Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. If left untreated, this can be a very serious condition. Individuals with sleep apnea may experience interrupted breathing hundreds of times as they sleep, preventing their brain and body from receiving sufficient oxygen.
There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common type, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), results from a blockage in the airway, which most often occurs due to collapse of the soft tissue at the back of the throat. With central sleep apnea, on the other hand, instability in the respiratory control center keeps the brain from signaling the muscles to breathe. Symptoms of sleep apnea may include loud snoring, restless sleep, insomnia, recurrent awakening, waking with a choking or gasping sensation, waking with a sore or dry throat, morning headaches, daytime fatigue, forgetfulness and mood changes.
While sleep apnea can affect anyone, it tends to be more common in men over the age of 40 and those who are overweight. It also typically affects those who have a large neck, large tonsils, a large tongue, a small jawbone, GERD, nasal obstruction, or a family history of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, if left untreated, can contribute to health concerns including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes and depression. It can also inhibit performance at work and school and hinder other daily activities.
Diagnosing sleep apnea is typically done with a polysomnogram, or sleep study, which electronically transmits and records your physical activity as you sleep. If you have mild sleep apnea, it may be treated with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, avoidance of alcohol and sleeping pills, altered sleep positions for improved breathing, and/or quitting smoking. Other treatments may include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), dental devices, septoplasty, mandibular maxillar advancement surgery, or a procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) for the removal of soft tissue at the back of the throat and palate.