Sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes you to involuntarily stop breathing while asleep. It affects about 26% of adults between the ages of 30 and 70. There are different types of sleep apnea, and the complications can range from mild to life-threatening.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat, otolaryngologists Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley routinely deal with sleep apnea and its complications, and they offer their patients in the Surprise, Arizona, area numerous effective treatments to improve nighttime breathing and quality of rest. Because many people aren’t aware they have the condition, the team put together this guide about the telltale signs, so you’ll know when you need to get medical help.
The types of sleep apnea
There are two primary types of sleep apnea.
1. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea affects about 10%-30% of adults in the United States and is the more common form. It occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax during sleep. These muscles support the soft palate, the side walls of the throat, the tongue, and other nearby structures.
As the muscles relax, the tissues collapse into the open space, narrowing or closing off your airway and preventing you from inhaling. The oxygen level in your blood drops, which your brain registers as a problem. The brain then sends a signal to wake you up and clear your airway. The disturbance is so brief, though, you probably won’t remember it.
Instead, you make a snorting, choking, or gasping sound, then fall back asleep until your airway closes again, and the cycle repeats. This pattern can occur five to 30 times or more each hour, and it can go on all night. This impairs your ability to reach the deep, restful phases of sleep, and you wake up in the morning tired and parched.
2. Central sleep apnea
This type of sleep apnea affects less than 1% of the population and occurs when your brain doesn’t transmit signals to your breathing muscles, stopping you from drawing a breath for a short period. Some people have shortness of breath when they wake up, while others have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep.
It’s also possible to have a combined form of sleep apnea, though it’s rare.
How to know if you have sleep apnea
The signs of OSA and central sleep apnea overlap. The two most common ones, though, you only learn from a bedmate or roommate. They’ll comment on your loud snoring or observe that you hold your breath for short times while you’re asleep. Other common indicators of the disorder are persistent symptoms, including:
- 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 someone tells you about your gasping, snorting, and/or snoring, you should definitely seek medical attention, as not breathing for even short times 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)
This is perhaps the best-known treatment for OSA. You wear a device over your nose and mouth that sends out a steady stream of air, whose pressure holds your airway open while you sleep. If you find this uncomfortable (and many people do), devices that provide bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) also are available. These increase the pressure when you inhale and decrease the pressure when you exhale.
A custom-made oral appliance holds your lower jaw in a forward position, which keeps your airway obstruction-free.
Inspire is an FDA-approved implantable upper airway stimulation device; that means the device is surgically placed and works inside your body, where it functions much like a pacemaker. The device monitors your breathing, and when it senses that your breath has stopped, it stimulates nerves that tell your throat muscles to contract and open your airway. This allows you to breathe normally and sleep peacefully.
If you’re noticing any signs of sleep apnea or if your bedmate reports a lot of nighttime noise, it’s time to come into Oasis ENT for an evaluation by one of our specialists. To learn more or to get started, call us at 623-207-7560, or book online with us today.