Sleep apnea doesn't just affect the quality of your sleep. It can be bad for your health. If the cause of your sleep apnea is an obstruction in your airways, we can determine the cause and provide treatment to improve your breathing and your sleep.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which your breath becomes very shallow during sleep. Some people even stop breathing completely. It can happen several times a night to some people.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is something partially or totally blocking your airway. Your chest muscles and diaphragm must work harder to open up your airway and pull air into your lungs.

Types of sleep apnea

There are three common types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when throat muscles relax and cause an obstruction in your airway.
  • Central sleep apnea. This occurs when your brain does not send the correct signals to the muscles that control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea. This occurs when both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea are present.

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea

People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. It can also occur if you have enlarged tonsils or if your soft palate and uvula are too large and block your windpipe. Some individuals have naturally narrow airways in their throat, mouth or nose, which makes obstructive sleep apnea more likely. It can also be caused by a deviated septum or a larger than average tongue.

Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women and becomes more common as people age. Other risk factors for sleep apnea include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and an elevated risk for heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea

If you share your bed with someone, they are likely to notice sleep apnea symptoms before you do. They may observe your breathing becoming irregular or snorts when it restarts. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • snoring.
  • daytime drowsiness.
  • night sweats.
  • fatigue.
  • depression and irritability.
  • forgetfulness and trouble concentrating.
  • restlessness during sleep.
  • grogginess in the morning.
  • sudden waking with a feeling like you are choking or gasping for air.

Sleep apnea causes a reduced oxygen flow to vital organs. It can lead to irregular heart rhythms and can increase your risk of heart problems.

Diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms and ask about how you sleep. A sleep study in a sleep lab or in your home will be ordered to observe your breathing patterns during sleep. During the sleep study, they will look at:

  • your air flow.
  • your breathing patterns.
  • blood oxygen levels.
  • your eye movements, which help indicate your stage of sleep.
  • the electrical activity in your brain.
  • your heart rate.
  • your muscle activity.

The study will show how often your breathing is impaired during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea treatment

Conservative treatments for sleep apnea include using a device called a CPAP machine. The CPAP forces continuous airflow through your nose and mouth. Losing weight can help with sleep apnea; in most cases, losing just 10% of body weight can help. Nasal sprays can be helpful if congestion or sinus problems are the cause of your sleep apnea.

When these do not work, there are a range of surgical options available. Some surgeries involve making changes to the nasal passages, throat or palate to widen the airway. Others involve implanting surgical devices that help you breathe. We can discuss your options to help you choose the solution that will help you breathe and offer you restful and healthy sleep.