Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder where one involuntarily stops breathing while sleeping. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea when the throat muscles relax and obstruct during sleep. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Who is at risk for Sleep Apnea?

Obesity is the biggest risk factor, as well as increased age and male gender.

How does a patient with Sleep Apnea present?

On physical exams, they will have a large neck circumference and crowded oropharynx. The patient (or their partner) will be complaining about unrestful sleep and snoring as well as nocturnal choking. 

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?   

The first line diagnostic test is an in-laboratory polysomnography, or in other words a sleep study. One’s labs will show polycythemia (an increase of red blood cells) due to chronic lack of oxygen. An Epworth sleepiness scale is also used to quantify a patient’s perception of fatigue and sleep.

How is Sleep Apnea managed?

Behavioral changes like weight loss, abstaining from alcohol, and changing sleep position are the first line in managing sleep apnea. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is the mainstay of treatment. If CPAP is not sufficient or tolerated surgical correction is considered in serious cases, a tracheostomy is a definitive treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

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