Symptoms and Treatment of Sleep Apnea: Overview and Diagnosis

Last updated: September 16th, 2023

The Symptoms of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder in which breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. When left untreated, the result can be a wide range of complications, from fatigue and daytime sleepiness to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, many people with sleep apnea don’t realize that they’re getting inadequate sleep because their body wakes them up briefly each time their breathing pauses. This means that the symptoms of sleep apnea must be recognized by bed partners and other people in the household. Familiarizing oneself with the classic signs and symptoms of sleep apnea can help you recognize this disorder in yourself or a loved one and initiate the proper treatment.

The primary sign that a person has OSA is loud, persistent snoring that is often followed by pauses in breathing. Usually, bed partners or other people in the household can recognize snoring that’s associated with OSA because of its intensity. It may sound like someone is snorting, choking, or gasping during sleep, and this can be accompanied by abrupt wakings, mercury startle responses, and periods of coughing, followed by a return to snoring.

In addition to these signs, people with sleep apnea might have difficulty concentrating, experience mood swings, and may find that they have slowed thinking. They might also experience frequent headaches in the morning, wake up tired or groggy even after a full night’s sleep, and feel sleepy and tired during the day. It should be noted that there are two types of sleep apnea, and some people may have a combination of both. Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by the brain not sending the appropriate signals to the respiratory muscles to start breathing, while obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by upper airway narrowing and collapse during sleep.

Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

The only definitive way to diagnosis sleep apnea is to perform a sleep study. This must be done in a professional laboratory setting and involves many pieces of equipment being used to measure a person’s brain waves, muscle activity, breathing patterns, and even video recordings of sleep activity. Because the symptoms of sleep apnea are so varied and often mimic those of other conditions, distinguishing OSA from CSA can be difficult. This means that a sleep study is the only way to correctly diagnose a person with this disorder.

Treating Sleep Apnea

It’s important to note that a person who is exhibiting the above symptoms should not self-diagnose and start treatment without first consulting a doctor. Once a person is properly diagnosed with OSA or CSA, doctors can begin to develop treatment plans. Treatments for sleep apnea vary from person to person. People with mild forms of OSA may benefit from lifestyle changes such as weight loss, quitting smoking, avoiding sleeping on their back, and using an oral appliance to help open up the airway. People who have the most severe forms of this sleep disorder will likely need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine and mask to ensure they’re receiving enough oxygen during sleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder that can have a profound effect on mood, concentration, and overall health and wellness. Knowing the symptoms of sleep apnea can help you or a loved one seek help and get the treatment necessary to ensure healthy, restful sleep. Working with a doctor can help you explore the various treatment options available to you and make decisions about the best course of action to help you achieve the restful sleep you need.

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