Sleep apnea is a common but often misunderstood disorder that affects 26% of Americans each year, according to the American Sleep Foundation. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when people stop breathing during sleep. An upper airway blockage causes interruptions to a person’s breathing repeatedly while lying down.
While a bed partner or loved ones might recognize signs and symptoms, the sufferer may have no idea they have obstructive sleep apnea. It’s impossible to know if they do loud snoring and there are risk factors of complicated health problems, as sleep apnea may lead to reduced focus while driving a motor vehicle, concentrating at work, daytime sleepiness, etc.
However, once diagnosed, obstructive sleep apnea is very treatable. Many people believe that sleep apnea can affect a person by stopping them from having a normal rest and impairs their health. However, there are many sleep medicine options and equipment that help people deal with sleep apnea, without risk, and rest peacefully at night and avoid daytime sleepiness.
Read on to learn more about sleep apnea and how you can get treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
You may have a family history of sleep apnea, and symptoms are often overlapping, with sufferers exhibiting many symptoms simultaneously.
What happens during sleep apnea?
Some of the most common side effects include:
- Loud snoring
- Restless sleep
- Memory loss
- Dry mouth in the morning
- Headaches upon waking
- Waking abruptly in the night
- Stop and start breathing in the night
These are some of the most common side effects for those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea (more common in men). You should ask your doctor about getting a sleep study or other home test done as soon as possible. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to an increased risk of other health conditions.
What Are The Effects Of Sleep Apnea?
Untreated sleep apnea (sleep-disordered breathing) can increase the risk of other damaging conditions, both because of its short-term side effects and long-lasting health conditions that come from improper rest.
Complications that result from sleep apnea include:
- High blood pressure
- Type two diabetes
- Liver problems
- Metabolic syndrome
- Higher risk of COVID-19 complications
- Greater risk of heart failure
How To Get A Sleep Apnea Diagnosis?
Getting diagnosed can be tricky for some patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea, as it’s not a condition that a patient can directly present to their physician in the clinic. However, there are many reliable ways to get diagnosed.
The two most common are clinical nocturnal polysomnography and a home test for more obvious cases.
What Is a Nocturnal Polysomnography?
Nocturnal polysomnography is a type of study. Like other studies, a medical professional monitors a patient’s nocturnal polysomnography and documents the quality of sleep for that individual.
To conduct nocturnal polysomnography, a patient would visit an outpatient treatment center at night and rest there.
While the patient is asleep, a machine takes data on various factors, including:
- Oxygen levels
- Movement patterns
- Brain activity
The following morning, doctors and technicians can analyze these factors and document any abnormal patterns the patient displays in their sleep cycles.
Analyzing the data
Because of the nature of the controlled environment and a medical professional’s ability to capture accurate data through a study, nocturnal polysomnography is one of the most accurate methods for receiving a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea. Doctors use detailed information to understand your condition, while a home test only measures breathing.
How would I know if I had sleep apnea?
A home test is another common and less involved procedure that a patient can use to ascertain a diagnosis. These tests are usually self-administered.
A Home Sleep Test
For those who have trouble falling asleep in unfamiliar rooms, a home test may provide a more comfortable experience than spending an isolated night in an unfamiliar bed at a study center.
For this reason (and due to its lower cost), some people with sleep apnea prefer to receive a diagnosis from a home test rather than nocturnal polysomnography.
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If an individual chooses to partake in a home test, a doctor will inform them how to connect to testing equipment properly. These tools will measure factors like a person’s heart rate, high blood pressure, airflow, and blood oxygen level. If any patterns from these tests seem abnormal, a doctor can diagnose the different types of sleep apnea (obstructive or central) accordingly.
The main types of sleep apnea: obstructive (stop breathing) and central (no blockage) are somewhat different.
How Do You Fix Sleep Apnea
Doctors can treat this condition in many ways. The primary goal of any sleep apnea treatment is to relax the soft palate muscles and open airways as you rest. The American Sleep Apnea Association explain that without an open airway, a person will wake up several to 100 times a night. This disruption in sleep pattern and their inability to gain deep sleep can affect their overall health.
The treatments vary based on the intensity of the apnea obstructive sleep disorder for an individual:
- For a mild case, one common treatment is weight loss. For most cases, the stress on a windpipe often arises directly as a result of mass on the neck. When a person decreases the amount of mass on their neck, they will improve airflow as their windpipe becomes unblocked.
- For more intense cases, or cases wherein weight loss is insufficient, more intense therapies and treatments are available.
Some of the most common treatments for sleep apnea include:
- CPAP machines
- Weight loss
- Oral devices that open airway
- Altering positions
- Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Using a nasal decongestant to improve breathing
Your doctor might recommend surgery to remove tissue from the neck and surrounding area in some severe cases. This procedure may help take some pressure off the upper airway and windpipe, allowing easier breathing, and helping to reduce blood pressure.
A CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, is the most common treatment. More than 8 million people in the United States use this equipment according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
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To use a CPAP machine, an individual wears a mask that pumps air through the wearer’s nose and mouth throughout the night, making breathing easier.
CPAP machines treat sleep apnea. However, many individuals report a long adjustment period when using the device or have trouble using it because it requires lifestyle changes.
The Bottom Line
Sleep apnea often causes serious issues if left untreated. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you deserve the treatment options available to you, so you can enjoy breathing properly while sleeping.
If you are suffering from sleep apnea, make sure you talk to a medical professional as soon as possible so that you can receive a diagnosis and proper treatment. Take advantage of either a study or home test, as recommended by the American Sleep Apnea Association.