The American Sleep Association has dubbed the period from October 1 – October 7, “Sleep Apnea Awareness Week.” The campaign was created to increase public knowledge about the dangers of undiagnosed sleep apnea. This is a chronic condition that disrupts sleep because breathing stops and starts frequently through the night. Though it’s a common disorder, if left untreated, it could result in a host of medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and other related maladies. There are many options available to treat the condition but many sufferers don’t even realize they have it.
There are two types of sleep apnea, Obstructive and Central. Well, there are actually three different types if you include Mixed, but it’s self-explanatory. The most common type, giving 22 million people in America fitful sleep and daytime zombie-like reflexes, is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes, blocking the airway. In children, obstructive apnea may be caused by tonsils or large adenoids. In adults, it’s typically caused by obesity, back-sleeping or small bone structure in the mouth.
Central sleep apnea is less common but often more serious because the part of the brain responsible for telling the muscles to breathe, simply forgets, allowing seconds and minutes tick by with no breath. This can happen several times an hour and go on all night. Central sleep apnea is more common in preemie babies and aging adults, but can happen at any age.
Diagnosing sleep apnea can often be difficult because it doesn’t happen while the person is awake. There is no diagnostic test a doctor can perform or blood test that will confirm the presence of sleep apnea. Often, the first person to notice a problem more serious than snoring, is the patient’s sleep partner, who often reports listening to their pillow mate gasp for breath or wake with a snorting/grunting sound several times per night. Other symptoms include marked sleepiness during the day, attention disorders (especially in children) morning headache and waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat.
The Mayo Clinic has produced this short video to show what it means to stop breathing during the night, and what happens to the body during a single bout of sleep apnea. Remember, these bouts can happen up to 30 times an hour in some cases.
Common treatments for sleep apnea include lifestyle modification, face masks that provide positive airway pressure (CPAP), medication and in some cases, surgery. Often just by losing weight, smoking cessation and eliminating alcohol or sleeping pills before bedtime, sleep apnea symptoms will resolve on their own. For others, a more aggressive approach is required.
If you suspect you or your partner may be suffering from sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to contact a physician. In addition to a more restful night’s sleep and more productive tomorrow, starting on a treatment program may halt the progression of more serious medical complications. For more information please visit our Sleep Apnea Center.