Sleep Apnea is a serious medical condition associated with increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression, and work-related and driving accidents.
There are three main types of sleep apnea:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Everyone’s muscles—including those in the throat—relax during sleep. This narrows the airway. But in people with obstructive sleep apnea, the airway narrows so much that it closes. The person keeps trying to breathe, but air can’t get through. This is the most common type of sleep apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea
The airway stays open. But the brain stops telling them muscles that control breathing to work. This is the rarest type of sleep apnea.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
This type involves both a blocked airway and a brain signal problem, For example, a person may have periods of central sleep apnea mixed with periods of obstructive sleep apnea.
The most common signs and symptoms of sleep apneas include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Pauses in breathing during sleep witnessed by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath, which more likely indicates central sleep apnea
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood disorders (depression)
Sleep Apnea Quiz
Please answer the 8 questions below to assess your risk for sleep apnea:
- Do you snore loudly (louder than talking or loud enough to be heard through closed doors)? YES/NO
- Do you often feel tired, fatigued, or sleepy during the daytime? YES/NO
- Has anyone ever observed you stop breathing during your sleep? YES/NO
- Do you have or are you being treated for high blood pressure? YES/NO
- Is your BMI more than 35 kg/m2? YES/NO
- Are you over 50 years of age? YES/NO
- Is your neck circumference greater than 15 3⁄4 inches (40 cm)? YES/NO
- Are you a male? YES/NO
Scoring: Answering "yes" to three of more of the 8 questions indicates that you are High Risk for sleep apnea. Answering “yes” to less than three questions indicates that you are Low Risk for sleep apnea.
If you scored in the High Risk category, an evaluation by your primary care provider or a sleep specialist may be warranted.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Your doctor may make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms or may refer you to a sleep disorder center, like the Torrance Memorial Sleep Disorder Center. There, a sleep specialist can help you decide on your need for further evaluation. Such an evaluation often involves a sleep study where a technologist will monitor your breathing and other body functions during sleep. Another option is home sleep testing, it's often easier for you and less expensive.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) to rule out any blockage in your nose or throat. An evaluation by a heart doctor (cardiologist) or a doctor who specializes in the nervous system (neurologist) may be necessary to look for causes of central sleep apnea.
How is Sleep Apnea Treated?
For milder cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend only lifestyle changes, such as: avoid sleeping on your back, lose weight, quit smoking or avoid drugs that cause drowsiness.
If these measures don't improve your signs and symptoms or if your apnea is moderate to severe, a number of other treatments are available. Certain devices can help open up a blocked airway, like a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). In other cases, oral appliance, surgery may be necessary or medication.