Sleep apnea is a common and possibly dangerous sleep disorder that can affect anyone of any age. This includes elderly people and infants. According to Cleveland Clinic, about 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women suffer from a type of sleep apnea. 

Below is all the information you need to know about sleep apnea. 

Signs of Sleep Apnea

Just like any most illness or disorders, there are numerous signs of sleep apnea. While the most obvious sign is feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep, there are other signs indicative of sleep apnea. 

Some of the most common signs of sleep apnea:

  • Frequent waking through the night
  • Hypersomnia
  • Having trouble maintaining focus
  • Waking up with a splitting headache
  • Loud, excessive snoring
  • You stop breathing mid-sleep
  • You wake up gasping for air

Snoring is more than just an annoyance. It may point to a more serious issue. However, one thing you need to remember is that everyone may experience sleep apnea differently. As such, snoring may not even occur. A doctor can diagnose the issue and see if you are suffering from sleep apnea. 

There are a total of three different types of this sleep disorder; obstructive, central and complex. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form.

OSA happens when the muscles behind your throat relax, which causes your airway to become narrowed or close entirely. If your breathing is too shallow, your brain senses you’re not breathing properly and wake you up. Common symptoms of OSA usually involve choking, gasping and snorting. 

Also, when the effects of sleep apnea occur, it can cause hypoxia or hypoxemia. Hypoxia is when there isn’t enough oxygen in your tissues to keep your body from properly functioning. Hypoxemia is when you have low oxygen levels overall. Regardless of the case, frequent episodes of this can cause your heart to beat irregularly. 

Central sleep apnea (CSA) operates a bit differently than obstructive. Your brains constantly send signals to these muscles, so you continue breathing when asleep. But central sleep apnea can prevent it from broadcasting them. In turn, your brain doesn’t rely the message for you to take a breath. 

Complex sleep apnea, also classified as complex sleep apnea syndrome or mixed sleep apnea, is the most dangerous of the three. Unlike central, it is almost as common as obstructive. This sleep disorder is obstructive and central sleep apnea mixed together. 

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Treatment of sleep apnea depends on the type you have. Before treatment can begin, there must first be a proper diagnosis. Doctors can diagnose sleep apnea through two tests; nocturnal polysomnography and at-home sleep studies. Nocturnal polysomnography is a test where a patient is fitted with a machine that keeps track of brain, heart and lung activity. It also takes note of the pattern of your breathing, your oxygen levels and limb movement.

An at-home sleep study is more or less the same, except it’s simplified. It generally involves applying electrodes that monitor your breathing while sleeping. It also tracks your oxygen levels, heart rate and if you’re a side sleeper, stomach sleeper or back sleeper. If your doctor suspects you have obstructive sleep apnea, they can refer you to an otolaryngologist, or more commonly known as ear, nose and throat specialists. They may be able to pinpoint any potential blockages, like an enlarged uvula.

If it’s central sleep apnea you’re dealing with, you may be referred to a cardiologist or a neurologist. Either way, the treatments of sleep apnea remain the same.

Below are some of the most common sleep apnea treatments:

  • CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, involves letting a machine output air pressure via a mask to keep your airways open. This is the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea. The air pressure is calibrated using the data from the sleep study. 
  • ASV, or adaptive servo-ventilation, is a somewhat new device that’s supposed to take note of the way you breathe. Then, it uses the information to the output air pressure that matches said breathing pattern. This is a great treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea, but not so much for central. 
  • Supplemental oxygen, on the other hand, is a recommended way to treat central sleep apnea. It simply delivers oxygen into your lungs as you sleep. Which type of oxygen you need, however, depends on what your doctor says.

If these treatments don’t yield results, your doctor may recommend surgery as a last resort. Similar to the treatment options, the type of surgery required depends on your case. Tissue removal, or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, is when the adenoids, tonsils and other potentially obstructive tissue is removed in hopes of opening the airway.

Sleep apnea can range from mild to life-threatening. Even the mildest cases can pose a risk to your overall health. Please see your doctor if you experience any kind of choking or shortness of breath while you sleep.