Sleep Apnea, Snoring, and Treatment Options

Q: What is Sleep Apnea

A: Sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, and often occur 5-30 times an hour. Normal breathing starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. You often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep when your breathing pauses or becomes shallow. This results in poor sleep quality that makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.

Q: How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

A: Doctors diagnose sleep apnea based on medical and family histories, a physical exam, and results from sleep studies. Usually, your primary care doctor evaluates your symptoms first, and then decides whether you need to see a sleep specialist. Sleep specialists are doctors who diagnose and treat people who have sleep problems, including lung and nerve specialists, and ear, nose, and throat specialists.

Q: What Causes Sleep Apnea?

A: When you’re awake, throat muscles help keep your airway stiff and open so air can flow into your lungs. When you sleep, these muscles are more relaxed. Normally, the relaxed throat muscles don’t prevent your airway from staying open to allow air into your lungs.

Q: What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

A: Obstructive sleep apnea is a blocked or narrowed airway during sleep. This can be caused by your throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal, your tongue and tonsils (tissue masses in the back of your mouth) are large compared to the opening into your windpipe, or you are overweight and the extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe. The shape of your head and neck (bony structure) may cause a smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area. The aging process limits your brain signals’ ability to keep your throat muscles stiff during sleep. This makes it more likely that the airway will narrow or collapse. If your airway is fully or partly blocked during sleep not enough air flows into your lungs. This can cause loud snoring and a drop in your blood oxygen level.

Q: What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

A: One of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and chronic (ongoing) snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring, and choking or gasping may follow. The snoring is usually loudest when you sleep on your back, and may be less noisy when you turn on your side. Snoring may not happen every night. Over time, the snoring may happen more often and get louder. Because you’re asleep when the snoring or gasping happens, you likely won’t know that you’re having problems breathing or be able to judge how severe the problem is. Your family members or bed partner often will notice these problems before you do.

Q: If I Snore do I Have Sleep Apnea?

A: No, not necessarily. Everyone who snores does not have Sleep Apnea.

Q: What About Children and Sleep Apnea. Is this a Possible Issue?

A: For children, sleep apnea can cause hyperactivity, poor school performance, and angry or hostile behavior. Children who have sleep apnea also may have unusual sleeping positions, bedwetting, and may breathe through their mouths instead of their noses during the day.

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