The ANSWER… How do I know if I have sleep apnea?
Did you know that sleep apnea diminishes the quality of your life? Sleep apnea is one of the most commonly occurring sleep disorders today. People who suffer from this condition wake up feeling exhausted even after getting a full night’s sleep. The fatigue makes them irritable, moody, and drowsy. As a result, they often experience difficulty concentrating. They also tend to doze off at work, which can be dangerous and even fatal depending on the kind of work they do. How can you tell if you have this sleep disorder? Read on to find out.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
In a nutshell, sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops and starts in your sleep. This happens repeatedly and has profound implications. Before looking at the symptoms of sleep apnea , we need to understand the three types of sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is the most commonly occurring form, and it occurs when throat muscles relax when you are asleep.
Central Sleep Apnea
In central sleep apnea, the human brain fails to send correct signals to the muscles that regulate breathing. As a result, the affected person struggles with breathing.
Complex Sleep Apnea
This form occurs when one has both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are:
- Snoring very loudly
- Moments in which you stop breathing while you are asleep (as reported by another person)
- Gasping for air or choking during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Frequent morning headaches
- Being excessively sleepy during the daytime
- Difficulty in staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating when awake
- Irritability and other abrupt mood changes
- Night sweating
- High blood pressure
- Lowered libido
Sleep Apnea Causes
The root causes of sleep apnea differ depending on the form. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. It is caused by  the relaxation of the muscles located at the back of the throat. These muscles are crucial because they support the soft palate, tonsils, tongue, sidewalls of the throat, and the triangular piece of tissue that hangs off the soft palate. When relaxation of these muscles occurs, the air passage narrows or closes. This makes it difficult to breathe in enough air, which results in decreased oxygen levels in the blood.
The brain senses the body is experiencing difficulty in breathing and makes you wake up briefly to reopen your airway. Usually, this happens within the split of a second, so you will barely remember it happens. This usually happens many times per night, so you do not enjoy the deep phase of sleep. Sometimes, you will snort, gasp, or choke when the brain sends the signal for you to wake up so that you breathe in enough air.
On the other hand, central sleep apnea is caused by the brain’s inability to transmit signals to the muscles used in breathing. This results in moments when your body does not breathe at all for a short period. People living with this form often wake up with shortness of breath and experience difficulty falling and staying asleep. Complex sleep apnea is caused by both the factors discussed above.
Contrary to what many people think, sleep apnea can affect children and adults of all ages. However, certain factors  increase the likelihood of suffering from this sleep disorder.
Overweight & Obesity
Excess body weight increases the risk of sleep apnea. This is because you are more likely to have fat deposits around the upper airway that can hinder proper breathing.
Wide neck circumference
Persons with wide necks, 17 inches or above for men and 16 inches and above for women, are at an increased risk of this disorder because they may have narrow airways.
Some people naturally have narrow airways. Others have narrowed airways due to large adenoids or tonsils. A narrow airway makes it harder to breathe properly.
Older adults are more likely to have sleep apnea.
Generally, men are 2-3 times more likely to have this sleep disorder than women. However, women who are past menopause age and are overweight have a higher risk of having sleep apnea.
If you have family members with this sleep disorder, you are at a higher risk of having it.
Using Alcohol, Tranquilizers, or Sedatives
Alcohol, tranquilizers, and sedative tend to relax throat muscles. As a result, they can worsen sleep apnea.
Smoking increases fluid retention and inflammation in the upper airway, thus increasing the chances of sleep apnea.
If your nose often feels congested due to allergies or anatomical issues, you may end up breathing more through your mouth. With time, you are likely to develop sleep apnea.
Some illnesses and medical conditions increase the risk of having sleep apnea. These include high blood pressure, heart failure, Type II diabetes, hormone disorders, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
When to See a Doctor
How soon should you book a medical appointment after noticing the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea? Interestingly, not all people with sleep apnea snore loudly. Since the condition manifests differently in different people, you should book a medical appointment as soon as you notice any signs and symptoms of this sleep disorder. When you visit your doctor, ensure you discuss each of the symptoms and ask any questions you may have. Being empowered with information will make it easier to manage the disorder. Some of the interventions your doctor may recommend  are:
Overweight or obese people are encouraged to lose weight as it offers relief from the symptoms of this sleep disorder.
Nasal decongestants may be prescribed for mild cases of sleep apnea because they relieve snoring. Other medications that may be prescribed to help with breathing are Melatonin and Benadryl.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP)
CPAP is commonly used to treat or manage sleep apnea. The machine includes a face mask that is worn at bedtime. The mask is designed to keep the airway open as you sleep. Sometimes, CPAP is used together with a dental device such as Zyppah to keep the lower jaw in a good position for breathing. Learning more about CPAP and Zyppah is essential if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.
In severe cases, your doctor can recommend surgery. A procedure to remove the excess tissues at the back of the throat can help reduce snoring.
Sleeping on the back is known to worsen sleep apnea. Positional therapy can be used to help lessen snoring and other symptoms of this sleep disorder. This intervention may be taken simultaneously with CPAP.
Sleep apnea affects many Americans of all ages. Obstructive sleep apnea is very common in the modern age. This sleep disorder is mainly characterized by loud snoring, although there are other symptoms as well. If your gut instinct says you have this disorder, you should consult a doctor for proper medical attention. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate solution depending on the severity of the condition.