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Snoring: Could It Be Sleep Apnea?

Apnea’s literal meaning is “without breath.” Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that results in disrupted sleep and is characterized by loud snoring and instances of pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing occur repeatedly throughout the night and can last from 10 seconds to more than a minute.

Sleep apnea is very common, as common as adult diabetes, and affects more than 12 million Americans. Yet, because of the lack of awareness by the public and healthcare professionals, it often remains undiagnosed and therefore untreated. It affects people of all ages, but is seen more often in individuals over the age of 40. It is found more often in men – although more and more women are being treated – and in overweight individuals.

Untreated long-term, this disorder can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency and headaches. Short-term effects include poor job performance and accidents due to fatigue.

Normal Breathing                                  Closed Area During Sleep Apnea                              Airway Open with CPAP
                   Normal Breathing                Closed Airway During Sleep Apnea               Airway Open With CPAP

What causes sleep apnea?
There are two types of sleep apnea — obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common form of sleep apnea and central sleep apnea(CSA).

OSA is caused by a blockage in the mouth or throat. A typical blockage may be a person’s tongue, tonsils, or fatty muscle tissues in the throat. Each time breathing is blocked, your blood oxygen level falls and your heart has to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body. When the brain senses the decrease of oxygen, the sleeper is partially aroused just enough to gasp for air.

Central sleep apnea is less common and is typically caused by the nervous system. The muscles in the nervous system do not receive the proper signals from the brain to make breathing occur properly.

How is it diagnosed?
There are many types of sleep disorders that have the same signs and symptoms. A polysomnogram (sleep study) can determine if a patient has sleep apnea.  Ask your physician is you experience the symptoms related to sleep apnea or are a high risk candidate. Recent changes in commercial payer guidelines have allowed sleep apnea testing to be conducted in the home, ask your physician if you may be a candidate for this type of testing.


How is it treated?
The most common and effective treatment of sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP treats obstructive sleep apnea by providing a gentle flow of positive-pressure air through a mask to splint the airway open during sleep. The result is that breathing becomes regular, snoring stops, restful sleep is restored, and quality of life is improved.

Other less common treatments include surgery and oral appliances, which may be effective in certain individuals. A surgical procedure can be done to increase the size of the airway by removing any obstruction such as enlarged tonsils, polyps or growths that may be blocking it. An unusually formed jaw may be causing the problem and can be corrected with surgery.