One of the common complaints that brings people to the Del Rey Sinus & Allergy Institute is sleep apnea. Apnea is a serious sleep disorder which involves a sudden stoppage of breathing during sleep. In some patients, this stoppage can occur dozens of times each night.
Like allergies, sleep apnea is a very common and commonly misdiagnosed (and misunderstood) medical condition. Our office treats all forms of sinus disorders, so we can accurately diagnose your condition and recommend a suitable treatment. Anyone with sleep apnea should seek an evaluation for nasal obstruction.
What is sleep apnea?
Simply put, sleep apnea is the stoppage of breathing while you sleep. Besides being bothersome, serious sleep apnea can prevent you from having sound sleep; starve your body of vital oxygen; and even cause irregular heartbeat.
There are two types of apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage of the upper airway. When your airway is blocked, your diaphragm and chest muscles have to work extra-hard to restart breathing, and when this happens there can be a loud gasp or physical spasm.
Central sleep apnea is a condition of the brain where signals to the muscles used to breathe are blocked or impaired, so the body’s breathing system is not being properly controlled.
Who has sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect almost anyone. It occurs in about 25% of all men and about 10% of all women, and also affects babies, children and particularly those who are over 50 years old. Obesity, having a large neck or structural abnormalities in the head or breathing pathways can all contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. This information is based on our own experience. For a general overview, check out the excellent article on WebMD.
Signs and symptoms of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can go undetected by the patient for years, and is often reported by the patient’s sleep partner or roommate. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Restlessness during sleep, frequent nighttime awakenings
- Sudden waking from sleep, with gasping or choking
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon awakening
- Trouble thinking or concentrating
- Depression, anxiety
- Night sweats
- Sexual dysfunction
Symptoms in children may not be as obvious and include:
- Poor school performance
- Low energy
- Daytime mouth breathing and swallowing difficulty
- Excessive sweating at night
- Learning and behavioral disorders (hyperactivity, attention deficits)
Effects of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea can pose a serious threat to your overall health. It can result in numerous problems including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, enlargement of the heart, heart failure, and heart attack. By disturbing your sleep, apnea can also result in fatigue-related consequences such as reduced mental function, inability to operate a car or machinery and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.
Diagnosis of sleep apnea
With our in-house CT scanning capabilities, we can evaluate the structure of your sinuses in a matter of seconds! This will help determine whether you have nasal obstructions which could contribute to your condition. We also have the ability to evaluate your throat and lower airway with resolution laryngoscopy to further determine screen for any other anatomical obstruction.
We may also recommend an overnight sleep study to test body functions during a typical night’s sleep. This can tell us whether you have a sleep apnea, and what type you have.
Treatments for sleep apnea
For mild obstructive sleep apnea, conservative therapy may be all that is needed. Losing weight may help in the case of overweight patients with obstructive sleep apnea. We also advise patients with obstructive sleep apnea to avoid the use of alcohol and certain sleeping pills, which can relax the airway and make it more prone to collapse.
In some cases, sleep apnea only occurs when you sleep on your back, so using pillows and other devices that help you sleep on your side can be helpful.
Surgical procedures may also help with obstructive sleep apnea where indicated. We generally will perform surgery for those patients who have excessive or malformed tissue obstructing airflow through the nose or throat, such as a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils or other conditions which may constrict airways. These procedures are typically performed after sleep apnea has failed to respond to conservative measures.
If you suspect you or your friend or loved one has sleep apnea, make an appointment by filling out the form at the bottom of the page. We can help you #BreatheBetter today, no matter what condition you are experiencing.