Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing briefly and repeatedly while you sleep. Even with nearly 18 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, there are still many misconceptions about the disorder. For people who suffer from sleep apnea, dealing with these misconceptions can be frustrating.
Here are six commonly unspoken tings those with sleep apnea want you to know:
Women have sleep apnea too.
Though the disease is more common among men, women do suffer from it as well. According to the World Congress on Sleep Medicine, around four percent of men and two percent of women in the U.S. have sleep apnea. In fact, sleep apnea can run in families, regardless of gender.
Sleep apnea can be hereditary.
Facial features that children inherit from their family members- such as large tonsils, a large overbite, and a recessed chin- put them at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, up to four percent of U.S. children have sleep apnea, some of which are as young as two years old.
Snoring is not always harmless.
Some people like to joke and tease people who snore loudly, but it isn’t always a laughing matter. If someone complains or teases you about your loud snoring it is not something you should take lightly. Loud, chronic snoring accompanied by choking and gasping for air are the most common symptoms of sleep apnea. Though you sleep through most of it, it does affect your overall sleep quality- which leaves people feeling unrested the next day.
Even people within a healthy weight range can have sleep apnea.
Though overweight people are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea, it can affect people of all sizes.
Treatment is not the same for everyone.
The most common treatment for sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The CPAP machine consists of a mask that goes over the patients nose and mouth which is connected to a machine that provides continuous airway pressure and keeps the nasal passages open. CPAP machines don’t work for everyone. According to the Mayo Clinic, other treatments include:
- Other airway pressure devices. Some patients use a different type of airway pressure device that automatically adjusts the pressure while you’re sleeping (Auto-CPAP). Units that supply bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) are also available. These provide more pressure when you inhale and less when you exhale.
- Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP). These small, single-use devices are placed over each nostril before you go to sleep. The device is a valve that allows air to move freely in, but when you exhale, air must go through small holes in the valve. This increases pressure in the airway and keeps it open. The device may help reduce snoring and daytime sleepiness in people with mild obstructive sleep apnea. And it may be an option for some who can’t tolerate CPAP.
- Oral appliances. Some people wear an oral appliance designed to keep their throat open. CPAP is more reliably effective than oral appliances, but oral appliances may be easier to use. Some are designed to open your throat by bringing your jaw forward, which can sometimes relieve snoring and mild obstructive sleep apnea. A number of devices are available from your dentist. You may need to try different devices before finding one that works for you. Once you find the right fit, you’ll still need to follow up with your dentist repeatedly during the first year and then regularly after that to ensure that the fit is still good and to reassess your signs and symptoms.
- Surgery. This is typically only an option after other treatments have failed. At least a three-month trial of other treatment options is usually suggested before considering surgery. The purpose of surgery for sleep apnea is to enlarge the airway through your nose or throat that may be vibrating and causing you to snore or that may be blocking your upper air passages and causing sleep apnea. Some surgical options are:
- Tissue removal– In this procedure called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty the doctor removes tissue from the rear of your mouth and top of your throat. Your tonsils and adenoids usually are removed as well.
- Jaw repositioning– In this procedure, known as maxillomandibular advancement, your jaw is moved forward from the remainder of your face bones. This enlarges the space behind the tongue and soft palate, making obstruction less likely.
- Implants– Plastic rods are surgically implanted into the soft palate after you’ve received local anesthetic.
- Tracheostomy– Creating a new air passageway. This is only recommended if all other treatments have failed and you have severe, life-threatening sleep apnea. This procedure is more extreme as the surgeon makes an opening in the neck and inserts a plastic or metal tube through which the patient breathes. The patient keeps the opening covered during the day and uncovers it at night to allow air to pass in and out of their lungs by bypassing the blocked air passage in their throat.
- Other types of surgery that reduce snoring and help treat sleep apnea by clearing or enlarging air passages include: Repairing a deviated septum, removing polyps from nasal passages, removing adenoids and tonsils, and weight-loss surgery.
Sleep apnea should not be ignored or taken lightly.
If left untreated, sleep apnea will only get worse. When left untreated, sleep apnea could result in other health conditions such as:
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Sufferers also run the risk of being fatigued throughout the day due to sleep deprivation, and they also risk keeping their partner awake and sleep deprived as well.
It is very common that bed partners or family members are the first to notice your sleep apnea. If they say that the snoring is loud and chronic, and sometimes accompanied by choking or gasping while sleeping, you may benefit from a sleep study to determine whether or not you do in fact have sleep apnea. Once properly diagnosed, you and your doctor can begin working on a finding a treatment plan that works for you.