Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening health condition that affects 18+ million people.
While many people will breathe heavily or snore lightly during sleep at times, this is not the same as sleep apnea. In this article, learn what symptoms indicate you should get tested and treated for sleep apnea.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sleep apnea is a condition characterized by one or several pauses between breaths during the night.
What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
In some cases, sleep apnea symptoms can be so mild as to be difficult to detect. For this reason, often the first sign that sleep apnea is present can be a simple feeling of ongoing fatigue.
Because sleep apnea interrupts normal sleep cycles, after a time people suffering from the condition can start to feel tired all the time. This is because they are not getting deep, restful sleep at night, but they don’t necessarily know this.
Other symptoms of sleep apnea can include:
- Loud snoring.
- Shallow breathing.
- Snorting, choking or gasping in the night.
- Waking up abruptly one or several times a night without knowing why.
- Periods of insomnia.
- Headaches upon waking in the morning.
- Problems with memory, attention span and mood (especially irritability).
- Feeling of throat soreness and/or dry mouth.
- Struggles with drowsiness during the day.
Who Is in Danger of Developing Sleep Apnea?
There are different types of sleep apnea, but one of the most common types is obstructive sleep apnea. Certain people are more at risk of developing sleep apnea than other people. As well, some risk factors can be controlled while others cannot.
In general, you may have agreater risk factor for developing sleep apnea if any of these conditions apply to you:
- You have diabetes.
- You are overweight (especially in the upper area of your body).
- You have a thick neck with a narrow airway.
- You are male (gender increases your risk by 50 percent).
- You are over the age of 30.
- Your ethnic background includes Hispanic or Pacific Islander.
- You are in menopause.
- You have suffered any deformities of the head, neck or spine.
- Other family members have sleep apnea (there is a known genetic component).
- You smoke or drink alcohol.
- You use medications or drugs that relax the muscles.
- You have excess tissue growth that partially blocks one or both airways.
- You have been diagnosed with a hormonal disorder.
It is important to note that it is not necessary to have any or all of these symptoms to develop sleep apnea.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
It is not currently possible to diagnose sleep apnea during a routine daytime doctor’s visit. However, a general checkup can reveal the presence of symptoms that may indicate a need for further testing for the presence of sleep apnea.
Typically, the next step in obtaining a diagnosis is to refer you to a sleep specialist for what is called a sleep study. The technical name is a polysomnogram. This study is best done in a sleep center where you can be monitored all night long while you sleep.
The polysomnogram will continuously monitor you for:
- Eye movements.
- Heart rate.
- Blood pressure.
- Oxygen levels in the blood.
- Air moving in the respiratory passages.
- Periods and intensity of snoring.
- Chest movement (measures effort to breathe).
When the test results come back, your sleep specialist will be able to tell whether or not you have sleep apnea and how severe your case may be. Then further recommendations for treatment can be made.
If for any reason the sleep study tests do not deliver enough viable information (for instance, if you were unable to sleep during the test period), you may be outfitted with a home monitor to gather the required information to make an accurate diagnosis.
What Treatments are Available for Sleep Apnea?
There are several treatment approaches available for sleep apnea. Some are designed for maintenance to keep your symptoms from worsening or becoming life-threatening. Others are designed to resolve the problems you are having with sleep apnea.
One increasingly popular treatment to completely resolve sleep apnea is orthognathic surgery or jaw surgery. For more dangerous cases of sleep apnea in particular, orthognathic surgery can successfully resolve issues relating to narrow or blocked airways, congenital facial or jaw deformities and other underlying structural or soft tissue issues that are contributing to sleep apnea symptoms. During the procedure, the upper and lower jaw bones are literally repositioned to enable better breathing.
This surgery is performed while you are under general anesthesia. Following the surgery, you will stay in the hospital at least overnight before being released.
Other corrective treatment options for milder cases of sleep apnea include surgical tightening of the soft palate, which can be done in-office under mild sedation.
Maintenance options include the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which you can be fitted for using the results of your sleep study polysomnogram or home monitor. Mild cases may respond well to the use of orthodontic appliances that keep the airways open or the use of a nasal valve for similar purposes.
Contact Dr. Jamali Today
Dr. Jamali is board certified in oral and maxillofacial surgery. After graduating from the prestigious Tufts University and completing a residency at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Jersey, Dr. Jamali pursued a surgical specialization. Today, he practices in New York City, New York, and was recently voted one of RealSelf’s “Top 100” oral and maxillofacial surgeons.
Today, Dr. Jamali is one of the few surgical specialists in the country who also performs orthognathic (facial reconstructive) oral surgery. Contact our office today at 212-480-2777 or online at www.omsofny.com to learn more or schedule your consultation.