Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Sleep Apnea
What is sleep apnea?
People with sleep apnea stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time while they are sleeping. These short stops in breathing can happen up to 400 times every night! If you have sleep apnea, the periods of not breathing may make you wake up from deep sleep. If you are waking up all night long, you aren't getting enough rest from your sleep.
There are two kinds of sleep apnea: obstructive apnea and central apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. Nine out of 10 people with sleep apnea have this type of apnea. If you have this type, something is blocking the passage or windpipe (called the trachea) that brings air into your body. You keep trying to breathe, but you can't get enough air because of the blockage. Your windpipe might be blocked by your tongue, tonsils or uvula (the little piece of flesh that hangs down in the back of your throat). It might also be blocked by a large amount of fatty tissue in the throat or even by relaxed throat muscles.
Central sleep apnea is rare. This type is called central apnea because it is related to the function of the central nervous system. If you have this type of apnea, the muscles you use to breathe don't get the "go-ahead" signal from your brain. Either the brain doesn't send the signal, or the signal gets interrupted.
How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
Your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea. The person you sleep with may notice it first. You, or that person, may notice heavy snoring or long pauses in your breathing during sleep. Even if you don't remember waking up during the night, you may notice daytime sleepiness (such as falling asleep at work, while driving or when talking), and irritability or fatigue. You may also notice that you have morning headaches, forgetfulness, mood changes and a decreased interest in sex.
If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor may ask you to go to a sleep center for a sleep study. Tests done at the sleep center may reveal which kind of sleep apnea you have. You may need to take some equipment with you to do a sleep study at home.
Is sleep apnea dangerous?
At first, sleep apnea isn't harmful. However, it can cause serious problems if it isn't treated. Your risk of heart disease and stroke is higher if serious sleep apnea goes untreated. You are also more likely to have traffic accidents if you drive while you're sleepy. If you have sleep apnea, it is very important for you to get treatment.
Is there anything I can do to help my sleep apnea?
Yes. These steps help many people with sleep apnea to sleep better:
If you still have problems, you can wear a special mask over your nose and mouth while you are sleeping. The mask will keep your airway open by adding pressure to the air you breathe. The mask helps most people with sleep apnea. In a very few cases, surgery is necessary to remove tonsils or extra tissue from the throat.
Is sleep apnea common?
Doctors estimate that about 12 million Americans have sleep apnea. If you are interested in meeting other people with sleep apnea, you can contact the American Sleep Apnea Association, Web site: www.sleepapnea.org) to find the location of a support group near you.
Will this problem change my life?
Actually, sleep apnea may already have affected you more than you know. Chances are things will improve for you once the diagnosis is made. If your sleep problem can be solved by not using alcohol or sleep medicine, losing weight if you're overweight and sleeping on your side, you will quickly begin to feel much more rested and energetic. If you must wear the mask while sleeping, you should soon feel the benefits. If you need surgery, you'll be able to sleep better afterwards. Whatever your treatment, remember that you are not alone and help is available.