If you’ve been told you snore loudly or gasp for breath while you sleep, these may be symptoms of possible sleep apnea. Matthew Leach, MD, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician on staff at Temecula Valley Hospital, shares his insight about what it is, the causes, and the possible solutions so you can get a good night’s sleep.
Q: What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a chronic disorder that interrupts your breathing while you sleep. It often goes undiagnosed because the symptoms - snoring, pauses in breathing and gasping for air - occur while people are sleeping. It can result in daytime sleepiness, headaches, memory problems and more. It can also lead to more serious health conditions such as various forms of heart disease, high blood pressure, increased stroke risk and reduced life span if not addressed.
Q: What causes sleep apnea?
During sleep, the muscles in the throat and upper airway collapse. This can be caused by neuromuscular changes, physical obstructions or brain dysfunction. When this happens, the airway becomes blocked and airflow and oxygen levels drop. The brain triggers the muscles to tighten, restoring normal airflow. This can happen several hundred times during the night leading to a restless sleep pattern, wherein the brain is unable to enter the deeper levels of sleep that are essential for regeneration of the various brain processes.
Q: How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
Your doctor will recommend an overnight sleep study in a sleep laboratory or a home sleep study. During that test, brain waves, oxygen levels, body movement, heart rate and rhythm, as well as airflow are monitored and recorded. A sleep medicine physician reviews the test results and characterizes the type of sleep dysfunction.
Q: What treatments are currently available?
Medical options include CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine and/or a dental appliance. There are many surgical options for those who are appropriate candidates. The most exciting of which is a hypoglossal nerve stimulator, like a pacemaker, but for the tongue, which was FDA-approved in 2014. Depending upon the severity of your sleep apnea and other health problems you may have, your doctor can advise the best treatment for you.
If you think you may have sleep apnea, you should be evaluated by a physician. To find a doctor, call our free physician referral line at 855-859-5203.
Find more information about sleep apnea treatment at Temecula Valley Hospital.