Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which you stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. If your apnea is severe, you might wake up choking and gasping for breath several times a night, which can be scary. It also means the brain and the rest of the body may not be getting enough oxygen, which can lead to other serious health problems. That’s why it’s important to be seen as soon as possible if you suspect there’s an issue.
At Central Maine Healthcare, our specialists can help you take control of apnea once and for all. We offer overnight sleep studies close to home in Lewiston and a full range of treatment options, including CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines, so you can get back to the restful night’s sleep you deserve.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
There are two main types of this sleep disorder:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, where your throat muscles relax too much, and your airway literally can close, making it impossible for you to take a breath. You end up with low oxygen levels in your blood, and your organs end up not getting sufficient fuel to work properly.
- Central sleep apnea, when your brain doesn’t send signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, but certain factors put you at higher risk:
- Being overweight
- Having a thicker-than-normal neck
- Family history
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Being a male (men are two-three times more likely to get sleep apnea than women
Additional risk factors associated with the condition include congestive heart failure, taking narcotic pain meds and having suffered a stroke.
The list of sleep apnea symptoms is long, and may include one or a combination of:
- Loud snoring
- You’ve been told you stop breathing while you sleep
- Morning headaches, often with a “pounding” sound in your head
- Choking, snorting or gasping for air during the night
- Dry mouth
- You fall asleep but wake during the night
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty focusing and paying attention
Take Back Your Sleep – and Health
Sleep apnea affects more than your quality of life. It brings complications far beyond not feeling rested:
- Daytime fatigue and inability to focus can make you feel moody and depressed. Eventually there’s an “emotional fallout” when you feel lousy so much of the time.
- When your heart and other organs don’t get enough oxygen, the outcome can be high blood pressure and heart disease. Even worse, your heartbeat can become irregular, which can result in sudden death.
- Untreated sleep apnea puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
- Sleep apnea can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Your partner also can develop a range of disorders because your sleep apnea symptoms also stop them from getting good rest.
The good news: Sleep apnea can be effectively managed with the right diagnosis and treatment. At Central Maine Healthcare, we usually start with an overnight sleep study at our nationally accredited sleep center in Lewiston. During the study, our sleep specialists and technicians will monitor your heart, lung and brain activity; arm and leg movements; blood oxygen levels and breathing patterns. Depending on the results, you may be referred to one of our ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists to rule out a blockage in your nose or throat.
If your sleep apnea is mild, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or stopping smoking, to eliminate those possible causes.
Most sleep apnea, though, is treated with the use of a CPAP machine. The CPAP will force your airways open with air while you sleep, so you’ll no longer have an obstructed airway. You can choose to wear a small nose mask or, if you’re a “mouth breather,” a larger face mask. Your doctor will adjust the air settings before you take the CPAP home, or might recommend an auto-adjusting BPAP machine instead.
Most of the time, CPAP is a highly effective option, though in rare cases, we may recommend surgery to remove tissue blocking your airway. We’ll work closely with you to the best treatment for your unique needs.