Many people experience some occasional difficulty sleeping and/or daytime fatigue. But how does a person know if he or she has a temporary sleep problem that can be remedied with some simple behavioral changes, or if it is a legitimate disorder such as sleep apnea that should be diagnosed and treated properly? Here are some "frequently asked questions" about sleep apnea (SA) to help you decide.
If you think you do have a legitimate sleep disorder, see a doctor who specializes in sleep apnea and other sleep disorders to be properly tested, diagnosed and treated.
Q. What exactly is sleep apnea?
A. SA is a breathing disorder that causes a person's breathing during sleep to be paused and/or shallow. The pauses generally last 10 to 20 seconds, and in severe cases, can occur hundreds of times a night. With obstructive sleep apnea, the airway is blocked and/or collapses while sleeping. Air squeezing by the blockage can cause loud snoring and interrupted sleep.
As a result of the paused breathing and/or snoring, many sleep apnea sufferers sleep are woken up throughout the night and spend more time in light sleep, rather than deep, restful REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime sleepiness, and can negatively affect job performance, mood, reflexes and concentration.
Over time, untreated sleep apnea can also lead to cardiovascular health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, as well as weight gain and diabetes.
Q. What are some common symptoms of SA?
A. Some common symptoms of SA include trouble falling asleep at night, waking throughout the night, chronic snoring, paused breathing during sleep, morning headaches, excessive daytime sleepiness and irritability, poor memory and performance during the day. Increased blood pressure and depression are additional signs that you may have sleep apnea.
Q. How is sleep apnea treated?
A. There are many new, non-invasive and surgical treatments available today.
- The Provent Device: Featuring an innovative MicroValve technology, this device provides discreet comfort and uses the power of your own breathing to restore natural airflow. It's small and powered by your own breathing, so it doesn't require a machine.
- The Pillar Procedure is available for the treatment of snoring and mild to moderate symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Performed in-office in about fifteen minutes under local anesthesia, three small polyester rods are implanted in the soft palate of the patient's throat. The inserts lend support to the soft palate, and over time the body's natural fibrotic response stiffens the upper keeping it from totally relaxing when you sleep.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is an older, but reliable treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep the breathing passages open. CPAP machines help many people with obstructive sleep apnea sleep better at night by preventing airways from collapsing or blocking, thus reducing or eliminating snoring and frequent waking during the night by pumping a continuous flow of air into the nasal passages, keeping the airway open, and preventing or greatly reducing snoring and paused breathing. There are many different CPAP on the market, and a respiratory therapist will help choose a quiet machine with a comfortable mask that fits you well.
- Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure (Bi PAP). A similar device to the CPAP, the Bi PAP delivers pressurized air flow only during the inspiration. Proper fit of the nasal mask by a respiratory therapist is necessary, and appropriate air pressure settings will be established for each individual. The units are portable and may be used when traveling.
- Surgical procedures: After other sleep apnea treatments have been considered and tried, surgical intervention is an addition option for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea.
Q. Who is at risk for developing SA?
A. While SA is more common in adult men, OSA increases in women after age 50 and young children have been known to have it as well. Being overweight is a risk factor for all ages.
Q. Are women at risk for SA as much as men?
A. While men are generally more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), many more women than previously thought suffer from OSA, and leaving it unchecked can have dire consequences on a woman's cardiovascular health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one in four women over age 65 have SA. Being overweight also increases a woman's risk of having SA. Menopausal women are three and a half times more likely to get OSA, possibly due to reduced amounts of progesterone
A recent women and sleep apnea study conducted by Dr. Francisco Campos-Rodriguez, director of the sleep-disordered breathing unit at Valme University Hospital in Seville, Spain, states that women with untreated severe OSA are three and a half times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than women without OSA. However, the study also showed that women who treat their severe sleep apnea at night with a technique called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) significantly reduce their risk of heart attack-related deaths to about the same risk level as women without OSA.
Q. What are some common side effects of untreated SA?
A. Untreated SA, and the paused breathing that causes waking through the night, not only prevents deep, restorative sleep, it can also lead to myriad side effects and medical problems, from daytime sleepiness and reduced job performance to hypertension, heart disease, mood and memory problems.
David Volpi, M.D., P.C., F.A.C.S. is a board-certified otolaryngology surgeon with Ear, Nose and Throat practices, Otolaryngology Associates, on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side and is a staff member of the best teaching hospitals New York City. David Volpi, M.D. realized that there is a lack of information on the part of the public about the potential severity of snoring. With the need for accurate information, diagnosis and treatment so necessary, he founded Eos Sleep, formerly Manhattan Snoring and Sleep Center to be a place where snoring patients can go for total, expert treatment -- and he created this site to be a thorough information resource for the education of snoring sufferers throughout the world.
For more information, visit http://www.eossleep.com.
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