What is sleep apnea?

By Brooke Strickland

Sleep apnea is a common condition that means that there is a pause in breathing during sleep, either a few seconds or minutes at a time.  Once breathing resumes, it’s usually with a loud snort or a choking sound. These pauses can happen up to 30 times or more in any given hour, and can be very disrupting to regular sleep, thus making sleepiness during the day a huge problem for those that live with sleep apnea. 

How do I know if I have it?

You likely won’t know that you have it, because you’re asleep when it occurs.  If you sleep next to someone regularly, they are most likely the person that will recognize the symptoms.   There are two types of the disorder and they include obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type and means that the breathing airway collapses or becomes blocked, which means you’ll have shallow breathing or actual pauses in breathing.   It can occur in anyone, but it is most commonly seen in people that are overweight.   Central sleep apnea isn’t as common and means that the area of your brain that controls breathing isn’t firing the right signals to your breathing muscles.  This type of apnea is seen more often in people who are taking specific medications or have certain medical conditions. 

What does it mean if I have sleep apnea?

If sleep apnea isn’t treated, there are several risk factors, which include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, increased irregular heartbeats, and increased sleepiness during the day.  If you’re diagnosed with it, your doctor will work to help bring back regular breathing during your sleep.  Mouth pieces or breathing devices worn during sleep, lifestyle changes, certain medications, or even surgery may be options for helping reduce the presence of sleep apnea.   Talking to your doctor about the best treatment option for you is important.