Sleep apnea is a very common health issue for children and adults today. However, some cases of sleep apnea may be very mild while others can be severe and even life-threatening.
Because sleep apnea can be challenging to notice and diagnose, many people continue to struggle with symptoms they do not realize are linked to sleep apnea. This increases the potential danger of sleep apnea’s secondary side effects.
In this article, learn more about the causes, signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, how sleep apnea is diagnosed, how sleep apnea can affect your health and what treatments are available.
What Can Cause Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is now thought to be caused by a combination of factors ranging from genetics to lifestyle choices.
On the genetic side, people who have an ethnic heritage of Hispanic, Pacific Islander or black are at a higher risk to develop sleep apnea. Also, men and people over the age of 40, people who have a thicker neck and narrow jaw and individuals with airway defects (narrow sinuses, deviated septum) can all be at higher risk of sleep apnea.
On the lifestyle side, people who smoke or drink heavily, individuals that are overweight or obese, people who do not exercise and take sedatives and people who have a health history that includes heart disease or stroke are at higher risk to develop sleep apnea.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea can take three types: central, obstructive or compound. The type of sleep apnea you have can influence what symptoms you experience.
Central sleep apnea is the least common but can be the most life-threatening. With this type of sleep apnea, snoring (which is often the first warning sign) is very rare. With central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send regular signals to the muscles to breathe, which is what causes the interruption of oxygen flow to the cells. Otherwise, symptoms are similar to the most common type of sleep apnea, which is obstructive.
Obstructive sleep apnea is most easily spotted when the person snores loudly and intensely at night. When the snoring is interrupted by gasping or choking and waking up, this is a fairly reliable sign that sleep apnea may be present. Other symptoms include daytime sleepiness and irritability, trouble with concentration and memory, inability to focus, depression or anxiety, headaches, dry mouth and sore throat in the morning and insomnia or frequent waking to use the bathroom at night.
Compound sleep apnea includes aspects of both central and obstructive types, with symptoms to match.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
The best way to diagnose sleep apnea is to undergo a sleep study test. A sleep test can take place at a sleep center, where sleep specialists will connect you with monitoring equipment while you sleep. The monitors will keep a log of muscle activity, eye movement, breath flow and other important signs.
If you are unable to do a test at a sleep center (such as if there is no sleep center in your area), you can do one at home using home monitoring equipment.
After you do your sleep test, the data will show whether you have sleep apnea and if so, how mild, moderate or severe your symptoms may be. This will also help you and your doctor determine the best course of treatment that keeps you safe.
Health Defects Connected With Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is so common it is sometimes hard to believe it is so dangerous. But even a mild case of sleep apnea can potentially be fatal under the right circumstances. Because sleep apnea disrupts the regular flow of oxygen to the cells, it can also cause a host of dangerous health defects, which can also be life-threatening.
People who have been diagnosed with sleep apnea are also at risk for the following health defects:
- High blood pressure.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Heart disease.
- Heart attack.
- Adult-onset asthma.
- Acid reflux.
- Car accidents (due to falling asleep at the wheel).
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
Treatment for sleep apnea ranges from lifestyle modifications at the mild end to surgery at the severe end.
Patients who are content with maintenance are usually well-served through use of a night time CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device to keep the flow of oxygen regular and uninterrupted during sleep.
Patients who want a more permanent cure generally opt for surgery. Surgery can be done to correct defects in the upper respiratory system, such as too-narrow or blocked sinus passages or a deviated septum.
Surgery can also be done in the area of the soft palate to remove tissue, reduce the size of the tonsils and uvolo, tighten the soft palate and enlarge the airway passage itself. For this type of surgery, lasers and radio-frequency beams are sometimes used.
For the most severe sleep apnea cases, facial reconstructive surgery is typically the treatment of choice. This surgery approach corrects underlying misalignment or defects to the jaw, including a receding chin, and ensure the airways stay open and unobstructed during sleep.
It is also possible and often very effective to take a combination approach, such as combining lifestyle modifications with surgery for the best results.
Contact Dr. Jamali to Schedule a Consultation
Dr. Majid Jamali is a board certified specialist practicing oral and maxillofacial surgery in the greater New York City, NY, area. In addition to his busy office practice, Dr. Jamali maintains affiliations with several respected New York hospitals.
Dr. Jamali’s areas of specialization include orthognathic (jaw) surgery, facial reconstructive surgery, surgery to correct sleep apnea, dental anesthesia and pain management. In addition to being named a Top 100 Provider and Top Doctor with Real Self, a patient-driven medical review website, Dr. Jamali earns 5-star patient reviews consistently.
To learn more about Dr. Jamali and schedule your consultation, please call us at 212-480-2777 or visit us online at www.omsofny.com.