Sleep apnea is a condition where you involuntarily stop breathing while sleeping. It affects millions of people, including 26% of adults between 30-70. There are a few types of sleep apnea, and the complications can range from mild to life-threatening.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat in Surprise, Arizona, otolaryngologists Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley routinely deal with sleep apnea and its complications, and they offer their patients effective treatments to improve nighttime breathing and quality of rest. Because many people with the condition aren’t aware they even have it, they’ve put together this guide to inform you about the underlying causes and early signs, so you’ll know when you need to get medical help.
Sleep apnea types and risks
Sleep apnea comes in three different types:
1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
This most common form of sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. These muscles support the soft palate, the triangular piece of tissue that hangs from it (uvula), the tonsils, the side walls of the throat, and the tongue.
When the muscles relax during sleep, the tissues narrow or close off your airway, preventing you from inhaling. This lowers the oxygen level in your blood, which triggers your brain that there’s a problem. The brain sends a signal to wake you up and clear your airway, but the disturbance is so brief, you probably won’t remember it.
Instead, you snort, choke, or gasp, then fall back asleep until your airway closes again, and the cycle repeats itself. This pattern can repeat itself five to 30 times or more each hour, all night, impairing your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep. You wake up tired and parched.
Risks for OSA include:
- Excess weight: fat around your upper airway can obstruct breathing
- Neck circumference: thicker necks mean narrower airways
- Being male: men are 2-3 times more likely to have it than women
- Being older: more common in older adults.
- Family history
- Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers: all relax the muscles in throat
- Smoking: increases both inflammation and fluid retention in the upper part of your airway
- Nasal congestion: whether from an anatomical problem or allergies
- Medical conditions: congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, previous stroke, and hormonal disorders all increase risk
2. Central sleep apnea
This type of sleep apnea occurs when your brain doesn’t transmit signals to your breathing muscles, meaning you make no effort to breathe for a short period. You might have shortness of breath when you wake up and/or have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep.
Risk factors include:
- Being older.
- Being male
- Having congestive heart failure
- Using narcotic pain medications
- Having had a stroke
3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome
Also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this form occurs when a person has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Signs of sleep apnea
The signs of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, with the most common being:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes where you stop breathing during sleep (observed by bedmate)
- Gasping for air during sleep (observed by bedmate)
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Memory and concentration problems
If you notice any of these signs, or if your bedmate or roommate comments on your nighttime episodes, you should definitely seek medical attention, as stopping breathing can be life-threatening.
Sleep apnea treatments
Here at Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat, we offer several options for treating sleep apnea:
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
With this common treatment for OSA, you wear a device that fits over your nose and mouth as you sleep. It emits a steady stream of air pressure that holds your airway open. If you find this uncomfortable, devices that provide bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) also are available. These provide increased pressure when you inhale and decreased pressure when you exhale.
A custom oral appliance can hold your lower jaw in a forward position to keep your airway obstruction-free.
This FDA-approved implantable upper airway stimulation device is a breakthrough in sleep apnea treatment. It works inside your body. Functiontioning similarly to a pacemaker, Inspire monitors your breathing and delivers mild stimulation to open your airway, allowing you to breathe normally and sleep peacefully. Simply turn Inspire on before you fall asleep and off when you wake. No mask, no hose, just sleep.
This can be an effective option if you have central sleep apnea. There are a number of devices that deliver oxygen to your lungs as you sleep.
If conservative measures aren’t effective, your doctor might recommend tissue removal or jaw repositioning to improve your nighttime breathing.
If you’ve noticed any of the signs of sleep apnea, you need to seek out medical help — with the right doctor, the condition is completely treatable. Give Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat a call at 623-234-4640 to set up an evaluation, or book online today.