Sleep apnea is a dangerous disorder that causes you to momentarily stop breathing multiple times per night. Because the symptoms occur while you are unconscious, you may not even be aware that you have a problem until someone else brings it to your attention. However, there are warning signs of sleep apnea that occur while you are awake as well. If you believe you may have sleep apnea, the best way to find out for sure is with a sleep apnea test. Once you have a clear diagnosis, the specialists at Michigan Head and Neck Institute may be able to help you treat the disorder.
Different Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of sleep apnea. When most people use the term, they are talking about obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type. Another, less prevalent, type is called central sleep apnea. Though the effects are similar to OSA, the cause is very different as it originates in the central nervous system. Rarely, some people may have mixed sleep apnea, with both central and obstructive components.
A person with sleep apnea experiences short, repeated episodes during which he or she stops breathing while in an unconscious state. If you have OSA, this happens because the soft tissues in the throat collapse, blocking the airway. With the airway blocked, your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and wakes you up slightly to clear the obstruction, but once you go back to sleep, the tissues in your throat start relaxing and the cycle begins again.
Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea
The brief awakenings during the night to clear your airway are usually not long enough to allow you to regain full consciousness, so you may not have any memory of them upon waking up completely. Many people with OSA do not notice any symptoms themselves but are informed by loved ones of symptoms like snoring and breathing cessation.
However, because sleep apnea prevents you from getting a restful night’s sleep, it can also cause symptoms that occur during the day. Some warning signs to watch for, day and night, include the following:
- Loud snoring when sleeping or napping
- Gasping or choking that wakes you up
- Excessive sleepiness during the day
- Night sweats
- Sore throat or dry mouth upon awakening
- Headaches in the morning
- Decreased libido
- Mood swings
If left untreated, OSA can cause or worsen the following conditions:
- High blood pressure/cardiovascular disease
Testing for Sleep Apnea
The most conclusive way to diagnose sleep apnea and rule out similar disorders is with a sleep study, also known as polysomnography. This can take place in a sleep clinic or sometimes in your own home. Regardless of where the test takes place, it involves applying various types of monitoring equipment to your body to keep track of your blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, and airflow. A sleep apnea doctor then uses this information to make a diagnosis.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
Your sleep apnea treatment depends on several factors, including its cause and severity. Most people respond to nonsurgical treatment methods, the most common of which are oral appliances and continuous positive airway pressure.
Oral appliances work in one of two ways: either they hold your tongue in a position where it cannot fall back and block your airway, or they open up the back of your throat by bringing your jaw forward. CPAP is a common form of OSA treatment in which you wear a mask over your nose and/or mouth connected to a machine that blows a continuous stream of air down your throat, preventing the soft tissues from collapsing. More severe cases of sleep apnea may require CPAP and you might need to scurry around to find a special face mask for sale.
Explore Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
Once you know what is causing your symptoms, you and a sleep apnea doctor can determine the best way to treat the condition. You can schedule a consultation with Michigan Head and Neck Institute by calling (586) 573-0438.