While you sleep, structures in your throat partially block your air passage, making the passage narrow and hard to breathe through. As air from the nose or mouth passes around this blockage, the throat structures vibrate, causing the familiar sound of snoring. If the entire passage becomes blocked and you can’t breathe at all, you have sleep apnea.
Since the lungs aren’t getting fresh air, the brain tells the body to wake up just enough to tighten the muscles and unblock the air passage. With a loud gasp, breathing begins again. This process may be repeated over and over again throughout the night, making your sleep fragmented with a lighter stage of sleep.
Even though you do not remember waking up many times during the night to a lighter sleep, you feel tired the next day. The lack of sleep and fresh air can also strain your lungs, heart, and other organs, leading to problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.
Sleep apnea can be categorized by the number of events that occur per hours that require significant trouble breathing.
- Mild sleep apnea: five events per hour
- Moderate: five to 15 events per hour
- Serve: Over 15 events per hour
What are the common treatments offered for sleep apnea?
Medicines are generally not effective in the treatment of sleep apnea. Therapy may include the following:
- Oxygen may safely help some people but does not end sleep apnea or prevent daytime sleepiness.
- Behavioral changes are an important part of a treatment program, and in mild cases of sleep apnea, behavioral therapy may be all that is needed. You may be advised to avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco, and the use of sleeping pills.
- Lose weight if overweight (even a 10% weight loss can reduce the number of apneic events for most people).
- Use elevated pillows, beds, positional therapy, or other devices to help sleep in a side position.
- Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a device that is used nightly in which you wear a mask (nasal pillows, over the nose, or full face) during sleep, and pressure from an air blower forces air through the nasal passages.
- Dental appliances that reposition the lower jaw and the tongue have been helpful to some people with mild sleep apnea, or who snore but do not have apnea.
- Surgical options like radiofrequency ablation, expansion pharyngoplasty, genioglossus advancement, and other jaw or nasal surgical options may provide move spacing in the back of throat
I can't use CPAP, What do I do next?
“Don’t give up!” says Dennis Thompson, MD, “There’s a lot of options of what we can do to help those who can’t use CPAP. We individualize your treatment and find what’s best for you.”
Hear more from sleep specialist, Dennis Thompson, MD, about the causes and symptoms of sleep apnea and how you can overcome it in the video below: