A man with sleep apnea stores

At the end of a long, hard day at work or school, all you want is a restful night of sleep and to feel alert during the day. But for some people, this can be difficult. You may be snoring at night, which disrupts your sleep and your partner’s sleep. If that’s the case, you may have obstructive sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

When we sleep, our throat and tongue muscles tend to relax, particularly during dream sleep or “REM” sleep. Sometimes, though, these muscles will partially or completely block the airway, resulting in labored and noisy breathing. This is called obstructive sleep apnea, which may disrupt your sleep and affect your daytime performance.

An estimated 80 percent of patient who suffer from sleep apnea are undiagnosed. While anyone can have sleep apnea, it is most common in men over 50 years old with loud snoring, labored or obstructed breathing, daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, a body mass index greater than 35, or a neck circumference greater than 16 inches. However, a formal sleep study would be required for an official diagnosis. Sleep studies can be performed at home or in a “sleep lab,” which is a specially-outfitted room for a sleep study.

What can it do to me?

Joshua Levine, MD

While snoring is more of a social concern for people sleeping nearby, sleep apnea effects extend into daytime performance and adverse health outcomes. For example, sleep apnea is a potential contributor to high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, and even heart attacks. Excessive fatigue may also make it difficult to concentrate, and you may even doze off in the middle of the day, with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

“A good night’s sleep means far more than just feeling rested the next day,” CEENTA Otolaryngologist Joshua Levine, MD, said. “It can have many effects on overall health. If you or your loved one has symptoms of sleep apnea, it is important to follow through with a simple overnight test.”

How do I treat it?

For many, an effective way to treat sleep apnea on your own is to lose weight. While you don’t have to be overweight to have sleep apnea, obesity is a major factor. You should also avoid alcohol and sedatives, sleep on your side, and use a cervical pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral position.

Some sleep apnea patients benefit from the use of a CPAP or APAP machine when they sleep. CPAP – which stands for continuous positive airway pressure – involves wearing a soft silicone and plastic mask over your nose, or nose and mouth, while you sleep. A small, very quiet, air blower sends a stream of temperature-controlled air through your nose to help keep your throat from collapsing at night. CPAP is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea and the risks are minimal. This is often the first line of treatment. An APAP – or Automatic Positive Airway Pressure – machine is similar to a CPAP, except the machine adjusts the air flow based on your breathing needs throughout the night.

For those who don’t want to use a CPAP/APAP machine or cannot tolerate it, a custom-fit oral device might be a better option. A professionally-made oral appliance can be as effective as CPAP/APAP for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea.

Finally, if those treatments don’t work, a number of surgical options are available, including nasal, soft palate, tonsil and tongue base surgery.

Treatment recommendations will vary on a case-by-case basis based on the severity of the sleep apnea, the patient’s physical condition, and their personal preferences. Once proper evaluation and treatment is completed, we hope you will achieve a restful and peaceful night’s sleep.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. To make an appointment with a sleep specialist, call 704-295-3000.


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