What is sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious, potentially life-threatening sleep disorder. It affects approximately 18 million Americans. It owes its name to the Greek word apnea, meaning “want of breath” and refers to episodes in which a person stops breathing for 10 seconds or more during sleep. With each episode, the sleeper’s brain briefly wakes up in order to resume breathing, resulting in extremely fragmented and poor-quality sleep.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

People with sleep apnea usually do not remember waking up during the night. Indications of the problem may include the following:

  • Morning headaches
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability and impaired mental or emotional functioning
  • Excessive snoring, choking or gasping during sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat

What is the difference between snoring and sleep apnea?

Both fall into the category of sleep-disordered breathing. Simple snoring represents a mild disorder in which breathing becomes very loud but the upper airway is only partially obstructed during sleep.

Snoring is a common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. However, unlike mild snoring, sleep apnea is a serious medical disorder that occurs because the airway is totally obstructed during sleep and the patient stops breathing completely for 10 seconds or more. In one night, a sleep apnea patient may experience hundreds of “apneic events” (or involuntary breathing pauses). If your partner hears loud snoring punctuated by silences and then a snort or choking sound as you resume breathing, this pattern could signal sleep apnea.

What treatment options are available?

Oral appliance therapy is one way to effectively manage snoring and sleep apnea and may be used in conjunction with other therapies. Mandibular repositioning appliances reposition and maintain the lower jaw (mandible) in a protruded position during sleep. A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) system delivers pressurized air through a mask that fits over the nose during sleep, keeping the airway open. Therapy may last for several weeks or months and require follow-up visits.

If you experience any symptoms associated with snoring or sleep apnea, consult with Dr. Huber so he can properly diagnose your condition or, if necessary, refer you to a specialist. If Dr. Huber suspects you suffer from sleep apnea, he may refer you to a physician or a sleep specialist. It is important to keep an open and honest dialog with health care professionals to ensure that conditions such as sleep apnea can be identified and properly treated.