What is Sleep Apnea?

The word “apnea” is a Greek word which means “without breath.” If you have sleep apnea, during sleep your breathing pauses several times. This pause may last minute or just a few seconds and may occur about five times per hour or as many as 100 times per hour. Less than five times per hour is also quite normal. When you start to breathe again you may make a choking sound or snort loudly.

The most common type if apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea. This is a blockage of the airway which is caused when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses. Central sleep apnea is less common and it’s caused when the area of the brain that controls your breathing doesn’t send the right signals to the breathing muscles.

Deputy Director of FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices, Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., says that you can be unaware that these events are occurring when you sleep. You partially wake up when you have pauses in your breathing. Your sleep ends up being interrupted and you’ll feel irritable and extra tired the next day.

Sleep apnea is about twice as common in men than women. Risks for it also include:

  • If you’re overweight the extra fat around the neck makes it harder to keep airways open.
  • Those over age 40
  • Smokers
  • Those with a family history of sleep apnea
  • Those with some type of nasal obstruction due to allergies, sinus problem, or deviated septum.

Children can also develop sleep apnea and it’s most common with children 3-6 years old. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are the common cause.

Mann says you should speak with your physician if you suspect that your child or even you has sleep apnea. A formal sleep study is required to diagnose these conditions properly.

A common sleep study for sleep apnea is called PSG or Polysomnogram. This is usually done in a sleep center or some sort of lab where brain activity, blood pressure, air through the lungs, and eye movement can be monitored.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Behavioral changes are the first line of defense in combating sleep apnea. Weight loss can help those that have obstructive sleep apnea. Reducing the use of medications or alcohol consumption which makes you sleepy can also help because these tend to make it harder to breathe.

A CPAP machine is often used to treat OSA. They use mild air pressure which keeps the airways open. The mask fits over the face, mouth and nose or just your nose.

The CPAP machine is not the only medical device that’s been approved by the FDA to treat sleep apnea. The FDA approved an implanted medical device for the treatment of sleep apnea on May 1, 2014. The UAS Inspire Upper Airway System helps people with moderate or severe OSA or those with a BMI (body mass index) under 32 and don’t have a complete collapse in the back of their throat. It’s also designed for those that didn’t see good results with a CPAP machine or couldn’t use the CPAP treatment.