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Sleep apnea is characterized by multiple episodes of interrupted breathing while sleeping.
It is usually accompanied by loud snoring, disrupted sleep, and daytime drowsiness. This condition can affect your quality of life and cause partners to sleep in separate rooms.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that results in lower amounts of oxygen in the blood, which places stress on the heart and lungs.
Snoring may be an indication of obstructed breathing and should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist, who can determine the cause of your snoring and offer treatment solutions.
Snoring vs Sleep Apnea
If you have ever woken yourself up or have been nudged by your partner, you know how frustrating snoring can be. However, since there are different forms of snoring, determining its causes is important to figure out the best treatment. Snoring not caused by sleep apnea is called primary snoring and can be the result of the following factors:
- Old age leads to relaxed throat muscles
- Throat or nose conditions like enlarged tonsils or a deviated septum (caused when the wall dividing the nose gets pushed to one side)
- Use of alcohol, muscle relaxants, or other depressants right before bedtime
- Sleep position
- Being overweight leads to more tissue around the neck and poor muscle tone.
Some of these factors are out of your control, but some are in your hands. For example, you can avoid drinking alcohol before going to bed or try sleeping on the side to avoid snoring.
In some cases, snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea and you would have to contact a physician immediately to decrease the risk of certain associated health conditions. The cause of your sleep apnea can be anything ranging from your anatomy to a medical condition, and anything that can block your airway while your sleep.
A few common causes include:
- Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism
- Large tonsils
- Neuromuscular conditions like muscular dystrophy or stroke
- Kidney or heart failure
- Genetic conditions like cleft palate or cleft lip
- Premature birth
The snoring caused by sleep apnea has different characteristics than that of primary snoring and can have serious consequences. If you experience the following signs while sleeping, you might have sleep apnea:
- Snoring very loudly
- Taking shallow breaths
- Feeling restless
- Pausing while breathing for 10 seconds or more
- Gasping or choking
Sleep Apnea Video
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
To diagnose sleep apnea, you may need to undergo sleep tests at home or at a sleep center. Home sleep tests can measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns. If the results are not normal, our doctors may recommend a nocturnal polysomnography test at a sleep center.
During a nocturnal polysomnography test, the patient will be connected to equipment monitoring heart, lung, and brain activity. Breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and arm and leg movements will also be tracked to evaluate whether the patient has sleep apnea.
Nocturnal polysomnography equipment is a more accurate way to diagnose sleep apnea than portable devices used for home testing. This test will require an overnight stay at a sleep center.
There are also specific types of sleep apnea that are best diagnosed and treated by specific types of specialists. Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors are recommended for obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, sleep apnea caused by heart problems will be evaluated by a cardiologist. Central sleep apnea is a condition commonly referred to neurologists, who will assess the patient’s nervous system.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Options
Mild cases of sleep apnea may only require lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or regular exercise and proper diet. There are also cases where only treatment for nasal allergies is needed.
If your symptoms of sleep apnea are moderate to severe, however, there are various therapies and surgeries available for treatment.
A continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine is the most common and reliable treatment for sleep apnea patients. This includes wearing a mask with adjustable straps during sleep.
Another device that can be recommended for treatment is a bilevel positive airway pressure, or BPAP, device. This equipment provides more pressure when a patient inhales and less during exhale.
There are also other ways to help treat sleep apnea, like oral appliances, supplemental oxygen, and adaptive servo-ventilation. If your sleep apnea is caused by heart or neuromuscular disorders, doctors will recommend treatment for those conditions instead.
Surgery should be the last option and should only be used when all other treatments for sleep apnea have not worked for a patient. Surgeries may include tissue removal, tissue shrinkage, jaw repositioning, implants, nerve stimulation, and creating a new air passageway. The best treatment option for your sleep apnea will be determined during a consultation.
Contact Our Office
If you or a family member has had difficulties with snoring and sleep apnea, the ENT Associates of San Diego can help develop a customized treatment plan to address your specific needs. To learn more, contact our office to schedule your informative consultation today.