If when sleeping you experience intervals when you start and stop breathing repeatedly, this is known as sleep apnea. One way to detect whether you’re suffering from sleep apnea is if you usually wake up feeling tired even after you’ve slept for a sufficient number of hours.
There are three main types of sleep apnea
- Obstructive sleep apnea
This is the most common type and is caused by the relaxation of throat muscles.
When the muscles at the back of your throat relax, this causes your airway to narrow when you breathe in thereby inhibiting your ability to take adequate breaths. This will result in low oxygen levels in the blood.
Your brain will rouse you from sleep briefly and you will make sounds like snorting or choking. This pattern could go on a few times every hour throughout the night.
Your brain senses this inability to breathe and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway. This awakening is usually so brief that you don’t remember it. Since your sleep will be disrupted all night long, you will not get fully restful phases of sleep and will end up feeling very tired and sleepy during the day.
- Central sleep apnea
This type of sleep apnea happens because your brain fails to send signals to the muscles that regulate breathing. This could cause you to wake up abruptly and you’ll experience shortness of breath during these abrupt awakenings. You will also find it very difficult to go back to sleep.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome
You suffer from a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea if you have this syndrome.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
Obstructive and central sleep apnea have the following symptoms:
- Loud snoring. The snoring is more prominent when you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea
- Episodes when your breathing stops during sleep
- Shortness of breath after awakening abruptly
- Waking up with a dry mouth and throat soreness
- Having a headache in the morning
- Having difficulty sleeping (Insomnia)
- Feeling excessively sleepy during the day (hypersomnia)
Treatment for sleep apnea
Treatment for sleep apnea will depend on the severity of your condition. Your treatment options could include the following:
- Lifestyle changes
In mild cases of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes such as weight loss and quitting smoking will help.
Severe cases can be treated using devices that help to open up the airway passage. These devices are prescribed by your dentist and you might need to try out different ones before you find the one that’s most effective for you. You’ll need to regularly follow up with your dentist to ensure that the device is a good fit and to check for progress.
If dental devices fail, you will have to undergo surgery. Surgery can also be the only treatment option if you have problems with your jaw structure.
Surgical procedures include:
- Tissue removal (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty)
Whereby tonsils, adenoids, the tissue at the back of your mouth and tissue on the top part in your throat are removed in order to enlarge passageways.
- Jaw repositioning (maxillomandibular advancement)
This involves moving your jaw forward in order to leave a larger space behind the tongue and palate, minimizing obstruction when breathing.
Involves surgically implanting plastic rods in the soft palate.
This is rare but if all options fail and your sleep apnea is life-threatening, you might need to have undergo surgery to create a new airway.