woman awake, partner is snoring, sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea: Causes and Treatments

Sleep apnea, a sleep disorder, is more common than you think! More than 18 million adults in the U.S. have it, though only about 20 percent have been diagnosed and treated.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you’re asleep. That means the brain and the rest of the body may not be getting enough oxygen. Left untreated, it could be potentially serious or even deadly.

There are two main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The more common form, which is caused by a blockage of the airway. It is usually caused by the muscles of the throat relaxing during sleep.
  • Central Sleep Apnea: This occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing

It is also possible for a person to have a combination of the two. This is called Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome, or Treatment-Emergent Central Sleep Apnea.

This is characterized by the persistence or development of Central Sleep Apnea while undergoing treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It occurs in 5 to 15 percent of people undergoing treatment.

Signs That You Suffer From Sleep Apnea

  • Loud snoring
  • Restless sleep
  • Often waking up with a sore or dry throat
  • Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
  • Mood changes, irritability and forgetfulness
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Occasionally waking up to a choking or gasping sensation
  • Recurrent awakenings

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Mild cases of sleep apnea can often be treated with some lifestyle changes. Your doctor might recommend that you avoid alcohol or sleeping medication, change your sleeping position, lose weight or stop smoking.

However, if those lifestyle changes don’t solve the problem, sleep apnea can be treated with medical devices, oral appliances or surgery.

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This machine has a mask that goes over your nose and mouth while you sleep, and it delivers a constant flow of air that keeps your airways open.
  • Oral Appliances: A dentist with special expertise in treating sleep apnea can design a custom dental device that will help keep your airway open while you sleep.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery can be performed to treat sleep apnea, but the kind of surgery depends on what is causing the problem. Procedures include removing soft tissue from the back of the throat, fixing nasal problems like a deviated septum, or fixing facial problems or throat blockages.

Kate Singer

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