Information on Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Adults
It has been estimated that two out of three adult men snore some or all of the time during nocturnal sleep. Following menopause, almost that number of women snore. Of 100 people who snore, approximately one third do not have sleep apnea; one third have mild to moderate sleep apnea; and one third have severe sleep apnea. All people who have sleep apnea snore, but not all people who snore have sleep apnea. Snoring indicates that the airway is not fully open. The distinctive sound of snoring comes from efforts to force air through a narrowed passageway in the throat.
The typical patient with sleep apnea is an overweight middle-aged man who habitually exhibits loud snoring throughout the night. These patients cannot breathe properly in a recumbent position because their upper airway either collapses under its own weight or the tongue and uvula (the small tissue that hangs on the soft palate in the back of the throat) close over the back of the throat causing air to be blocked. The person literally chokes himself or herself at the level of the upper airway.
To break the blockage, the body chooses breathing over sleep, and the person undergoes a brief awakening—usually without awareness—to allow the muscles of the throat to contract and open the passage. This pattern can occur from 5 to more than 100 times per hour. During the time the patient is not breathing, his or her oxygen level falls and carbon dioxide builds up. Because of this constant interruption of sleep, the patient becomes chronically sleep deprived. This deprivation leads directly to daytime sleepiness, which can be severe.
Other consequences of untreated sleep apnea are high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to impaired concentration, poor memory, and a significant increase in automobile accidents and fatalities. Continued weight gain can make the apnea worse over a long period of time. Ingestion of any sedative or tranquilizer including alcohol can turn mild apnea into severe apnea in one night.
One does not need to be overweight, middle aged, or a man to have sleep apnea. Persons with enlarged tonsils, posterior displaced jaws, or masses in the throat can experience the same signs and symptoms that the typical patient described above can exhibit.
Snoring loudly every night calls for a visit to your physician or referral to a sleep specialist connected with a sleep laboratory where overnight studies are performed to evaluate and treat sleep apnea.
Warning signs include:
- Snoring so loud that it rivals a jackhammer and can be heard in other rooms of the house.
- Abnormal pattern of snoring with long relative periods of silence followed by resumption of snoring with loud gasps or snorts.
- Awakening each morning with a headache and/or a dry mouth.
- Daytime sleepiness with problems concentrating or experiencing poor short-term memory.
- Sexual dysfunction with loss of desire or impaired sexual functioning.
- Awakening during the night either gasping or choking and experiencing “air hunger.”