January 27, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
Are you a loud snorer, waking up your partner with your chain saw like snoring all night? Do you wake up refreshed or feel like you didn’t even sleep at all? With all seriousness, snoring is no laughing matter and could indicate a serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even young children. However some of the main factors that can cause sleep apnea are:
- Being male
- Being overweight
- Being over age 40
- Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
- Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD
- Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems
So what is sleep apnea?
It’s a sleep disorder that happens when your breathing is interrupted while you’re sleeping. You actually stop breathing during sleep. This can happen several, even hundreds of times during sleep. Your airway becomes blocked off when the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses. I personally have this and know how tired it can make you feel, not to mention, it can put you at risk for serious problems if left untreated. I have been awoken by a choking (gasping) feeling in the middle of the night and it’s scary. Then I would have no energy and feel tired all day.
The best way to determine if you have sleep apnea is to first see your doctor and describe your sleep. Common sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
- Loud snoring
- Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
- Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
- Sleepiness while driving
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep
- Forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex
- Recurrent awakenings or insomnia
If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, he’ll probably send you for a sleep study. I had an overnight sleep study done and was diagnosed with sleep apnea this way. It’s a painless test. There are several types of sleep studies and your doctor will determine the right one for you. Essentially though, you go to an overnight sleep testing facility and they wire you up with a lot of sensors that transmit your sleep data to a specialist. They measure your breathing, oxygen levels in your blood, heart beat and how often you move your limbs. I have to admit with all the wires hanging off of me, I never thought I’d get to sleep, but I did and the next day when the doctor gave me the results, I was really astonished. I had stopped breathing for a short period of time during the test a total of 65 times and I had two major events where I stopped breathing for a longer period of time. My doctor recommended a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This device is a small box, the size of a large alarm clock, an air hose and a mask that fits over your mouth and nose. The CPAP monitors my breathing and forces air down my throat, keeping my airway open. Don’t worry; it’s not as bad as it sounds. My CPAP is a new model that has a humidifier built in and controls the force of air. The mask is light weight and comfortable. Wearing it takes a few days to get used to, but it’s really pretty comfortable and relaxing. The machine is quiet too.
You can live with this disorder and the CPAP can really help. I could tell a difference in how well rested I felt after just one use. Some other important things to consider to stop mild cases of sleep apnea are to lose weight, don’t sleep on your back, avoid sleeping pills, avoid alcohol before sleep and stop smoking. In extreme cases there are surgeries to remove the soft tissue in your throat. These options should resolve your sleep apnea. We at Angel MedFlight care about your health and if you or a loved one has these symptoms, we urge you to see your doctor. It’s important to note that if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea and need a CPAP machine, make sure that you use it regularly or your sleep apnea symptoms will return.