What is Sleep Apnea?
Before exploring the signs of sleep apnea, let’s first define the meaning of the disorder. According to The National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea is defined as “a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep.”
The three most prevalent types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: The most commonly known type of sleep apnea marked by the relaxation of the throat muscles (accounting for about 85% of all cases)
- Central sleep apnea: A rarer condition wherein the the brain fails to send the correct signals to muscles that control breathing (accounting for less than 1% of cases)
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome: Diagnosed when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
Five Signs of Sleep Apnea
If sleep apnea is suspect, chances are that a number of symptoms are present in the patient. Indeed, multiple signs of sleep apnea must be present in order for a doctor to officially diagnose the condition.
The five most common signs of sleep apnea that lead to a diagnosis of sleep apnea are as follows:
Generally, this is the symptom that prompts individuals to come into the office for a sleep apnea assessment. A spouse or partner oftentimes acts as the catalyst that drives a new patient in for a sleep study due to excessive, loud snoring in bed. Although snoring doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has sleep apnea, it certainly can be a first sign due to how frequently this symptom presents in sleep apnea sufferers.
Constant fatigue is the next most common symptom in those who have sleep apnea. An extreme lack of energy is caused by the repeated awakenings that an individual experiences throughout the night. Though some people with sleep apnea wake only several times a night, others may wake several hundred. Due to serious sleep disruptions, daytime fatigue is common in those diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Falling Asleep During the Day
Taking the previous symptom one step further, a number of those with sleep apnea not yet diagnosed find themselves uncontrollably falling asleep during the day. This symptom presents obvious hassles such as falling asleep during work and dangers such as falling asleep while driving. In fact, a study reported by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported that patients with sleep apnea were approximately 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident compared with a control group of drivers without the condition.
Pauses in Breathing
Many individuals who suspect that they may have sleep apnea notice that they find themselves choking or gasping in the night. This sensation is experienced by patients diagnosed with either or both kinds of sleep apnea wherein breathing stops due to the relaxation of throat muscles or the brain failing to properly control the muscles in charge of breathing.
The final most common sign often associated with sleep apnea is the presence of nagging headaches. Most patients diagnosed with sleep apnea complain of experiencing headaches upon waking. The cause of this can be traced to the lack of oxygen that a sleep apnea sufferer’s brain receives due to the frequent halts in breathing during the nighttime. Vascular headaches are then triggered after blood vessels widen as a result of low oxygen levels.
When to Seek Help for Sleep Apnea
If you have multiple signs listed above, it’s time to see a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist will be able to analyze your specific condition, administer appropriate diagnostic tests, and help you determine whether or not you have sleep apnea.
For those who do have sleep apnea and don’t yet know, delaying scheduling an appointment could be perilous to your health and well-being. Health conditions that could develop as a result of sleep apnea include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Acid reflux
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
After seeking professional help, there are a number of ways specialists best treat individuals diagnosed with sleep apnea.
Most commonly, a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is prescribed. A CPAP machine functions by delivering a prescribed amount of air pressure through a mask worn while sleeping. This works to keep a patient’s airway from collapsing. When this takes place, the patient is able to achieve a more restful and healthier night’s sleep.
Some alternative sleep apnea treatments are:
- Wearing an oral or dental appliance
- Surgery operating on the soft palate, tonsils, tongue, and/or jaw
- Undergoing a weight management program
- Positional therapy
At the Anchorage Sleep Center, sleep specialists are ready to assist you in properly addressing and treating sleep apnea. After an extensive review of your clinical history, physical examination, and diagnostic findings, an effective treatment plan is created to assist you in overcoming sleep obstacles.
To schedule an initial consultation, call the ASC office at (907) 743-0050 to receive immediate help in taking the first steps towards recovery.