Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in North America. It can affect people of both sexes across the age spectrum, although it is more common in men.
Because of its potential health impact, it is important for people to be aware about sleep apnea. Most people with sleep apnea have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This happens when there is a physical blockage in the windpipe. Another type, central sleep apnea (CSA), is due to a signalling problem in the nervous system. When a person has both OSA and CSA at the same time, it is referred to as mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.
What are the risk factors for developing sleep apnea?
Anyone can develop obstructive sleep apnea. However, certain factors put you at an increased risk, including:
sinusitis, allergies, nasal congestion
thyroid and hormonal problems
a large neck circumference
family history of sleep apnea
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
All three types of sleep apnea share certain common symptoms:
Disrupted breathing during sleep, in which a person’s breathing can become difficult or even stop for short intervals of time
Excessive daytime sleepiness
Limited attention span or difficulty thinking clearly
Snoring that is especially loud and involves gasping, choking, or snorting that may cause a person to briefly wake up
waking up several times a night to urinate
When do you need to see your doctor?
A person may not know that they have sleep apnea, but a sleeping partner or other household member may notice it. Anyone who experiences daytime sleepiness should see a doctor, who can help them find out the reason and the steps to take to solve it.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to various health issues, such as difficulty concentrating, depression, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The link between the conditions is not always clear, but a person with sleep apnea should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend a sleep study. A sleep specialist will then interpret the results. The results will help your doctor recommend the treatment option best suited to your needs.
How is sleep apnea treated?
For milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes:
Drink alcohol moderately, if at all, and don't drink several hours before bedtime.
Sleeping on your side or stomach
Avoiding or cutting down on anti-anxiety drugs or sleeping pills.
If lifestyle changes don't improve your sleep or if your apnea is moderate to severe, then your doctor may recommend additional measures. Certain devices like CPAP machines (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines) or oral devices (mouthpieces) can help open up a blocked airway. In other cases, surgery may be necessary.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you may be abnormally sleepy during the day, which can put you at higher risk of accidents. Close friends, co-workers or family might tell you that you appear sleepier than you feel. If this is true, try to avoid driving and operating heavy machinery.
I can imagine how challenging it can be for someone to carry on with their life while dealing with sleep disorders. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your condition, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
NIH - Sleep apnea https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-apnea
AASM - Sleep education http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/sleep-apnea/symptoms-risk-factors
AASA - What is sleep apnea https://www.sleepapnea.org/learn/sleep-apnea/
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.