What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a common, potentially serious sleep disorder in which your breathing slows or stops during sleep. As your brain recognizes a lack of oxygen, it stimulates respiration, causing you to wake slightly. There are three main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea: The most common form of the disorder, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when your airway collapses or relaxes, making it difficult for air to pass through. OSA can cause you to snore or stop breathing for short periods of time. Being overweight increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
- Central sleep apnea: This less frequent type of sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that help you breathe. Snoring is not typically a side effect of central sleep apnea.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome: Also called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, this form of the condition occurs when someone has both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea affects roughly 18 million people. Although chronic snoring is a telltale sign of sleep apnea, not everyone who has the condition snores. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Extreme daytime fatigue or inability to focus
- Abrupt awakenings, which may be accompanied by shortness of breath
- Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth
Are there health risks to having sleep apnea?
Yes. If you have sleep apnea, you may have a higher risk of developing:
- Type 2 diabetes: Sleep apnea has been linked to insulin resistance.
- Hypertension: Since sleep apnea affects the amount of oxygen you take in, as well as the frequency, the oxygen in your blood also decreases. These blood oxygen drops strain your cardiovascular system, requiring your body to work harder than normal to circulate blood.
- Heart attack: Because your cardiovascular system works harder with sleep apnea, your risk of suffering from a heart attack also increases.
- Fatty liver: Tests show that people with chronic sleep apnea are more likely to have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that can cause liver scarring and poor liver function.
What treatments are available?
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your treatment options depend on your specific diagnosis. Obstructive sleep apnea is most often treated with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). This therapy involves a device that opens your airway by applying a small amount of positive pressure, which is delivered through a nasal mask during sleep. Oral appliances are another option for patients with obstructive sleep apnea; these devices are designed to move your jaw into a position that keeps your airway open. For patients who have trouble sleeping with a mask or a prosthesis, there are many other treatment options, including:
- Somnoplasty: This innovative procedure involves the use of radiofrequency technology to shrink extra tissues in your nose and throat and help minimize upper airway obstruction. The 10-minutes treatment can be done in Dr. Babajanian’s office under local anesthesia.
- Pillar® Procedure: This quick, minimally invasive procedure involves the placement of tiny woven implants into your soft palate. Over time, these implants add structural support to help reduce the risk of tissue collapse and airway obstruction.