to five times more likely than normal sleepers to have traffic accidents, and to even fall asleep at the wheel.
How do you diagnose sleep apnea?
If you’ve noted symptoms of possible sleep apnea, Dr. Greenhalgh will give you an assessment that you complete at home called the Eppworth Sleepiness Scale questionnaire. He also will give you a “bed partner survey,” since your partner likely has to deal with your sleep apnea every night. The answers you provide in these surveys will probably discount temporary conditions, such as waking up gasping, which can be due to short-term congestion, for instance.
If your answers point to sleep apnea, the next step for Dr. Greenhalgh will be an at-home sleep study. If the results from your at-home sleep study show the probability of sleep apnea, Dr. Greenhalgh will likely refer you to a sleep physician for a polysomnogram, a sleep study performed in a sleep lab.
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How Is Snoring & Sleep Apnea Treated?
Whatever the cause of your sleep apnea, it can rob you of energy all day long, give you headaches, make your irritable, and even make your memory worse. Of course, not getting enough oxygen during the night is dangerous— whether or not you are experiencing these other symptoms.
To treat sleep apnea, we can create a customized oral appliance that will reposition your jaw. We’ll design it to open up your airway, reducing snoring and ensuring a good flow of oxygen.
If this solution is right for your sleep apnea, you’ll be able to get more restful sleep, more oxygen during the night, and be less fatigued—plus, your family will thank you!
What is CPAP and is it hard to sleep with?
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is the most recommended treatment for patients with obstructive sleep apnea. CPAP involves the patient wearing a mask over their nose and mouth that creates higher pressure in their respiratory system than the outside room pressure. By creating a pressure difference, this keeps the tongue and the tissues at the back of the throat from sliding back and blocking the airflow. There are different CPAP devices, but all require some sort of mask along with equipment that sits bedside.
Some patients have a hard time sleeping with CPAP, as they are attached to the machine with tubes. This can limit the patient’s willingness to use the therapy, but this isn’t necessary. These are some adjustments you can make to the system.
- Mask size or style — There are different CPAP masks and sizes of those masks. Be sure the style and fit are right for you.
- Adjusting to the system — Don’t go all in on the CPAP system immediately. Try wearing the mask for short periods of time, such as while watching TV. Then try the mask with the hose with the system turned on, again while awake.
- Dry, stuffy nose — Leaky masks can dry out your nose. Also, there is a CPAP device that features a heated humidifier, which attaches to the machine.
- Difficulty falling asleep — Wearing your mask alone during the day can help your get used to it. Also, machines can have a ramp feature that slowly and gradually increases the air pressure as you fall asleep, making it more comfortable when you’re first in bed.
- Removing the device at night — It’s not unusual to sometimes wake up and find you’ve removed the mask in your sleep. If you move a lot in your sleep, you may find a full-face mask will stay on your face better.
- Patience — Getting used to the CPAP device can be frustrating, but patience is key. Don’t give up on it, as the benefits of treating your obstructive sleep apnea are worth the adjustments you need to live with the system.
What are some lifestyle changes I can use to try and curtail my sleep apnea?
There are certain lifestyle choices that could be leading to your sleep apnea. These changes may help you reduce the effects of sleep apnea:
- Maintain a healthy weight — People who are overweight, especially those who carry weight around the jaw and neck, are more likely to have sleep apnea than those who maintain a healthy weight. The extra fat and tissue around the neck can easily sag and create blockage in the airway.
- Avoid alcohol or drugs — Alcohol and certain drugs act to relax the central nervous system. This can cause the muscles of the throat to relax, leading to blocking of the airway.
- Quit smoking — Cigarette smoking decreases lung capacity, and it shrinks blood vessels. Both play a part in sleep apnea in smokers. Quitting will improve the way your body breathes.
- Address allergies — If you have allergies, taking a decongestant before you go to bed may improve airflow through your nose.
Can You Cure Sleep Apnea?
If sleep apnea is caused by obesity, a large, low-hanging uvula, or enlarged tonsils and adenoids, losing weight or corrective surgery may eliminate apneic symptoms. If sleep apnea is due to a lax upper airway musculature or an underlying medical condition causing CSA, then CPAP therapy or oral appliance therapy is the best way to treat the condition.
Can Certain Lifestyle Choices Cause Sleep Apnea?
Certain lifestyle choices cannot cause sleep apnea, however, they can exacerbate previously diagnosed sleep apnea. Alcohol use or abuse, narcotic use, and even smoking can make your sleep apnea events worse and more frequent. Being overweight and making poor dietary choices can also worsen sleep apnea symptoms.
Can Children Have Sleep Apnea?
Yes, children can have sleep apnea. However, most cases are due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids or are a direct result of an anatomical defect or medical condition, such as Cerebral Palsy.
Call Today For Sleep Apnea Treatment In Mill Creek, WA!
If your snoring has recently increased or you’re having other symptoms of sleep apnea, give us a call at 425-357-6400 to schedule a personalized consultation with Dr. Darren Greenhalgh. You can also click here to fill out the appointment request form in our contact page. Our skilled doctor and experienced staff look forward to serving you!