Stanford University

Sleep Apnea – It’s not Just Loud Snoring

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is an illness that many people fail to recognize until after the symptoms have caused grief to the family and employers. In fact, the spouse is often the first one to realize that there may be a physical reason for the odd behaviors and symptoms of someone suffering from sleep apnea (OSA).

Someone suffering from this sleep disorder will often snore very loudly. The snoring may be so loud, in fact, that his or her partner gets little sleep. Someone with OSA will also appear to stop breathing for a second or two during sleep, which looks like they’re temporarily holding their breath. The subsequent lack of oxygen causes them to be startled awake, but often they are completely unaware that they wake up many times during the night. Since the individual usually drops back to sleep almost immediately, and then begins snoring again, partners often believes they are the only ones missing sleep. This can be a severe strain on the relationship, especially if the person with OSA refuses to seek treatment.

It may look as though an individual with this sleep disorder is getting lots of sleep, so it seems strange to others if the individual has difficulty staying awake during the daytime, even dropping off to sleep at inappropriate times. They may have difficulty concentrating, and appear depressed. Because they really aren’t getting quality sleep during the night, they may also have a reduced interest in sex, and other personality changes can also occur. Some of these symptoms are similar to common mental health disorders, and others are seen by friends and coworkers as symptoms of laziness or sloth. This judgement can add to the individual’s stress, and can make relationship problems even worse.

If someone you know who suffers from these symptoms, it would be wise to encourage them to see their doctor. The snoring and obstructed breathing during sleep usually have a physical cause, which may vary from one individual to another. There may be an obstruction in the upper airway due to excess tissue caused by obesity, or the tonsils or tongue may be too large. In addition, the airway muscles are usually relaxed or collapse during sleep.

Some of the causes of sleep apnea are also associated with other life-threatening conditions. A proper diagnosis is important, because if the individual goes without treatment he or she will have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and other forms of heart disease. In addition to the physical risks of this sleep disorder, relationships with families, friends and employers may continue to suffer. Productivity at work will go down because the individual is so abnormally sleepy, and it can become dangerous to work with heavy equipment or drive an automobile.

There are a number of ways that obstructive sleep apnea can be treated, including the use of a C-PAP (continous positive airway pressure) machine. This machine has a nose mask that is worn during sleep. The C-PAP machine keeps air blowing into the nose, which will keep the airway open. If obesity is a causitive factor in sleep apnea, as it often is, the patient will be advised to slim down. Weight loss is almost always accompanied by a complete cessation of sleep apnea symptoms, and for this reason some obese OSA patients are opting for gastric bypass surgery.

Because sleep apnea may be caused by a variety of factors, and because the symptoms could also be caused by sleep disorders other then OSA, a diagnosis by a qualified professional is needed before treatment can begin. Your doctor will usually prescribe a sleep test, which is done by a specialized clinic. This test is usually covered by medical insurance, but it is always a good idea to call your insurance carrier to see if they require you to visit a clinic that is contracted with them. The results of the sleep test will tell your doctor if any form or respiratory equipment is required, or if surgery is indicated. Experimental treatments, such as the Radio Frequency Procedure developed by Stanford University, will probably not be covered by your insurance.

Do you snore, or do you sleep with someone who snores so loudly that you can’t get any sleep? It’s time to see a doctor to find out if sleep apnea is to blame.

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