Sleep Apnea Information for Patients

Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a problem which results in a lack of airflow into the body.

There are three different types of sleep apnea. By far the most common is called obstructive sleep apnea. It is caused by a blockage in the air passageway. It can be caused by many things, including:

  • Obesity- extra weight put extra pressure on the air passageway causing it to flatten.
  • Deviated septum
  • Large tonsils or adenoids
  • Large tongue
  • Allergies/congestion
  • Heavy drinking

The second type of sleep apnea is called central sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, there is a lapse in the brain where it thinks the body doesn’t need the air and therefore does not send a signal to breathe.

The third type is called complex sleep apnea, simply a combination of the first two.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Anyone who snores at night or has a spouse or other person who has noticed a pause in breathing should be tested for sleep apnea. Although these are the main symptoms, it is very possible to not snore and still have sleep apnea. If you are excessively sleepy, experience headaches, or have high blood pressure, you may be considered at risk for sleep apnea.

What are the treatments for sleep apnea?

CPAP or APAP This is a treatment where a mask is put over your nose or nose and mouth and air is blown just strong enough to “splint” the passageway open. It may feel strong at first, but rest assured, it does to many people, and you will get used to it. Some people with claustrophobia may have some problems with it, but it is the most reliable treatment.

These other treatments are used depending on the cause of the sleep apnea:

Oral appliance- This is a treatment used for more mild cases. It is not as reliable as CPAP or APAP so it is not used as often. It is an appliance that goes over your top and bottom teeth, and pushes the bottom jaw forward enough to open the air passageway.

ENT surgery- Removal of tonsils, adenoids, repairing a deviated septum, etc. can be done and successfully cure sleep apnea in some patients depending on the cause. The negative is that there is no guarantee the problem is repaired but there is not an underlying condition which is also contributing to the problem.

Will it ever go away?

Weight loss is often the most highly recommended if you are trying to get off of CPAP. Other things that may help would be removal of tonsils, adenoids, a UPPP, etc. In some people, sleep apnea only exists while sleeping on their back, and in this case, it is possible to only sleep on your side, although many warnings about accidently going onto your back exist. The final thing to take into consideration are your habits. Smoking and drinking can both make sleep apnea worse, and these habits should be strongly considered.

Not treating sleep apnea can cause a multitude of problems, including excessive sleepiness, high blood pressure, and difficulty controlling diabetes.