What is Sleep Apnea ?

Are you drowsy during the day with no explanation?  Do you snore loudly, or wake up breathless in the middle of the night?  If so, you may be one of more than 12 million Americans affected by obstructive sleep apnea.   It is more common in men over 40 years of age (National Institute of Health, 2003)

Sleep Apnea is a condition in which breathing stops periodically during sleep as many as 20-30 times per hour.  Apnea is derived from the Greek word meaning "without breath".  Sleep Apnea is  typically caused by an obstruction in the upper airway. This obstruction can be in the nasal passages (enlarged turbinates, deviated septum, etc) or oral airway  (enlarged tonsils, enlarged adenoids,  soft palate, enlarged tongue, retrognathia (recessed chin), micrognathia (small chin), or an enlarged uvula).   

If you suffer from sleep apnea, each time your  breathing stops, the resulting lack of  oxygen alerts your brain, which temporarily wakes you up to restart proper breathing.  Because the time spent awake is so brief, most people with sleep apnea don't remember it - and many think they are getting a good night's sleep.  However, the constant wake-sleep-wake-sleep cycle precludes the deep sleep that refreshes the body, and sufferers are  frequently drowsy during the day.  

There are three categories of sleep apnea. The most common is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and occurs due to a physical blockage, usually the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of  the throat. Less common is central sleep apnea (CSA), in which breathing stops because the muscles involved don't receive the proper signal from the brain. And some people suffer from "mixed" or
"complex" sleep apnea, which is a combination of obstructive and central.  

People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their  sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer.  Sleep apnea is considered a serious  medical problem and if left untreated can lead to high blood pressure,  increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke.   The ongoing state of fatigue caused by sleep apnea can lead to problems at 
work or school, as well as danger when operating cars or other heavy  machinery.   Sleep apnea can also cause  complications with medication or surgery: sedation by anesthesia can be risky, as  can lying flat in bed after an operation.  If you know or suspect yousuffer from sleep apnea, alert any doctors who   prescribe medication or advise surgery.

The following symptoms can indicate the presence of Sleep Apnea. If you notice one or more of these symptoms, give us a call at 818.80 SLEEP and we can diagnose your sleep disorder.

•Loud snoring at night
•Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
•Waking up at night short of breath
•Snorting or choking sounds during the night (indicating a restart of breathing) 
•Restless sleep
•Falling asleep involuntarily during the day
•Obesity- BMI >30, large neck circumference (16/38 cm in women, 17/43.5 cm in men)
•Morning headaches
•Learning and/or memory difficulties
•Sexual dysfunction
•Extreme drowsiness throughout the day 

Risk Factors for sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in males than females, and more common in older adults (40 and up) than younger adults and children. However, anyone  regardless of gender or age can suffer from sleep apnea. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking, use of sedatives or tranquilizers, high blood pressure, and family history. Central sleep apnea strikes most often  in people with heart disorders, neuromuscular disorders, strokes, or brain tumors. It is also more common in males.

After being diagnosed of Sleep Apnea, treatments range widely and depend on the severity of the problem and the type of apnea.  Basic treatment can be behavioral - for instance, patients are instructed to lose weight, stop smoking, or positional therapy (sleep on their sides instead of on their backs).  There are various forms of treatment such as CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway  Pressure), surgery and dental devices such as Oral Appliance Therapy (OAT). For patients who do not tolerate or fail non-surgical measures, surgical treatment to anatomically alter the airway is available.

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