For someone who is sharing a room with a person suffering from sleep apnea, it may sound like the worst symptom is loud snoring. However, sleep apnea, although it is a common disorder, is also a serious one with more risks than a loud snore.
“Sleep apnea is marked by abnormal or interrupted breathing during sleep,” explains Andrew Brown, DO, sleep specialist at Riddle Hospital. “These interruptions can occur hundreds of times throughout the night, which causes the brain to not get enough oxygen.”
If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can cause a variety of health problems, including increased risk for high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and sleep deprivation. In order to be able to cure sleep apnea, either in yourself or someone else, you should be able to recognize symptoms, which can include:
- Being awakened during sleep because of shortness of breath
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Observed episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep
- Insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness
“Many people think of snoring as the most common symptom of sleep apnea,” says Dr. Brown. “However, not everyone suffering from sleep apnea snores. A combination of these other symptoms, with or without snoring, is still cause for concern.”
Although sleep apnea can affect anyone, there are certain risk factors that make a person more likely to suffer from this condition. Age, gender, weight and lifestyle are all factors that influence the likelihood that someone will suffer from sleep apnea. Men are more often affected, and sleep apnea is two to three times more likely to occur in adults older than 65. Other risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- High blood pressure
- A narrow throat or enlarged tonsils, which can block your airways
- Family history
- Prolonged sitting
If you suspect you or your partner may be suffering from sleep apnea, make an appointment with your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist that can help you diagnose whether or not you are suffering from sleep apnea, and, if so, what you can do to alleviate the problem.
“Milder cases of sleep apnea may just require lifestyle changes, but treatments are available for more severe cases,” says Dr. Brown.
Main Line Health's Sleep Medicine services offer treatment services for a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.