Sleep apnea is a disorder marked by noisy snoring and repeated interruptions in breathing. It is a potentially dangerous condition that can leave you feeling tired despite a full night’s sleep, and may lead to health complications such as heart disease and stroke.
Symptoms & Causes
Sleep apnea is most commonly associated with chronic snoring that may be loud enough to disturb the sleep of a partner, and interrupted breathing that occurs repeatedly throughout the night. This can lead to daytime fatigue, headache, dry mouth, and sore throat. The person suffering from sleep apnea may be completely unaware of the condition.
There are three types of sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing, and is rare. Much more common is obstructive sleep apnea, the result of overly relaxed soft tissue in the back of the throat obstructing the airway, interfering with breathing and causing you to snore loudly. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of the other two types.
Most at risk for developing sleep apnea are males older than 40 who are overweight. Other risk factors include alcohol use (especially before bedtime), tranquilizers and sedatives, smoking, allergies, and sinus infections. Heredity also plays a role in sleep apnea.
Treating Sleep Apnea
People with mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from lifestyle changes. Losing weight, giving up cigarettes and alcohol, sleeping on your side, elevating your head a few inches, and using nasal breathing strips can all help.
For moderate to severe sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the preferred method of treatment. This involves a machine that produces a steady stream of air that is delivered through a mask while you sleep. This keeps your airway passages open and allows for normal breathing.
Other adjustable airway pressure devices are available, including bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) and adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) devices. Oral devices and surgery may be additional options worth exploring. Work with a sleep specialist to find the right solution for you.