What is Sleep Apnea and How Can it be Treated?

If you have looked up loud snoring, you may have been led to pages about sleep apnea as well. But what exactly is sleep apnea? 

In this article, we will explore what sleep apnea is, how it is diagnosed, and what are some ways that your doctor may help you with your symptoms.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder mainly characterized by breathing disruption when a person is sleeping. 

When left untreated, these people may repeatedly stop breathing while asleep, sometimes even hundreds of times throughout the night. 

There are two types of sleep apnea, which are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is more common compared to the latter option.

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Usually, people suffering from sleep apnea are not even aware that they have stopped breathing. They may gasp and wake themselves up. To an outsider, these gasps may sound like snoring. 

You may notice that an affected individual is restless when sleeping, wakes up with a sore throat or a dry mouth, and has frequent nighttime urination. 

While these obvious symptoms can be easily spotted, there are other symptoms that come with this sleep disorder. 

Due to restless sleep, an affected individual will also appear sluggish and have some learning or behavioral disorders, such as hyperactivity or attention deficits.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is usually caused by a blockage of the airway, which happens when the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapses during sleep. 

Individuals with central nervous system dysfunction, especially after a stroke, are more prone to sleep apnea than other individuals. Some heart and lung diseases can also increase your risks for sleep apnea. 

As for central sleep apnea, the affected individual’s brain fails to signal the muscles responsible for breathing to work due to some instabilities in the respiratory control center. 

To put it simply, central sleep apnea happens due to some dysfunctions in your central nervous system. 

Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?

Yes, sleep apnea can be dangerous. When left untreated, this disorder can affect your sleep quality further, resulting in mental health issues, poor immune functions, memory loss and increase your risks for heart failure.  

Short-term sleep apnea may not cause too many issues, but it will lead to chronic health problems when left untreated. 

In chronic sleep apnea, you may also experience other health problems, such as hypertension, stroke, cardiomyopathy, diabetes and heart attacks. 

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

To diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor will need to evaluate your symptoms through tests and examinations. 

Your doctor may also bring in a sleep specialist to confirm their evaluations. In the scenario where you are referred to a sleep center, your healthcare provider may also be monitoring you overnight to evaluate your breathing and body functions when you are asleep. 

In this sleep study, your healthcare provider will hook you to a piece of equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activities. 

This equipment will also measure your breathing patterns and blood oxygen level to confirm the diagnosis. 

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

If your doctor has determined that you have mild obstructive sleep apnea, he may recommend lifestyle changes such as weight loss, regular exercises, and nasal decongestants. You may also be advised to stop smoking and avoid drinking before bedtime. 

For moderate to severe cases, you may need mechanical therapy. One example of mechanical therapy would be the type provided at a dental office in Valdosta, GA.

Dr Brett Hester treats his patients with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and custom mouth guards when their conditions meet the requirements.  

There are also other types of mechanical treatments available for sleep apnea, such as bi-level positive airway pressure (PAP), auto CPAP, auto bi-level PAP, or adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV). However, CPAP is the most common treatment. 

If you have central sleep apnea, your healthcare provider may suggest a different type of treatment from those recommended above. 

I May Have Sleep Apnea. What Do I Do?

If you think that you have sleep apnea, visit your healthcare provider to properly diagnose and evaluate your suspicions. 

Be prepared for your appointment by writing down a list of your symptoms. You should also write down the names and doses of all the medications, vitamins, and supplements you take. 

Also jot down any and all questions you have so you don’t forget what you want the doctor to explain or answer for you. 

You might want to take a friend or family member with you, especially a partner who you sleep with as he or she might be better able to describe your symptoms.