When a person experiences sleep apnea, the relaxed muscles at the back of the throat cause the throat to close, which causes the individual’s breathing to stop. This typically last from a few seconds up to as long as three minutes. Most sleep apnea sufferers experience this cycle of snoring, apnea and awakening five or more times a night. Sleep apnea has a higher incidence among people age 40 and older, those with a family history of snoring, and in postmenopausal women.
Symptoms & Causes
Because it disrupts the normal sleep pattern, sleep apnea makes you feel tired, slows your reaction time, and can lead to confused thinking and memory loss. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, anxiety and depression. Therefore, early detection and treatment are crucial. There are two basic types of sleep apnea – central (relatively rare) and obstructive (by far the most common). Obstructive sleep apnea is the result of overly relaxed soft tissues in the throat. They may block the airway during sleep, causing snoring and an interruption in breathing. An overly large tongue, tonsils, uvula, or soft palate can also cause sleep apnea, as can an unusually small airway. Those who are overweight, over the age of 40, smoke cigarettes, or have a family history of sleep apnea are most at risk.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Mild sleep apnea can be treated with a few simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, losing weight, and sleeping on your side rather than your back can all make a difference.
Moderate to severe sleep apnea is most often treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). The patient wears a mask over the mouth or nose; this is attached to a machine that delivers regular doses of air pressure into the throat, keeping the airway open and allowing for normal breathing during sleep.
In rare cases, surgery to widen the breathing passages or eliminate bulky throat tissue or enlarged tonsils can be a viable option.
If you suffer from debilitating snoring or think you may have sleep apnea, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our Otolaryngologists.