Sleep apnea is a highly prevalent condition within the United States and abroad. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), is estimated to afflict at least 25 million American adults! Even worse yet, this condition is becoming more pervasive as more Americans struggle with being overweight or obese which is one of the primary causes of OSA.
Unfortunately it is estimated that 80% of these Americans remain undiagnosed. This is a serious issue as there are some serious health implications when sleep apnea remains untreated including major cardiovascular risks, weight gain, sleep deprivation, and more.
For this reason, it is important for everyone to know some of the most common direct/indirect symptoms of sleep apnea, what to do if you think you or a loved one might have sleep apnea, and the various treatment options available including the use of a CPAP machine or other positive airway pressure device.
Most Common Direct Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Loud and Chronic Snoring: This is a potential symptom of OSA but not all people with sleep apnea snore and not all people that snore have sleep apnea.
- Intermittent Pauses of Snoring: A more telltale sign of sleep apnea is snoring with intermittent pauses during sleep which is an indicator that the person has actually stopped breathing. This is commonly followed up with the person stirring awake and possibly even gasping or choking for air. The individual with sleep apnea may not even realize they were awakened and may return to sleep unaware they experienced an apnea.
4 Indirect Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
- Headaches: This is due to lack of oxygen to the brain.
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): This is due to the restriction of blood vessels which is the bodies reaction to oxygen deprivation.
- Awakening with Dry Mouth or Sore Throat
- Excessive Tiredness / effects of sleep deprivation: This is the most detrimental of the symptoms. This significantly impacts your quality of life including your performance at work, relationships, and general well-being. Sleep deprivation impairs your cognitive & learning abilities, cause serious heart problems, leads to depression & anxiety, and more.
What you should do if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms
I would highly recommend you have you or your loved one go to a sleep specialist physician at a sleep clinic to have a sleep study performed. In some cases these sleep studies can be performed at home, but the gold standard of sleep tests are performed on site at a sleep lab known as a Polysomnogram (PSG). During the sleep study, they collect a vast amount of data including brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, and more. This will allow them to determine if your or your loved one has sleep apnea or possibly some other disorder.
Is there a cure for sleep apnea?
There is no absolute cure for sleep apnea but there is a variety of treatment options:
Postitive Airway Pressure Device (e.g. CPAP Machine)
PAP is the most common form of treatment for sleep apnea. There are a variety of types of PAPs including Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices or otherwise referred to as a CPAP machine. You wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose or possibly just your nose in which pressurized air is injected into your airway to create a virtual splint that will keep your airway from collapsing. This treatment is the most popular as it is virtually 100% effective for all levels of sleep apnea severity. It is important to get the best cpap machine 2016 or the best bipap machine and best cpap mask for you as this will ensure you receive the most effective treatment. Many people have air leaking issues or discomfort with their mask as they sleep on their side. If you are a side sleep it is important to find out which are the best cpap masks for side sleepers.
Another very popular PAP device is a BiPAP or BiLevel CPAP. A BiPAP provides two different pressures when you sleep. A higher pressure is applied when you breathe in and a lower pressure is applied when you exhale. This can provide a more comfortable and natural breathing experience. You can check out the other differences between CPAPs and BiPAPs in this article: BiPAP vs CPAP.
The most common appliance is a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) which is a mouth guard that moves the lower jaw and tongue forward to prevent the jaw or tongue from falling back and blocking the airway. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends the use of oral appliances as a first line approach, equal to PAP devices, for mild to moderate OSA.
There are a variety of surgeries including nasal surgery, upper airway surgery, and jaw repositioning. Surgery is usually only considered for special circumstances or under extreme cases where the other treatments referred to above have failed. This is due to a lower efficacy rate and higher risk of medical complications.
It should also be noted that as one of the most common causes of sleep apnea is being overweight, losing weight can in some cases significantly decrease or possibly even completely eradicate all symptoms of one’s sleep apnea.