Sleep Apnea: How it Affects Health and How to Spot It

Sleep apnea is a relatively common problem that is often described as a sleep disorder. In actuality, sleep apnea is closely tied to the ear, nose, and throat. If you’ve read or heard anything about sleep apnea, you may relate this condition to loud snoring. There’s much more to it than that. Sleep apnea can become a serious medical concern if not addressed. Here, we discuss what sleep apnea looks like, what may cause it, how the condition affects health and wellness, and what to do about it.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airway closes when a person sleeps. The cause of airway closure could be obstructive or cognitive. Sometimes, it is a combination of the two that prevents proper breathing during sleep.

There are multiple signs a person may notice if they or someone they love has sleep apnea. These include:

  • Loud, disruptive snoring broken up by moments of silence
  • After silence, a gasping or choking sound may be heard before snoring resumes
  • Restless sleep or insomnia
  • Persistent daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Low libido
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Prone to accidents or clumsiness
  • Frequent morning headaches
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Poor memory

What May Cause Sleep Apnea?

There are numerous factors that may contribute to the risk of sleep apnea and no clear direction on an exact cause, especially for central sleep apnea. What studies have indicated is that people with the following traits may be more likely to experience this problem:

  • Excess weight. BMI over 25 increases risk.
  • Older individuals are more at risk.
  • Men are more prone to sleep apnea than women.
  • Neck size greater than 16 inches may press on the airway.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Genetic predisposition.

Sleep Apnea Health Effects

The loss of sleep related to sleep apnea can affect health in a number of ways, including:

  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased cholesterol
  • Acid reflux
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
  • Chronic fatigue

Treating Sleep Apnea

A thorough history and physical is necessary to understand the factors that are contributing to sleep apnea. Some treatment options considered by your ENT doctor include:

  • Removal of nasal polyps
  • Septoplasty to straighten the septum
  • Tonsillectomy or removal of the adenoids
  • Reduction of oversized tissue blocking the airway (uvula)
  • Soft palate tightening
  • Balloon sinus dilation

St. Louis Sinus Center has a Sleep Apnea and Snoring Center to help you improve sleep and general health. Call 314-582-0888 to schedule a consultation and sleep apnea evaluation.

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