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How to Recognize and Treat Sleep Apnea: A Complete Guide

As many as 30 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea – And only about 6 million Americans are aware of it. This serious sleep disorder, characterized by repeated interruptions in your breathing throughout the night, doesn’t just make rest impossible. It can also have serious effects on your health and daily life. Ongoing and untreated apnea can result in 

  • Difficult concentrating during the day
  • 6x greater risk of dying in a car accident
  • 4x greater risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure

Once you are aware of sleep apnea, however, there are treatments that can help. Here is a look at how to recognize this disorder, and how to treat it, so you can sleep well and live healthier. 

What is sleep apnea? 

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Sleep apnea is a term that encompasses two types of disorders that result in frequent pauses in breathing throughout the night. These pauses are usually short-lived (Lasting about 20-30 seconds), but can happen hundreds of times in a single night. 

Because airflow is nonexistent or severely obstructed during these episodes, sleep apnea can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycles, leading to exhaustion and an array of physical problems. 

The two types of sleep apnea are the following: 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea which includes a partial or total airway collapse during obstructive events

Central Sleep Apnea which usually involves a failure of the brain to tell the muscles to breathe during sleep. 

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea? 

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Unless your partner notices a frequent stop-and-start pattern in your breathing, chances are you may not be aware that you suffer from sleep apnea. However, this disorder can lead to a number of symptoms that point to the lack of rest you are experiencing during frequent bouts of breathing obstruction. Here are some of the most common: 

  • Loud snoring
  • Frequent waking during the night
  • Choking or gasping upon waking at night
  • Morning headaches
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the mornings
  • Excessive fatigue during the day, even after resting all night
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Liver problems

If you experience any of these symptoms, you may want to get evaluated for sleep apnea by a sleep professional. You should also seek an evaluation if your partner reports frequent pauses in your breathing during the night. 

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea? 

Anyone can get sleep apnea. However, there are certain risk factors that elevate your chances of getting this disorder. Among children, the most common cause of sleep apnea are tonsils that become enlarged and block off the child’s airway while they rest. Among adults, risk factors for this sleep disorder include the following: 

  • Excess weight
  • Thick neck
  • Smoking
  • Medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Consumption of sedatives
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • Being older
  • Being male
  • A narrow airway
  • Nasal congestion

If you have any of these risk factors, combined with any of the symptoms above, it is essential to get checked out by your healthcare professional to rule out sleep apnea. 

How is sleep apnea diagnosed? 

Sleep Apnea Oxygen Mask Equipment And Cpap Machine

If you have symptoms that may point to a form of sleep apnea, your first step should be to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor. This healthcare professional will evaluate your symptoms and medical history and, if they feel it is warranted, will recommend a sleep study. 

The sleep study, which occurs under the care of sleep professionals in a sleep lab, will carefully monitor you during a night of sleep. You will be hooked up to sensors that will provide your specialists with information about 

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing 
  • Blood oxygen levels
  • Brain waves
  • And more

Alternatively, you may undergo a home sleep study (HST). During this study, you sleep and receive an evaluation at home. However, this approach is less accurate than a clinical sleep study and cannot identify central sleep apnea. 

How is sleep apnea treated? 

Once you receive a diagnosis of sleep apnea, you will likely need to undergo treatment for your disorder, unless the condition is very mild. Fortunately, sleep specialists have a wide array of tools at their disposal to help you achieve, and maintain, regular breathing while you sleep. Here are some of the most common approaches to treating sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, changes to your daily habits can be an effective treatment for sleep apnea. Here are some common adjustments to your life that can positively affect your disorder: 

  • Weight loss
  • New sleep positions
  • Quitting alcohol or tobacco
  • Quitting sedatives

CPAP

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), is one of the most common, and effective, treatments for obstructive sleep apnea. This treatment consists of sleeping with a machine and a mask over your face. Throughout the night, the machine delivers a steady stream of air pressure that prevents airway blockage. 

BiPAP

Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure is a lower-pressure alternative to CPAP that is often used for patients who did not respond to CPAP. With a BiPAP machine, the patient receives pressure to support exhalation.

Oral Appliances

Some patients respond well to oral advancement devices known as a TAP®, or Thornton Adjustable Positioner. This device can serve as an alternative to CPAP by pushing the lower jaw forward in order to open the airway. 

Surgery

Patients who suffer from severe sleep apnea may require surgery. During this procedure, called a UPPP, excess tissue in the airway is removed and the airway is widened to allow for better breathing during sleep. 

ASV Therapy

For patients who suffer from central sleep apnea, ASV, short for adaptive servo-ventilation, can be effective. During this treatment, a machine is used to regulate your breathing in order to maintain safe oxygen levels in the blood. 


You deserve good sleep and a healthy life. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can steal that from you. At Pulmonary & Sleep Center of the Valley, our expert specialists can diagnose and treat a wide array of sleep problems, including sleep apnea. Let us help you sleep better, feel better, and live a healthier life.