Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to several minutes. They may occur 30 times or more per hour. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound.
Sleep apnea and snoring.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea (AP-ne-ah) is a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.
Sleep apnea usually is a chronic (ongoing) condition that disrupts your sleep. When your breathing pauses or becomes shallow, you’ll often move out of deep sleep and into light sleep. This results in a poor quality of your sleep, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness.
Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. Doctors usually can’t detect the condition during routine office visits. A blood test cannot help diagnose the condition either. Most people who have sleep apnea don’t know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member or bed partner might be the first to notice signs of sleep apnea.
When you try to breathe, any air that squeezes past the blockage can cause loud snoring.
The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In this condition, the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. This causes shallow breathing or breathing pauses.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight, but it can affect anyone. For example, small children who have enlarged tonsil tissues in their throats may have obstructive sleep apnea.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Major Signs and Symptoms
One of the most common signs of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and chronic (ongoing) snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring. Choking or gasping may follow the pauses.
The snoring usually is loudest when you sleep on your back; it might be less noisy when you turn on your side. You might not snore every night. Over time, however, the snoring can happen more often and get louder.
You’re asleep when the snoring or gasping happens. You likely won’t know that you’re having problems breathing or be able to judge how severe the problem is. A family member or bed partner often will notice these problems before you do.
Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
Another common sign of sleep apnea is fighting sleepiness during the day, at work, or while driving. You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you’re not active. Even if you don’t have daytime sleepiness, talk with your doctor if you have problems breathing during sleep.
Others signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Feeling irritable, depressed, or having mood swings or personality changes
- Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up
- Morning headaches
Memory or learning problems and not being able to concentrate
- Waking up frequently to urinate
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has endorsed oral appliance therapy for selected patients with sleep apnea. Please come in and consult with Dr. Goodman if you are a good candidate. Your medical insurance (PPO) may cover up to 100% of this treatment. HMO’s cover nothing unfortunately.
Positive Airway Pressure Devices
Positive airway pressure machines, used with a variety of breathing masks, are the most widely used treatment for moderate and severe sleep apnea. They have been endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
The mask, worn snugly over the nose, or sometimes nose and mouth, during sleep, supplies pressurized air that flows continuously or intermittently into the sleeper’s throat. The increased air pressure prevents the sleeper’s airway from collapsing.
The pressurized air is supplied through a flexible tube from one of several types of machines: CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure), VPAP (variable positive airway pressure), and so on. Studies of the effect of PAP therapy show that OSA patients who consistently use their machines feel better and, as a result of the reduction of apnea and hypopnea episodes during sleep, encounter fewer complications of the disease.
Abstinence from alcohol before bedtime is an important part of treating sleep apnea.
In one study, several persons who received cardiac pacemakers were reported to have shown an improvement in their sleep apnea. No major organizations have endorsed this type of treatment, however. Further studies are underway.
Alternative healing methods are also in use. There is some evidence that playing the didgeridoo or other wind instruments may help in managing OSA. In Brazil, acupuncture researchers who are physicians report positive results in treating OSA with acupuncture.