Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Recognizing, diagnosing and treating sleep apnea

(RxWiki News) Have you been told you snore like a tractor? It could be more than just snoring. You might have sleep apnea.

Read on for more information about this condition.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing unknowingly while sleeping. Often, you can go up to a minute or longer without breathing. This can happen hundreds of times throughout the night. The problem is that you are never aware it's happening.

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common of the three. It occurs when muscles in the back of the throat relax and obstruct the airway during sleep. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to maintain breathing during sleep. Lastly, mixed sleep apnea refers to a combination of the other two types.

Risk Factors

Sleep apnea is very common. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it affects more than 22 million Americans. Risk factors for developing sleep apnea include being male, overweight and over the age of 40. Although it's not as common, sleep apnea can develop in children, too. Because the person does not realize they may have sleep apnea, the condition largely goes undiagnosed and untreated.

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is chronic snoring. Other symptoms you may experience include sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, depression, irritability and falling asleep during work, on the phone or while driving.

Having sleep apnea is serious business because it can put you at risk of developing other medical conditions. This includes an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and other conditions. It can also put you at risk of falling asleep while driving.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, you must first discuss your concerns with your health care provider.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

Diagnosing sleep apnea often requires a sleep study at a sleep center. During the study, specialized equipment is used to monitor various functions of sleep. This includes observing how often and how long are you going without breathing. Heart function, brain waves, blood oxygen levels, and eye and muscle movement are also measured. Sleep studies allow your doctor to determine whether you have sleep apnea and how severe it is.

Treatment and Management

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends oral appliances as first-line treatment for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Oral appliances work by holding your lower jaw forward enough to keep the airway open. Many people prefer oral appliances because they are comfortable, easy to wear, convenient and easy to care for.

The first-line treatment option for moderate to severe sleep apnea includes using a positive airway pressure (PAP) machine. This machine supplies pressurized air into your mouth, allowing your airway to stay open. There are several different types of PAP machines. Your doctor or sleep specialist can help you pick the best one for you.

Some other things you can do to manage and treat sleep apnea include losing weight, not sleeping on your back and surgical procedures.

Talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist if you are concerned about sleep apnea or if you have any additional questions.