What is Sleep Apnea?

Here’s a startling statistic: up to 80 percent of obstructive sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed. That’s a lot of people who are unaware they have a sleep disorder that can lead to serious health risks.

You might not know what sleep apnea is or that it’s more than something that just causes snoring. Many people are surprised to discover it’s a true health hazard that causes a seven-fold risk of heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Obstructive sleep apnea is multiple pauses in breathing while sleeping. Because you’re not breathing effectively, your oxygen saturation goes down and your brain “wakes up” because it thinks you aren’t breathing.

There are several factors that can increase your risk for developing the condition. The most significant risk factor is being obese. But other things that can increase your risk include having an enlarged neck; being male or a post-menopausal female; having high blood pressure; using alcohol, sedatives, marijuana or opioids; having diabetes, emphysema or hypothyroidism; having a heart issue, such as heart failure; or having a genetic condition, for example, Down syndrome.

Children and adults can have sleep apnea, but the symptoms are often different:

  • Children: Snoring, attention deficit disorder, behavioral disorders, mood disorders, bed wetting, excessive sweating
  • Adults: Fatigue, daytime sleepiness, restless sleep, getting up to use the restroom in the middle of the night, dry mouth, headaches, sexual dysfunction

Talk to your primary care provider if you or a loved one has these symptoms. He or she can recommend a treatment plan or refer you to a sleep specialist.

Sleep apnea is typically diagnosed by conducting a sleep study. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been conducting more home sleep studies where patients use a small monitor and oxygen probe while sleeping. When they return their monitors, we are able to get information about their oxygen saturation levels while they slept. We also continue to do in-lab sleep studies, which allows us to place sensors on a patient’s head so we can tell when they are waking up and determine if it’s due to breathing difficulties.

Fortunately, there is effective treatment that can help relieve symptoms. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is the gold standard in care for symptomatic mild, moderate and severe sleep apnea. It is a machine that connects to you by mouth and produces pressure to keep your airway passages open while you sleep.

Other treatments include a custom oral airway, which is a custom-fitted device that brings your jaw forward to help open up the posterior airway. We can also surgically open airway passages to help relieve sleep apnea.

Typically sleep apnea doesn’t go away. But there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage the condition. This includes getting to a healthy weight, exercising daily, avoiding alcohol and sedative drugs, and treating underlying disease, such as hypothyroidism.

Edward-Elmhurst Health has three sleep labs that are dedicated to treating sleep disorders. With our help, you can take control of sleep apnea and get back to feeling rested and ready to face the day. To learn more about getting a sleep evaluation, visit us online or call 630-646-3940.