Have you ever wondered if you have sleep apnea? Have you been diagnosed, but you question how “real” the condition is, compared to other health problems? According to research and statistics, sleep apnea is a very real and potentially fatal condition, and if you show symptoms of the disease, you need to be assessed in a sleep study. Simple, non-surgical treatment may literally save your life and can certainly improve your health, relationships, energy level, and overall quality of life. For an appointment to speak with a sleep apnea professional, call Dr. Stephen Gershberg in Bryn Mawr, PA today.
One in 15 Americans Have Sleep Apnea
According to research, 18 to 22 million US residents, over 6% of the nation’s population, suffer with sleep apnea to some degree. Think about 15 people you know. Out of those, one has sleep apnea – is it you? Of 6%+ who have sleep apnea, 2 to 4% are undiagnosed. They have no idea that they suffer from sleep apnea, so they’re doing nothing to treat the condition.
Six million Americans have moderate or severe sleep apnea that could land them in the emergency room. Of these, 500-thousand are undiagnosed.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, of any ethnicity or age.
Up to 25% of infants and children have sleep apnea, and most are between two and eight years of age. Children with sleep apnea may suffer from inattentiveness at school, hyperactivity, mood swings, and/or poor control of impulses. Snoring is the common symptom in most young sleep apnea sufferers, and obesity contributes to the risk for sleep apnea in children. Of the 263-thousand tonsillectomies performed in the US each year on children, the majority are an effort to remove the tonsils that block airflow and cause obstructive sleep apnea. Kids with sleep apnea are also at a higher risk than others for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
A study by University of California, San Diego, indicates that out of 346 Caucasians and 54 African Americans, only 8% of the Caucasians had sleep apnea, and 17% of the African Americans suffered from the condition. This research begs the question, are African Americans at higher risk? More studies need to be conducted, but the concept is plausible.
The Condition Itself
Sleep apnea may be obstructive, central, or complex. While there are three types of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is by far the most prevalent, and the most easily treatable. OSA occurs when the airway is blocked completely, due to soft tissues in the back of the throat or in the mouth.
During nighttime rest, a person with sleep apnea may stop breathing 60 or more times each hour, which is the equivalent of 400 or more episodes of apnea each night. With cessation of breathing comes reduced blood oxygen levels, which stresses the body. Apneic episodes also disrupt sleep, so sleep apnea patients never achieve the deep REM sleep necessary for the body and mind to function properly.
People who are obese, have a neck circumference over 17 inches, and men over 40 years of age are at the highest risk for developing sleep apnea. Loud, chronic snoring may indicate that a person has sleep apnea, though not everyone who snores suffers from sleep apnea.
The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is through as sleep study, most often performed in a sleep lab during an overnight stay. During this analysis, the patient sleeps while sleep experts monitor blood oxygen levels, brain waves, leg movements, respiration rate, and the number of full and partial apneic episodes per hour.
Risks and Health Complications
In addition to causing many nagging physical and psychological issues for the patient, sleep apnea can negatively affect the patient’s bed mate. Because of restlessness, snoring, and waking up with gasps and coughs, the sleep apnea sufferer often disrupts the sleep of anyone who shares a bed or room with him. Studies show that the partner or roommate of a person with sleep apnea can suffer from sleep deprivation, one of the same issues that affects the patient himself.
A sleep apnea patient who is not undergoing therapy or treatment is at a four times higher risk for stroke than those without the condition. They’re three times more likely to develop heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in our nation. Nearly 40-thousand people die each year of heart problems (hypertension, high blood pressure, etc.) related to apneic sleep disorders.
Health issues that may develop as a result of OSA include, but are not limited to:
- Chronic heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Atrial fibrillation
- Other heart problems
- Learning problems
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Falling asleep during low-activity times, such as while driving or on the telephone
- Type 2 diabetes
Because lack of sleep causes daytime drowsiness, motor vehicle and work-related accidents are also more likely in OSA sufferers. In fact, truck drivers diagnosed with OSA must seek treatment or they will not be allowed to drive.
Furthermore, sleep apnea sufferers may have problems with anesthesia and pain medication, because these drugs can cause soft tissues to relax more often and longer than normal.
The least invasive treatment option for OSA patients is an oral appliance called a sleep guard. This device fits comfortably in the mouth and is worn any time the patient sleeps. It keeps the airway clear of soft tissues, so apneic episodes cannot occur. A sleep guard is small, convenient, easy to use, and makes no sound.
For many years, a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, has been the standard treatment for OSA, and it is still recommended by many sleep physicians. A CPAP consists of a main unit that compresses air. The air is sent continuously into a tube, which ends at a mask that fits over the patient’s nose. By administering a constant flow of air, CPAP keeps the airway clear during sleep. While the device is effective for many, some people dislike or cannot tolerate CPAP. Common complaints include:
- The noise of the compressor disrupts sleep of the patient or bed mate
- The tube accumulates condensation that sometimes goes up the patient’s nose
- Cleaning and maintenance is time consuming
- An ill-fitting mask reduces the device’s effectiveness
- Can cause a feeling of claustrophobia in some patients
- Patients are required to sleep all night on their back
- The CPAP is cumbersome to travel with
- CPAP requires electricity
When CPAP and a sleep guard do not alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea, surgery may be required.
OSA patients who also have trouble falling or staying asleep should discuss with their physician treatment options for these additional concerns. Over-the-counter sleep aids can exacerbate sleep apnea episodes, so don’t try to self-medicate.
Patients can also modify certain behaviors to reduce the severity of OSA. For instance, stop smoking; do not drink alcohol in excess or before bedtime; get adequate exercise; if obese, lose weight; try sleeping on your side, instead of on your back.
Let’s Discuss Your Sleep Problem
After reading this article and considering your symptoms, if you believe you may have OSA, schedule a consultation with Dr. Stephen Gershberg. His Main Line-area snoring and sleep apnea treatment center serves patients from Philadelphia, Delaware, and New Jersey by providing non-invasive, non-surgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Call Main Line Snoring Solutions today at 610-527-6704.