Does your significant other snore louder and more violently than they used to? Has it come to the point where you actually wake them up because you’re frightened they’re having trouble breathing while sleeping? Chances are, they may have sleep apnea. This commonly used phrase has been thrown around a lot lately but few actually know its true meaning. Let’s figure out what sleep apnea means and how to know the signs of it.
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, the Greek word “apnea” literally means “without breath.” Sleep apnea is an involuntary cessation of breathing that occurs while the patient is asleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Of the three, obstructive sleep apnea, often called OSA for short, is the most common. Despite the difference in the root cause of each type, in all three, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer. In most cases the sleeper is unaware of these breath stoppages because they don’t trigger a full awakening.
These days, sleep apnea affects 22 million Americans and if left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to depression, heart disease and diabetes. If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, there are several simple tests you can take that may suggest you should discuss the possibility with your health care provider. Remember, though, that one of the best tests may be a complaint by your bed partner that you snore loudly or that you stop breathing repeatedly while you’re asleep.
Four tests that you can take right now are the American Sleep Apnea Association’s original tests: Snore Score, the STOP-BANG screener, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, and the Berlin Sleep Questionnaire. STOP-BANG asks for you to enter your body-mass index. If you don’t know what your BMI is, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute will help you calculate it.
If you are suffering from sleep apnea there are many treatment options out there and some of them are medicine free and instead are lifestyle changes.
About 70 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. Their health care professionals usually encourage them to lose weight. Surprisingly, there have been few formal studies of how effectively weight loss leads to lesser, lighter snoring and diminished incidents of apnea and hypopnea during sleep. Despite this, anecdotal practitioners report striking improvements in both OSA and snoring among patients who lose weight.
Some people snore or have sleep apnea only when sleeping on their back. Such people can eliminate or reduce airway blockage simply by learning to sleep on their side. The traditional technique to induce side-sleeping is dropping a tennis ball in a sock and then pinning the sock to the back of the pajama top. There are also a couple of companies that make a products designed to discourage supine sleeping. Visit the Online Directory of Products and Services for additional information.
Surgery is often effective in treating snoring. It is less effective in treating obstructive sleep apnea. Nasal decongestants are more likely to be effective in cases of snoring or mild sleep apnea. In some cases, surgery is an effective way to improve airflow through the nose.
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