What exactly is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes your breathing to stop or get very shallow. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 times or more an hour.

The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. It causes your airway to collapse or become blocked during sleep. Normal breathing starts again with a snort or choking sound. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

You are more at risk for sleep apnea if you are overweight, male, or have a family history or small airways. Children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids may also get it.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas overlap, sometimes making it difficult to determine which type you have. The most common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Awakening with a dry mouth
  • Morning headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty paying attention while awake
  • Irritability

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose sleep apnea based on medical and family histories, a physical exam, and sleep study results.

When your sleep is interrupted throughout the night, you can be drowsy during the day. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents, and other medical problems. If you have it, it is important to get treatment. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices can treat sleep apnea in many people.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

When to see a doctor

Loud snoring can indicate a potentially serious problem, but not everyone who has sleep apnea snores. Talk to your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. Ask your doctor about any sleep problem that leaves you fatigued, sleepy and irritable.

Your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea based on your symptoms, a physical exam, and a sleep study. For a sleep study, your doctor may send you to a sleep lab or provide a portable sleep monitor. Sleep studies record things like heart rate and oxygen level while you sleep.

If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, the usual first step is to discuss your suspicions with your primary care physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, you can go directly to a clinician who is a sleep specialist. But check your health care insurance coverage first. Some policies require you to see a primary care physician first, and some policies limit the sleep centers and testing facilities whose services they will pay for. Unfortunately, you may discover that your policy offers limited or no coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea, in which case you may wish to switch insurers if and when you can.

Whichever kind of physician you consult initially, it can be helpful for you to prepare in advance a detailed account of your medical history as it may be relevant to sleep apnea.

About Serenity Sleep Center

Dr Pearson is board certified in sleep medicine and the Serenity Sleep Center is an accredited sleep facility with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Pearson has been treating patients with sleep disorders for 19 years.

Most people who have sleep apnea don’t realize it. That’s because this disorder only occurs during sleep.

Sleep apnea is when you have pauses in breathing while you’re asleep. These pauses can last from seconds to minutes. You may have difficulty breathing a few times or dozens of times an hour.

These breathing pauses can be dangerous if they cause the oxygen level in your body to drop or disturb your sleep. When oxygen drops, your brain does whatever it can to get you to resume breathing. And then you may snore, gasp, snort loudly, or make a choking sound. A family member or bed partner might be the first to notice these disruptions in your sleep.

Sleep apnea is a common disorder. Anyone can develop it. “Sleep apnea can occur in both genders, in all races and ethnicities, and in people of all sizes and shapes,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH.

The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea

The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea. Any air that squeezes past a blocked airway can cause loud snoring. When you’re awake, the muscles in your throat help keep your airway stiff and open. In adults, the throat muscles and tongue can relax during sleep, or fat tissue in the neck can narrow your airway to cause an obstruction. In children, the airway may become blocked if their tonsils are so large they obstruct the airway opening.

The other type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea

The other type of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to your breathing muscles, so you stop breathing for brief periods.

So how can you tell whether you may have this disorder? One of the most common symptoms is excessive daytime sleepiness. “Anyone who feels so tired on a regular basis that this is a drag on their daytime function—that even if they allow enough time to get enough sleep on a regular basis and they still feel this way—then they need to discuss it with their doctor,” Twery says.

Another common symptom is loud, frequent snoring. But not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea may include feeling irritable or depressed, or having mood swings. You may have memory problems or trouble concentrating. Or, you may wake up with a headache or a dry mouth.

Sleep specialists come from a variety of medical backgrounds. They may be pulmonologists (lung specialists), otolaryngologists (ears, nose, and throat), neurologists (brain and nerves), psychiatrists (mental health), or primary care physicians–internists and family practitioners. Some dentists also have special training in the treatment of sleep disordered breathing, which includes sleep apnea. You can check the credentials of specialists at the websites of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM). You should feel free to ask any doctor you see about his or her credentials and the diagnostic procedures to be followed.

Dr. Robert Pearson

Otolaryngologist Head & Neck Surgeon (ENT)

You can breathe easier, be healthier, and feel better. Doctor Pearson has been Cedar City’s local ENT Dr for 19 years. Do you have trouble sleeping that is effecting your quality of life?  We have a team of medical professional in Cedar City that can take care of you and your family needs.  We make the process simple and the waiting time down. See why we’re the provider of choice for so many throughout the local Southern Utah and Iron County areas. Call Today to Schedule an Appointment.

We are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

A definitive diagnosis of sleep apnea can be made only with a sleep study conducted during a visit to a sleep lab, usually overnight, or a home study performed with special equipment. Some sleep centers are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and you can find them on its website. Others that are just as qualified, however, may choose not to pay the cost of accreditation or may be in the process of obtaining it.

What does a sleep study record

A sleep study generates several records of activity during several hours of sleep, usually about six. Generally, these records include an electroencephalogram, or EEG, measuring brain waves; an electroculogram, or EOG, measuring eye and chin movements that signal the different stages of sleep; an electrocardiogram, EKG, measuring heart rate and rhythm; chest bands that measure respiration; and additional monitors that sense oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood and record leg movement. None of the devices is painful and there are no needles involved. The testing procedure as a whole is known formally as “polysomnography,” and the technician who supervises it is usually a “registered polysomnographic technologist,” or RPT. Usually the bedroom where the test is conducted is more like a comfortable hotel room than a hospital room.

Split night study

Your doctor might prescribe a “split-night study,” in which the first hours are devoted to diagnosis. If obstructive sleep apnea is found, the patient is awakened and fitted with a positive airway pressure device. The remainder of the patient’s slumber is then devoted to determining how well he or she responds to PAP therapy.

A substantial amount of data is generated by a sleep study, but the most crucial is the apnea-hypopnea index, or AHI. An apnea is a complete cessation of breathing for 10 seconds or longer. A hypopnea is a constricted breath (more than one-fourth, less than three-fourths) that lasts 10 seconds or longer. The index number is the number of apneas and hypopneas the sleeper experiences each hour. An AHI of 5 to15 is classified as mild obstructive sleep apnea; 15 to 30 is moderate OSA; 30 or more is severe OSA. Here is more information about understanding the results of your sleep study. If you are diagnosed with OSA, its severity is one of the factors you and your sleep specialist will weigh as you explore your treatment options.

A sleep study can show whether apnea is mild or severe

A sleep study can show whether apnea is mild or severe. “The largest proportion of the population with sleep apnea has mild sleep apnea,” Twery explains. “Mild may or may not be associated with any daytime symptoms.” People who are so sleepy that they’re at risk of a drowsy driving accident are probably in the moderate to severe range.

Doctors may prescribe breathing devices that pump air or mouthpieces that adjust the lower jaw or hold the tongue. Other treatments are available and may be considered with advice from a physician familiar with your health.

Everyone deserves a good night’s sleep. For self-care tips for breathing better while you’re sleeping, see the “Wise Choices” box. If you feel extremely sleepy during the daytime or your bed partner says that you stop breathing when you’re asleep, go talk with your doctor.  If you still arent sure feel free to click below for our sleep test.

Take our sleep test today

Epworth Sleep Scale Scoring

If you haven’t taken the assessment then click here.

If you scored from 0 to 6 you are getting enough sleep to pushing limits of proper sleep habits.

If you scored between 7 or 8 you should consider placing more emphasis on better sleep habits.

If you scored a 9 or above we recommend that you consult your family physician.

Visit Canyon View ENT and let us help you get some sleep!

Do you have trouble sleeping that effects your quality of life? You can sleep better. You can have more energy through your day. Click below or fill in our contact form to see how easy it is.

Doctor Pearson has been Cedar City’s local ENT Dr for 19 years. We make the process simple and the waiting time down. See why we’re the provider of choice for so many throughout the local Southern Utah and Iron County areas. Call Today to Schedule an Appointment.

We have a team of medical professional in Cedar City that can take care of you and your family needs.