Sleep apnea is one of the most common conditions treated by ear, nose, and throat doctors, but it’s also one that patients have a hard time recognizing in themselves. The first step in treating this disorder is learning how to recognize it.
What is sleep apnea?
More than just snoring, sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder that limits the amount of oxygen delivered to your body, and your brain, while you sleep. It typically occurs when the tongue collapses and blocks the throat.
This results in a disruption of breathing, usually between 10 and 30 seconds. On average, these “breathless” moments are repeated anywhere from 100 to 400 times during a typical night.
Not getting enough oxygen means that you are not getting adequate rest. In the short term, this could mean decreased performance in everyday activities or poor decision making.
In the long term, sleep apnea can lead to an increase in your blood pressure that causes your heart to become enlarged, creating a host of cardiovascular problems, including an increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
How do I know if I have it?
If you are excessively sleepy during the day, that’s a sign of a sleeping problem. If you snore loudly and wake up frequently feeling out of breath, that’s a sign of sleep apnea in particular.
Also ask yourself if you feel a dry mouth, sore throat, or headaches in the morning, and ask a spouse or trusted family member to keep an eye on you. Many sleep apnea sufferers say their loved ones notice them stop breathing while asleep.
You may be at an increased risk if you’re overweight or have a high BMI. Sleep apnea is also more common in men than women and in people older than 40.
What do I do if I think I have sleep apnea?
Contact an ENT specialist who can do sleep studies and search for the source of your sleep apnea. Surgery is an option if a deviated septum is your concern, but there are also many non-surgical treatments available. A board-certified specialist can help you determine what’s right for you.