Understanding Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
How to Recognize Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that affects the way people breathe when they sleep. People that suffer from sleep apnea have interrupted breathing patterns or pauses (known as apneas), that can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes and may lead to severe health conditions. Sleep apnea prevents those who suffer from it from sleeping well, and may result in slow reflexes, poor concentration, and daytime sleepiness. The condition may also result in more serious conditions that include diabetes, heart disease, stroke and more.Recognizing the symptoms can help you get the treatment you need.
Recognizing Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Monitor your sleep.If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you will want to monitor your sleep for symptoms. A professional sleep study is the main method of determining if your have sleep apnea, but telling your doctor about the symptoms you have will also help your doctor make a diagnosis.
- Ask your sleeping partner to provide feedback on your sleeping patterns, especially if your behavior is interrupting your partner's sleep.
- If you sleep alone, record yourself sleeping with a video or audio recorder or keep a sleep diary so you can record the hours you spend in bed, any awakenings during the night, and how you feel in the morning.
Consider how often you wake up during the night.People with sleep apnea often wake up suddenly due to shortness of breath. Upon waking, they may also choke, snort, or gasp. You may not even be aware of some of these symptoms while you sleep, but waking up feeling out of breath is a strong indicator that you have sleep apnea.
Consider how you feel during the day.People with sleep apnea suffer from extreme lack of energy, drowsiness, or sleepiness during the day regardless of the time spent in bed. Sufferers of sleep apnea may even fall asleep while performing important tasks such as working or driving.
Consider how often you wake up with a dry mouth or sore throat.It is common for sufferers of sleep apnea to wake up with a sore throat or dry mouth as a result of their snoring. If you frequently wake up with a dry mouth and/or sore throat, then that might be a sign of sleep apnea.
Consider how often you experience headaches upon waking up.Morning headaches are common in people who suffer from sleep apnea. If you notice that you often wake up with a headache, you might have sleep apnea.
Consider how often you suffer from insomnia.People who suffer from sleep apnea often have trouble staying asleep or sleeping at all. If you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep, then this might be a sign of sleep apnea.
Consider how mentally well you feel during the day.It is common for sufferers of sleep apnea to experience forgetfulness, concentration problems, and moodiness. If you frequently experience one or more of these issues, then this might also be a symptom of sleep apnea.
Visit a doctor if you think you have sleep apnea.Sleep apnea can cause serious health problems, so it is important to get a diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible. If your doctor suspects that you have sleep apnea, she will order a sleep study or polysomnogram to make a final diagnosis.
- The sleep study may be done in a sleep lab for complicated cases or at home for simpler cases.
- During a sleep study, you will be connected to monitoring devices that will record the activity of your muscles, brain, lungs, and heart while you sleep.
Considering Your Risk Factors
Consider your age and gender.Men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women. The risk for both sexes increases as you age.People over the age of 65 or women past menopause are more likely to have sleep apnea.
- Your risk of developing central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to signal your breathing muscles to work, increases once you are in middle age.
- A family history of sleep apnea also increases your risk, especially of obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type.
- African American and Hispanic men may be more at risk of developing sleep apnea.
Take your weight into account.Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of having sleep apnea. People who are obese are four times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea -- about half of the people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight.
- People with thicker necks are also at increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea. For men, having a neck circumference of 17 inches (43 cm) or more increases your risk. Risk increases for women with a neck circumference of 15 inches (38 cm) or more.
Consider any medical conditions you have.The risk of sleep apnea is higher for people with certain other medical conditions. Risk of sleep apnea is linked to the following conditions:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Stroke or heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Acromegaly (high levels of growth hormone)
- Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone)
- Small lower jaw or narrow airways
- Use of narcotic pain medications
Take note of smoking.Smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to develop obstructive sleep apnea.Smoking negatively affects your entire body's health, so talk to your doctor about quitting as soon as you can.
- Smoking e-cigarettes increases airway resistance, which makes it harder to breathe. Using e-cigarettes, or "vaping," will also increase your risk of sleep apnea.
Consider your child's risk.Children may also experience sleep apnea. Like adults, children who are overweight are at increased risk of sleep apnea.
- Children may also have enlarged tonsils, which raises the risk of children experiencing sleep apnea. Enlarged tonsils may result from infections. Tonsil enlargement may not produce any symptoms, or it may cause a sore throat, trouble breathing, snoring, or recurring ear or sinus infections.
Going through a Sleep Study
Start with your GP.Your regular doctor will be able to get you started. First, they will probably want to look at your risk factors – blood pressure, weight, snoring, daytime sleepiness, and others. Your doctor can then initiate a sleep study.
- Your doctor may well have you do a home sleep study before referring you to a sleep specialist. This is done with special equipment at your home. Some insurance companies also require it as a first step.
- Follow your doctor’s instruction if you do a home sleep test. This might include not napping, not consuming caffeine, and following your normal routine as much as possible.
- If a home test is abnormal, then you’ll need to move to the next steps of seeing a specialist or getting a hospital sleep evaluation.
Get a referral or choose a specialist.It is important that you find the right kind of specialist, and because of the seriousness of this disorder, make it a priority. A certified pulmonologist is the best doctor to see to test for sleep apnea, confirm a diagnosis and be treated by if you are diagnosed.
- Your GP should be able to refer you to a suitable specialist.
- You might also search WebMD or the internet in general to find a local pulmonologist or Sleep Unit, and review their profile to verify credentials and whether they specialize in testing for and treating sleep apnea.
Schedule an initial consultation once you've found a doctor.In this first appointment, the doctor will ask specific questions that will help identify if you experience any of the major symptoms. Almost certainly, the doctor will then set you up for a sleep study test and explain in detail what the sleep study is, how it is performed, what it will specifically be testing, and how to prepare for the sleep study.
- Try taking notes during your appointment if you wish, or ask if there are leaflets you can take away with you to make sure you are completely prepared.
Make sure you do not miss your scheduled sleep study.You will be spending the night in a specialized medical center that has several rooms designed for comfort and tailored to make you feel like you're at home. Normally, you will be scheduled to report to the center in the evening of the study near a certain time for paperwork and the study and will be woken around 6 A.M the next morning. These are the general hours, with the goal that you get at least 6 hours of sleep, and cycle through 3 - 6 REM periods. When you've been awakened, you'll be sent home with a follow-up appointment scheduled before you leave. At the follow-up appointment, the doctor will inform you if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or not, and go over the results of the tests performed during the sleep study. The staff will all be professional and respectful. You don't need to worry about doing anything embarrassing in your sleep. They want you to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Start immediate treatment and plan for the future.If the sleep study confirms you have sleep apnea, the doctor will document the diagnosis, and you will have your official record of a positive diagnosis of sleep apnea. Follow your doctor’s instructions for treating your sleep apnea. Your doctor may prescribe either a continuous positive airway pressure or bilevel positive airway pressure (CPAP or BiPAP), device to help regulate your breathing. You will need to wear this device every night to help regulate your breathing while you sleep. Your doctor may also make other recommendations about your lifestyle that may eliminate or at least lessen the symptoms of your sleep apnea.
- It is very important that you follow the instructions and use the CPAP or BiPAP machine every night or at least five nights out of the week. The C-PAP is not only to help treat your diagnosis, but to ease the symptoms and suffering caused by this serious condition. It is vitally important not to ignore symptoms of sleep apnea and seek confirmation and treatment.
- If left untreated, the symptoms become worse, and the risk of developing additional serious physical ailments increase, and the higher the chances of putting your physical health and well-being at risk. If left untreated long enough, it can be even be fatal.
- Be assured that sleep apnea is easily treatable, and with proper diet and exercise in addition to the disciplined use of the CPAP machine, your symptoms and suffering will begin to lesson, more and more. Within a year, it is very possible you may be symptom-free and healed of the disorder.
- Your doctor will re-test you at the end of the treatment period to determine if the disorder is still present, and the majority of cases where treatment was followed consistently, the test will confirm you no longer suffer from sleep apnea.
Lose weight if you are overweight.Since excess weight may be the cause of your sleep apnea, losing even a little weight may help to treat your sleep apnea. Make sure that you seek your doctor’s advice before beginning a weight loss program and follow your doctor’s recommendations for healthy weight loss.
Exercise every day for at least 30 minutes.Obstructive sleep apnea symptoms may improve by getting 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. Try walking at a comfortable pace for 30 minutes per day to start and slowly increase your activity level as tolerated.
Decrease alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedative intake.These chemicals interfere with your breathing patterns by relaxing your throat. By decreasing or eliminating your intake of these chemicals, you may see an improvement in your sleep apnea symptoms. Make sure that you talk to your doctor before stopping any prescription medications.
Quit smoking if you are a smoker.Smoking increases fluid retention in your throat and upper airways and increases inflammation in the same areas. These effects can make obstructive sleep apnea much worse.Talk to your doctor to get help as well as information on smoking cessation programs in your area.
Sleep on your side or stomach instead of sleeping on your back.Sleeping on your side or stomach will lessen or eliminate the symptoms of sleep apnea. When you sleep on your back, your tongue and soft palate are more likely to block your airway and cause sleep apneas. Try placing pillows behind you or sew a tennis ball into the back of your pajama top to prevent yourself from rolling over onto your back.
Talk to your doctor about nasal sprays and allergy medicines.For some people, using a nasal spray or allergy medicine can help keep your nasal passages open at night, allowing you breathe more easily. Talk with your doctor about whether this is a good option for you.
QuestionWhat are the types of sleep apnea?
Family Medicine PhysicianFamily Medicine PhysicianExpert AnswerThere is obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Most people who are obese have obstructive sleep apnea, and this is most common.Thanks!
When I am away from my home, it is too hard to get asleep, what could be the solution of this problem Thanks
- When you are fitted for your C-PAP machine/mask, don't hesitate to let your provider know if it is too tight, loose or uncomfortable to wear. There will be an unavoidable period of slight discomfort during the first week wearing the mask, but with consistent use, the discomfort will steadily ease up within a few days.
- Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments during the next several months, so that the doctor can monitor your treatment progress and adjust it accordingly, when and if necessary.
- Do not consume any foods or liquids or medications that contain caffeine or stimulants the day of your scheduled sleep study. You want to make sure you are tired and will easily sleep 6 or more hours for the test.
- It is also very important to mind your nutritional intake and eating habits, because diet and exercise are very often contributors to the disorder and adjusting your diet to intake less fats and sugars will speed your recovery. Exercise cautiously, and with your doctor's approval, because over-exercising can put too much stress on a body suffering from sleep apnea. Daily walks are best, but nothing too vigorous.
- If you smoke, talk to your GP and the specialist for their advice on cutting down or getting help in giving up the habit.
- Sleep apnea is a very serious condition, and can cause a slew of many other physical disorders, even death if left untreated. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, and/or are diagnosed with it, make it a top priority to seek confirmation of a diagnosis and if testing positive for it, that you follow the treatment judiciously.
Sources and Citations
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