Sleep apnea is a common disorder that causes your breathing to stop or get very shallow during sleep. Breathing pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when your airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. Normal breathing starts again with a snort or choking sound. People with sleep apnea can also often snore loudly. However, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.

The effects of sleep apnea

When your sleep is interrupted throughout the night, you can be drowsy during the day. People with sleep apnea are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents and other medical problems. Research has shown that lack of oxygen during sleep can cause an increase in blood pressure, which can stress your heart and also increase your risk of developing diabetes. Sleep apnea may be an underlying cause of heart disease and can worsen existing cardiovascular disease.

You are more at risk for sleep apnea if you are overweight, male, have small airways or have a family history of sleep apnea. Children with enlarged tonsils may also be susceptible.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Diagnosis

In addition to a physical examination, including questions about your medical and family histories, your specialist will recommend that you participate in an overnight monitored sleep study. The study will help confirm if you have sleep apnea and provide critical information about your condition.

Treatment

A common treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP is administered through a mask you wear at night when you sleep that pushes air into your nose and/or mouth.

Depending on the severity of your sleep apnea and response to CPAP, other potential solutions, including surgery, may be required. 

An FDA-approved treatment, upper airway stimulation is an advanced therapy for sleep apnea that works much like a pacemaker. 

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center specialists often recommend another sleep study after treatment as part of your follow-up.

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