What Is Sleep Apnea

Q: Is snoring and sleep apnea really a problem? Do I really need treatment?

A: Sleep-disordered breathing (snoring and obstructive sleep apnea) is a very serious medical problem. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea are caused by collapsing airway passages during sleep which may deprive the body of oxygen and disrupt sleep. Research has shown that untreated sleep apnea is associated with cardiovascular disease diabetes, depression, decreased libido, excessive daytime sleepiness, automobile accidents, injuries in the workplace, diminished quality of life and social stigma. Both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea should be treated.

Q: Does sleep-disordered breathing affect children?

A: Unfortunately, sleep-disordered breathing affects children as well as adults. Obstructive sleep apnea in children is a serious disorder that may result in health problems as well as behavioral and academic problems.

Q: Is snoring dangerous?

A: Yes, snoring can be dangerous. Snoring is the vibrational noise arising from the throat when breathing passages begin to collapse during the relaxing influence of sleep. Research has shown that snoring alone can result in sleep deprivation for the sleeper and the bed partner. Snoring is always a danger sign that breathing is not normal during sleep.

Q: How can sleep apnea give rise to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke?

A: During sleep apnea episodes, the breathing passages collapse completely preventing air from entering the body. When this happens, the oxygen levels in your blood fall significantly. This creates a panic response because your brain think you may suffocate and die. The panic response results in release of certain chemicals that create a rapid heartbeat, a spike in blood pressure and eventual arousal from sleep. Once breathing starts again the oxygen levels in the blood return to normal while the heart rate and blood pressure do as well. This often happens hundreds of times per night which places great stress on the cardiovascular system.

Q: Doesn’t everyone have some degree of airway collapse during sleep?

A: Yes, the relaxing influence of sleep results in some degree of airway collapse in everyone. Generally, this does not happen to the extent where the breathing passages begin to vibrate (causing snoring) or collapse completely depriving the body of oxygen disrupting sleep. However, certain people have an exaggerated collapse of their breathing passages which can result in snoring and possibly obstructive sleep apnea. Risk factors can include an anatomically small airway due to large tonsils, a large tongue, a large uvula or skeletal issues such as the lower jaw that is set back. Sleep apnea is typically more prominent in males and can worsen with weight gain. Often times sleeping in the supine position (on your back) can make sleep apnea worse. Alcohol later in the evening can selectively relax the upper airway muscles and make snoring and apnea worse.