Sleep apnea is one of the most common health disorders affecting adults and children today. It is estimated that in excess of 22 million people in the United States alone.
Sleep apnea symptoms can range from mild to severe. On the mild end, symptoms may respond well to lifestyle and sleep position changes. On the severe end, however, symptoms can easily become life-limiting or fatal.
For this reason, if you or someone you love has received a diagnosis of severe sleep apnea, or you are concerned this may be an issue, you need to learn all you can to get the best treatment right away. In this article, learn more about sleep apnea itself, including risk factors, causes, symptoms, the best treatments and preventative approaches.
Sleep Apnea Explained
Sleep apnea is in some ways a mysterious disorder. This is because it can affect anyone at any time, whether or not there is a family history. Children as young as six months old have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, although more commonly it is found in adults over the age of 40.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airway becomes blocked during sleep. Typically this is because the tongue gets pressed against the back of the throat (obstructive sleep apnea), but it can also occur because of errors in brain-respiratory muscle signaling (central sleep apnea). Because you are asleep, you don’t know your airway is blocked until your oxygen-deprived system wakes you up, often with a choke and gasping for air. Of course this is scary and really unpleasant, especially when it occurs many times a night!
However, people often don’t know that sleep apnea is what is waking them up. They just know they can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep, to the point where some sufferers even complain of insomnia. In severe cases of sleep apnea, the blockage has been documented to occur more than 100 times in one night, which can have serious quality of life ramifications during the day as well.
Risk Factors & Causes of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is known to have a genetic component. As well, people whose ethnic background includes Hispanic, African American or Pacific Islander are known to be at higher risk for contracting sleep apnea.
Men over the age of 40 are the highest risk group in general. Next are people who are overweight or obese and have thicker than average neck width (16 to 17 inches). People who smoke, drink at night or take sedatives to sleep are also at higher risk.
Most importantly in terms of treating sleep apnea, certain facial configurations carry a higher risk of sleep apnea. These include the following characteristics:
- Receding chin.
- Small jaw.
- Large tongue and tonsils.
- Large uvulo (the fleshy bit that hangs down at the back of the throat).
- Fleshy, loose soft palate.
Happily, these characteristics can respond well to oral surgery to correct serious sleep apnea, which may be a permanent solution for some sufferers.
Symptoms of Severe Sleep Apnea
Even mild cases of sleep apnea will produce some symptoms. But the more severe the case becomes, the more symptoms will appear and the more dangerous those symptoms will be.
Since some symptoms, such as snoring heavily, may not be known by the sufferer themselves, it often falls to a parent (for children) or a partner (for adults) to sound the initial alarm and encourage the person to seek medical help. If you are a parent or partner of someone you suspect may have sleep apnea, know it may save your loved one’s life if you can find the courage to speak up!
Symptoms of severe sleep apnea can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Loud, consistent snoring.
- Awakening many times per night choking and gasping.
- Frequent awakening to go to the bathroom or because sleep gets interrupted.
- Sore throat, headache and dry mouth in the morning.
- Daytime sleepiness with the risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
- Trouble remembering and concentrating.
- Irritability and lack of patience.
- Depression, anxiety and mood shifts.
- Lack of interest in intimacy or impotence.
- Feeling like you never get enough rest no matter how long you lay in bed.
Treatment for Severe Sleep Apnea
If any or all of the list of symptoms here applies to you or a loved one, it is totally reasonable that you might want a more permanent solution than lifetime reliance on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device.
If you have been diagnosed with obstructive type sleep apnea, which is the most common type, there are several permanent options you can explore with Dr. Jamali. The right option for you will depend on the results of your initial consultation and exam with Dr. Jamali.
- Upper airway surgery. Here, Dr. Jamali can correct a deviated septum and/or narrow sinus pathways that may obstruct oxygen flow during sleep.
- Soft palate surgery. Here, Dr. Jamali can remove or relocate soft palate tissue and/or tighten the soft palate, plus reduce the size of the uvolo and/or tonsils as needed to open up and widen the throat airway.
- Jaw surgery. Here, Dr. Jamali can reposition the bones and realign the jaw itself so the airway stays open and free from obstruction during sleep.
About Dr. Jamali
Dr. Majid Jamali is a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon who specializes in dental anesthesia and pain management, orthognathic (jaw) surgery, facial reconstructive surgery, sleep apnea, tmj disorders and facial trauma.
Dr. Jamali practices in the greater New York City, NY, area. In addition to his busy NYC practice, he maintains affiliations with several respected area hospitals for the convenience of his patients.
To contact Dr. Jamali’s office with questions or to schedule an appointment, please call us at 212-480-2777 or visit us online at www.omsofny.com.