Sleep Apnea

Is your snoring keeping your partner awake at night?  Are you having trouble staying awake during the day? It may be time to talk to your doctor about sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs when you temporarily stop breathing while you’re asleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

This is the most common form. It occurs when your throat muscles relax and your airway narrows as you breathe in.

Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a thick neck circumference
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Using alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Being congested
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea

Central Sleep Apnea

This occurs when your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

This condition is the result of a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Stages of Sleep Apnea

  • Mild apnea: five to 14 episodes of apnea every hour. Symptoms can include drowsiness or falling asleep during sedentary activities like watching TV or reading.
  • Moderate apnea: 15 to 29 episodes of apnea every hour. You may fall asleep or feel drowsy during activities that require attention, like a meeting at work or a concert after hours. This level of apnea can cause issues with work or in a social setting.
  • Severe apnea: 30 or more episodes of apnea every hour. Severe apnea affects your work and your ability to function socially. Symptoms include falling asleep during activities that requirement engagement, like eating, talking, driving or even walking.

Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Your doctor may be able to tell if you’re suffering from sleep apnea based on a conversation about your symptoms. A thorough examination of your nose and throat can also identify obvious cases of obstruction.

You might also need an overnight sleep study, where your care team will monitor your breathing while you sleep. You’ll be attached to equipment that tracks your heart rate, lung and brain activity, breathing, limb movement and blood oxygen level.

Some patients are good candidates for a home sleep study with a portable monitoring device. Talk to your doctor about which option is right for you.

Treating Sleep Apnea

Treatment of your sleep apnea will depend on the type and severity.

If you have a mild case of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking may be enough to reduce your symptoms. Other options may include nasal spray, nasal strips or dental devices to hold your airway open.

If your symptoms are moderate to severe, you may benefit from a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that sends air pressure through a mask into your nose while you sleep.

If you’ve tried these treatments without success, you might be a candidate for surgery to correct structural issues in your nose, shrink swollen tissue, remove enlarged tonsils or even widen your airway.

Sleep apnea isn’t just annoying – it can lead to dangerous health issues and should be addressed. Talk to your Mercy doctor who will develop a customized treatment plan to help keep you sleeping safely and soundly.

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