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Sleep apnea is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition in which breathing is interrupted during sleep. Although it often affects overweight men, sleep apnea can occur in women, men who are not overweight, and children.

People who have sleep apnea can stop breathing for up to a minute as often as a hundred or more times a night. When breathing stops, oxygen levels in the blood fall. The lack of oxygen in the blood can cause irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attack, and stroke. For these reasons, it is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing sleep apnea symptoms.

Types of sleep apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — a common condition that occurs when muscles inside the throat relax and cause tissue at the back of the throat to collapse, block the airway, and prevent air from getting to the lungs
  • Central sleep apnea is less common than OSA. It occurs when the brain does not signal the lungs to take in air and oxygen

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud, irregular snoring
  • Being sleepy and having little energy during the day
  • Having headaches in the morning
  • Gaining weight and being overweight or obese
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Urinating frequently during the night
  • Irritability and relationship problems
  • Performing poorly at work
  • Falling asleep while driving
  • An increase in accidents at home, work, and in the car
  • Stress

Risk for obstructive sleep apnea includes:

  • Allergies
  • Being middle aged and overweight or obese
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Deviated nasal septum
  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Excess tissue at the back of the throat
  • Large tongue
  • Nasal polyps
  • Small jaw

Risk for central sleep apnea includes:

  • Being elderly
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Although snoring is a natural part of sleep for many people,
it can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.

If you snore, our experts
can tell you whether you have sleep apnea.

Treating Sleep Apnea

If your doctor diagnoses you with sleep apnea, she or he will develop an individualized treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms and protect your health.

Treatment for sleep apnea can include:

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
    Most often used to treat obstructive sleep apnea, CPAP involves placing a mask connector to an air compressor over the nose to force air through the nasal passages, keep them open, prevent snoring, prevent the airway from being obstructed, and ensure enough oxygen gets in the blood to help the sleeper cycle through sleep stages, wake refreshed, and be alert during the day
  • Bi-level therapy
    Like CPAP, bi-level therapy offers 2 air pressures — the higher level when breathing in and the lower level when breathing out. Bi-level therapy is especially useful for people with central sleep apnea, including COPD
  • Oral appliances
    Oral appliances are plastic mouth guards that help hold the tongue and jaw in a position that helps reduce snoring. They are usually used in people who have mild sleep apnea
  • Radio frequency ablation therapy (somnoplasty)
    An outpatient procedure, radiofrequency ablation therapy uses a low-power, low-temperature radio frequency to reduce tissue that obstructs the airway. It can be used to treat turbinates in people with chronic allergies, a soft palate, large uvula, and large tongue and reduce snoring and mild apnea
  • Surgery
    Surgery can be used to correct anatomic problems that contribute to snoring, including enlarged tonsils, enlarged adenoids, nasal polyps, deviated septum, and jaw malformation. Although surgery is among the most effective ways to treat snoring, it often is not effective for adults with sleep apnea
  • Uvulopalatoplasty (UPPP) and laser-assisted UPPP
    UPPP is a surgical procedure to remove tissue at the back of the throat and enlarge the airway. Laser-assisted UPPP often is performed as an outpatient procedure to reduce the size of the uvula or shorten a long soft palate at the back of the throat to help reduce the volume of snoring
  • Weight loss
    Research shows that many overweight and obese people experience obstructive sleep apnea. Some data suggest that people who are prone to obstructive sleep apnea can greatly reduce severity of the condition with weight loss of 20 pounds or more
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