Sleep apnea, one of the most common Zzz-oriented health conditions around, often goes undiagnosed. Read on to find out why this condition goes undetected and how it can be treated.
An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, which means you’re certainly not alone if you have the condition. The effects can be substantial and place you at greater risk of certain health problems that might have a big impact on your quality of life. Get the lowdown on sleep apnea symptoms, causes, and treatment options with this video of Withings own Dr. Pierre Escourrou in an Expert Talk as he goes into detail about sleep apnea. We’ll also break down more of the details below.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that makes your breathing shallow or even completely stops you from breathing. The pauses in your breathing (apnea) can occur over 30 times an hour and last for 10 seconds or more. While breathing disturbances during sleep are relatively common, there is a chance that they could be linked to chronic diseases like sleep apnea. There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). OSA is a more common form of sleep apnea and is caused by airway blockages while CSA refers to cases where you can’t breathe because of incorrect signals from your brain.
The consequences of sleep apnea can be severe. Those suffering from apnea are not only going to feel a little more sleepy than usual. Sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart problems, weakens the immune system, lowers blood oxygen levels, and may increase the likelihood of depression and other physical effects. In addition, recent research has indicated that people who suffer from OSA may find it more difficult to form autobiographical memories about their lives.
What causes sleep apnea?
A couple of different factors can cause sleep apnea, including physical obstructions to airways such as thickened tissue or excessive fat stores that restrict airflow. Obesity, weight gain, chronic sinusitis, large neck circumferences, a family history of the condition, smoking, Down syndrome, and supine sleeping are risk factors for OSA. Plus, a recent study has indicated that there may be a link between air pollution and sleep apnea.
Then there’s brain function. As we mentioned before, CSA is caused by faulty neurological controls for breathing which mess up the rhythm of your breathing during sleep. In most cases, CSA is caused by underlying conditions such as heart failure or stroke, as well as the recent use of pain medications.
What are the most common sleep apnea symptoms?
Studies indicate that 80% of moderate to severe sleep apnea conditions go undiagnosed. Want to know something else that’s scary? A recent study has found that even up to 15% of children may have sleep apnea, but 90% of cases may go undiagnosed. If you’ve got kids, that’s going to keep you up at night.
Here are some of the most common sleep apnea symptoms, some of which you won’t be able to observe and may need to ask a partner to look out for. Or, you can purchase a device like Withings Sleep which can tell you about breathing disturbances and the probability of having sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Choking or gasping sounds (listen to this recording from SleepApnea.org for a clearer picture)
- Pauses in breathing
- Daytime sleepiness
- Insomnia or unrefreshing sleep
- Headaches in the morning
- Memory loss and difficulty concentrating
- Decreased sex drive and irritability
What is the best sleep apnea treatment?
There are a couple of different sleep apnea treatments, but first you need to receive a sleep apnea diagnosis. Home sleep testing to measure your blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, and heart rate may be an option or, alternatively, you may need to receive overnight monitoring at a sleep center.
After you receive a diagnosis, it’s time for sleep apnea treatment. You may have a few different options to consider:
- Continuous positive airways pressure (CPAP): A machine—including a fitted mask—that provides a constant flow of air to make sure your airways stay open while you sleep.
- Chinstrap: Sometimes used in conjunction with CPAP, chinstraps are intended to help prevent mouth breathing, mouth leak, and dry mouth, all of which can make CPAP less effective.
- Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP): A treatment that is relatively similar to CPAP, BiPAP provides two types of pressurized air, one as you breathe in and one as you breathe out.
- Mandibular advancement split: This dental appliance moves the jaw forward to allow for easier breathing.
There you have it—our quick guide to sleep apnea. If you are worried that you’re suffering from the condition, be sure to check in with a doctor for an expert opinion.