Sleep Apnea: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
Discover the source of your snoring and fatigue.
When you live an active, busy life, you need to have a good night’s rest to carry you through each day. If you or your partner have undiagnosed sleep apnea, however, getting a good night’s sleep can be much harder than it sounds. The loud snoring that has become synonymous with sleep apnea can disturb the sleep of both you and your partner, but not everyone who snores has the condition.
Sleep apnea has many signs and symptoms and can impact your rest and overall health in multiple major ways, so it’s wise to begin looking into the condition if you or your partner snores loudly on a regular basis.
To help you determine if it’s time to schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor to get tested for sleep apnea, here’s a breakdown of the basics on the condition, as well as what Dr. Tomasik can do to help.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to repeatedly stop and start throughout the night. Generally, people with this condition will stop breathing for 10 seconds or more at a time. Sleep apnea has varying levels of severity and sufferers can stop breathing anywhere from five to 100 times an hour.
There are three main types of sleep apnea, which are differentiated by what causes patients to stop breathing in the first place. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea, which is when the tongue or muscles in the back of your throat relax too much as you sleep, blocking your airway. The second type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea and is caused by the brain failing to send signals to the muscles that facilitate breathing. Finally, complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?
It’s important to realize that sleep apnea can affect anyone in any age range, so never dismiss your symptoms just because you don’t think you fit any of the risk factors. That said, there are many factors that can increase your likelihood of getting either type of sleep apnea. The risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include a family history of sleep apnea, obesity, having a thicker neck or narrowed airway, chronic nasal congestion, being older, and being male. For women, going through menopause actually increases your risk of getting sleep apnea.
Additionally, smoking, drinking alcohol, using sedatives or tranquilizers, and existing medical diagnoses, like type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, PCOS, or asthma, can also increase your risk. Since central sleep apnea involves the brain itself, it has a slightly different list of risk factors. These risk factors include being older, being male, using opioid pain medications, having suffered from a stroke in the past, or having a heart disorder.
What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?
While loud snoring is the most known symptom of sleep apnea, it’s not the only symptom you need to be looking out for. When you have sleep apnea, your body typically wakes you up just enough to get you breathing again. For many people, this is so brief that they don’t remember waking up at all. As a result, sleep apnea disrupts your rest even if you feel like you’re getting an uninterrupted night of sleep. You simply aren’t able to reach the deep levels of sleep your body needs to fully rest and recover. This, paired with a drop in your blood oxygen levelsthroughout the night, can cause symptoms like:
- Daytime fatigue
- Brain fog
- Inability to concentrate
- Waking up with headaches
- Inability to fall or stay asleep
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Moodiness or irritability
- Worsening depression or anxiety
- A sore or dry throat in the morning
- Waking up with a choking or gasping feeling
- Decreased interest in sex
How does it affect people?
The fatigue, inability to concentrate, and moodiness from sleep apnea can impact your personal relationships and your performance at work or school. Plus, driving when you’re exhausted or not concentrating well makes you much more likely to get into a car accident. Unfortunately, the effects of untreated sleep apnea can go much deeper than this, impacting your overall health. It can increase your chances of suffering from type 2 diabetes, liver problems, high blood pressure, stroke, an irregular heartbeat, a heart attack, and metabolic syndrome. Since most of these are major health issues that can cause even bigger problems if they go untreated, it’s always safer to see a sleep doctor and get tested for sleep apnea if you suspect you may have it.
What are the treatment options?
There are several different treatment options available for sleep apnea. One of the most common treatments is a CPAP machine, which requires you to wear a mask over your nose while you sleep. The machine then delivers a constant flow of air to your nose that helps keep your airway open. While it’s the most common treatment out there, some patients find CPAP machines uncomfortable, inconvenient, and difficult to travel with. Oral appliances, which are custom-made mouth guards that keep your airway open throughout the night, are a popular alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. They’re easier to maintain, a breeze to travel with, and they allow you to sleep comfortably.
Although these two are the most common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea, there are a few other options, depending on the cause of your case. You can sometimes improve your sleep apnea by losing weight, changing sleep positions, or cutting out alcohol or smoking. Additionally, when obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a narrow throat, problems in the nasal passages, or another physical issue, surgery can sometimes address it. Central sleep apnea can be helped by providing supplemental oxygen throughout the night or treating underlying health conditions that may be causing the problem, such as neuromuscular conditions.
How can an oral appliance help?
The position of your jaw actually impacts how wide your airway is. When you get an oral appliance to treat your sleep apnea, Dr. Tomasik will find your ideal jaw position. This is a natural, relaxed position that leaves your airway as open as possible. Dr. Tomasik will then custom-make an oral appliance for you to keep your jaw in this position throughout the night. Since it’s designed specifically for your mouth and is meant to be worn to sleep, the appliance is actually very comfortable. It might take a little getting used to, but it’s comfortable enough that you should be able to get a full, restful night’s sleep while you’re wearing it—perhaps for the first time in a long time. Oral appliances work best for mild to moderate sleep apnea, however, and aren’t an option for everyone. Once you receive a diagnosis of sleep apnea, it’s wise to talk to your sleep doctor and Dr. Tomasik about your treatment options.
Get a restful night’s sleep by addressing your sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea might sound harmless when it’s simply mentioned in conjunction with snoring, but it’s a serious condition that can lead to even bigger health complications down the road. Once you receive a diagnosis, you can start working toward finding a treatment that works for you.
If you have any questions about oral appliances and whether or not they’re right for you, feel free to call our office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Tomasik at any time.