Do you often wake up at night gasping for air or feeling like you are choking? Does your partner often tell you that he or she was kept awake all night by your snoring? Or that you appeared to stop breathing? Do you spend all day yawning after eight hours of sleep and wonder why?
While there are many types of sleep apnea, the most commonly known sleep-related breathing disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when your throat muscles relax and block your airway while you sleep. In severe cases, this can happen as many as 100 times per hour, which causes a drop in blood oxygen levels, creating dangerous short- and long-term effects. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, choking or gasping during sleep, interrupted sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, waking up with a dry mouth and severe morning headaches. Some of the risk factors for developing obstructive sleep apnea include older age, a narrowed airway, high blood pressure, obesity and gender, as it typically occurs more often in men.
If you experience symptoms associated with obstructive sleep apnea, the first step is to talk to your primary care doctor. If your symptoms are determined to be consistent with the disorder, he or she will refer you to a sleep medicine physician for evaluation. At that point, you may be asked to do a sleep study. Often, these studies are performed in sleep labs designed specifically for sleep monitoring, but sleep studies can be performed at home, as well. Generally, this involves wearing a few devices that will monitor you for an eight-hour period of sleep. These devices send information back to the sleep lab for evaluation.
“Once sleep apnea has been diagnosed, treatment can be achieved with continuous positive airway pressure, otherwise known as CPAP,” said Blount Memorial board-certified pulmonary and sleep medicine physician Dr. Ousama Dabbagh. “If the patient cannot tolerate CPAP, other options include mandibular advancement with devices known as oral appliances. These appliances work by stabilizing your mouth to improve airflow. Surgery can be offered in select cases where CPAP cannot be tolerated,” Dabbagh added. In addition, your doctor also may suggest changing sleeping positions, weight loss, a change in medications and limiting alcohol consumption.
If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can significantly impact your quality of life. Daytime fatigue can impact memory and function. Drowsy driving can lead to motor accidents. Some people with obstructive sleep apnea also experience depression, mood swings and irritability due to the chronic lack of quality sleep. Furthermore, sleep apnea has been associated with other health conditions such as heart disease, irregular heartbeats (known as atrial fibrillation), stroke, hypertension, pulmonary hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
“If you suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, or any of the medical illnesses associated with obstructive sleep apnea, please ask your primary care provider if you need to be evaluated for sleep apnea,” Dabbagh said.
The Blount Memorial Sleep Health Center features board-certified sleep specialists, as well as the comprehensive support services of Blount Memorial Hospital. The Sleep Health Center is an accredited member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and offers a free CPAP education clinic. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call the Sleep Health Center at 865-980-5120.