Sleep Apnea

About Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by long pauses (known as apneas) during sleep or when breathing becomes very shallow or infrequent (known as hypopnea) while asleep. The duration of the pauses can last from several seconds to several minutes. In order to meet the clinical diagnosis, these pause happen at least five times hourly.

During those pauses, carbon dioxide levels in the blood increase, and receptors in the brain alert the person to wake enough to breathe again. The person may not even know he or she is in a cycle of sleep apnea, but he or she likely suffers from excessive daytime fatigue due to not getting proper sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep-disordered breathing and occurs when the muscles and soft tissue of the throat relax and impede breathing during sleep. The likelihood of sleep apnea rises with increased body weight, smoking, and age. Diabetes also seems to be a factor. More men than women are thought to have sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea may be present but undiagnosed for years. The patient may be used to the daytime sleepiness and fatigue brought on by restless sleep. Quite often it is the partner sharing the bed that notices the interrupted breathing. If sleep apnea is left untreated, it may contribute significantly to other health concerns, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity and diabetes. Because of long-term fatigue, it also interferes with patients’ quality of life and can create a risk for accidents while operating a motor vehicle or other equipment.

Obstructive sleep apnea is often accompanied by loud snoring, and is diagnosed with an oximetry or polysomnography in an overnight stay at a sleep center. Traditional treatment has been the continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP, a mask that fits over the nose and mouth to provide enough pressure to allow airflow during sleep. Many patients do not tolerate the noise and pressure well; for them, a procedure such as Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) of the tongue or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) may correct the oral anatomy and resolve the sleep-disordered breathing.


Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Loud snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea, followed by periods where the person does not breathe. Choking sounds or gasping may then take place, as the person’s brain triggers breathing activity to start, in order to dispel the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the blood. Often it is the spouse or partner sharing the bed that initiates the patient’s investigation of a sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment.


How We Diagnose Sleep Apnea

The National Institute of Health estimates that 12 million Americans have Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a sleep-disordered breathing caused by physical blockage of air during sleep. Because the disorder is often undiagnosed, the number of people affected by sleep apnea is likely much higher.

If left untreated, sleep apnea’s side effects can contribute to other serious health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, and heart arrhythmias. Because of the lack of deep and restful sleep, the patient is always fatigued and may also be at risk for accidents while driving or operating equipment.

To learn if you have sleep apnea, please make an appointment with the National Sinus Institute and discuss your concerns with one of our specialists. Patients who are treated for this disorder can lead much more fulfilling lives once they are able to get deep, restful sleep.

The diagnosis of sleep apnea usually begins with a complete medical history, followed by one or more tests. Oximetry can be performed in the person’s home and measures the saturation level of oxygen in the blood, using a sensor on the patient’s finger or earlobe. A polysomnogram or sleep study is a complete diagnostic tool for sleep apnea diagnosis, in which the biophysiological changes are monitored during sleep. Bodily functions such as eye movement, heart rate and respiration, brain activity, heart rhythm and muscle activation are recorded.


Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

When sleep apnea is diagnosed, several treatment protocols may be explored. Mild sleep apnea is sometimes treated with an oral device that will better position the jaw and allow improved respiration while sleeping. More typically, the patient is referred to a CPAP device (continuous positive airway pressure). This mask is worn during sleep and provides continuous pressure to hold the air passage open; however, some patients do not adjust to the headgear, machine noise, and pressurized airflow into their mouth and nose.

Some patients find that a minimally-invasive procedure such as Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) of the tongue or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) may correct the oral anatomy and allow them to sleep. To learn if you have sleep apnea, please make an appointment with the National Sinus Institute and discuss your symptoms with one of our ENT specialists. Patients who are treated for sleep-disordered can dramatically improve their sleep, and their corresponding quality of life.