Ear, Nose & Throat

How Would I Know If I Had Sleep Apnea?

written by Becki Andrus
How Would I Know If I Had Sleep Apnea?

If you are getting enough sleep at night but seem to always wake up feeling tired, then it’s possible that you might be living with a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a common condition that affects breathing while sleeping.

Even though the symptoms might seem mild, untreated sleep apnea can contribute to other health problems. So, if you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, then it’s important to seek treatment right away.

Sleep Apnea: What Is It?

Sleep apnea means that your breathing stops while you are asleep. This pause in breathing can be short (just a few seconds), or longer than a minute. People with severe sleep apnea might stop breathing as many as 400 times during a night.

Sometimes, when the breathing stops, it causes the person to wake up. The body has an automatic response to disrupt the sleep so the breathing resumes. But it’s also possible that the person is unaware of their breathing patterns because they don’t remember waking up.

Types of Sleep Apnea

When going through the diagnostic process, not only will the doctor determine if you have this condition, but it’s also important to identify the type of sleep apnea. Treatment varies depending on the type of condition that is stopping or limiting airflow.

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This type of sleep apnea is more common. Breathing is affected because the muscles in the throat relax while sleeping, which blocks the air pathway between the mouth and the lungs.
  • Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Another type of sleep apnea happens because of a disruption in the way the brain is sending signals to the breathing muscles. If these signals are interrupted, then it can affect breathing patterns while asleep.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea: The third type of sleep apnea is diagnosed when there is a combination of both OSA and CSA. For example, sometimes a person is receiving treatment for OSA, then the symptoms convert to CSA.

With obstructive sleep apnea, the relaxing of the throat muscles means that the airway closes when you breathe in because the muscles are no longer supporting the soft palate. When the throat closes, the brain senses that breathing has stopped, which causes you to wake up so the airway can reopen.

Many times, the waking episode includes a gasp, choke, or snort. This occurrence can happen all night long, with as many as 5 – 30 occurrences. As a result, it’s difficult to reach the deeper phases of sleep that are needed for quality rest.

On the other hand, central sleep apnea happens because of the change in brain signals to the breathing muscles. So, the body doesn’t breathe for a short amount of time.

Symptoms: How to Tell If You Have Sleep Apnea

Keep in mind that symptoms for both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea can overlap. You might be able to identify general symptoms, but it’s necessary to talk to a doctor for an official diagnosis.

  • Loud snoring (most common with OSA)
  • Dry mouth in the morning
  • Gasping for air during the night
  • Reports from another person that you stop breathing while sleeping
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Excessive fatigue during the day
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Irritability

Sleep Apnea Risk Factors

People of all ages can have sleep apnea, even children. Certain factors can increase the likelihood of this condition.

  • Obesity: The risk of obstructive sleep apnea increases significantly when a person is overweight. Fat deposits in the upper airway can contribute to the breathing obstruction.
  • Neck Size: People with thicker necks tend to have narrower airways.
  • Genetics: Your genetics can play a role in the size and shape of the airway. For example, some people are born with a narrow throat. Family history is an important factor to consider, because your risk increases if you have family members with sleep apnea.
  • Oversized Tonsils: When the adenoids or tonsils are oversized, they can block the airway. This risk factor is common in children.
  • Congestion: Nasal congestion makes it hard to breathe through the nose. Ongoing congestion might contribute to an increase in the risk for OSA.
  • Gender: Men have a 2 – 3 times higher risk of OSA compared to women.
  • Age: The risk of sleep apnea increases with age. Especially among women who have gone through menopause.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking is a risk factor because it increases fluid retention and inflammation in the upper airway.
  • Medications and Alcohol: Certain substances increase the risk of sleep apnea. Sedatives, alcohol, and tranquilizers all relax the throat muscles and can contribute to OSA. Narcotic pain medications might increase the risk of CSA.
  • Health Conditions: A variety of health issues might cause a person to have a higher risk of sleep apnea, including high blood pressure, stroke, congestive heart failure, asthma, polycystic ovary syndrome, hormone problems, and type 2 diabetes.

Potential Complications from Sleep Apnea

Keep in mind that sleep apnea is a serious condition. Breathing issues can affect oxygen levels, which can have a domino effect that leads to a variety of health problems.

Sleepiness and Fatigue

Since a patient with sleep apnea is waking up throughout the night, they aren’t getting restorative sleep. As a result, daytime drowsiness and fatigue is a common issue.

This lack of sleep can lead to other issues, such as irritability, behavioral issues, falling asleep during the day, an increased risk of accidents, and difficulty concentrating.

Health Issues

Since the blood oxygen levels drop, it strains the cardiovascular system. So, patients with sleep apnea have a higher risk of heart problems such as high blood pressure, recurring heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, stroke, and more.

Other potential health issues can also develop, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, liver problems, and more.

Surgery and Medication Complications

When a person has obstructive sleep apnea, there risk of complications increases with the use of certain medications. Additionally, general anesthesia and major surgery can be a concern because of the breathing issues.

For example, when a patient with sleep apnea is sedated and positioned on their back, the breathing problems can be an issue.

Do You Need to See an ENT for Sleep Apnea?

If you have any symptoms of sleep apnea, then it’s a good idea to visit a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Many people seek treatment when they notice loud snoring. But you don’t have to be snoring to have sleep apnea.

The best place to start is by scheduling an examination and consultation with an ENT. If you live in the Dallas or Collin County area, our team at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat is available to help. You can schedule an appointment at one of our offices, located in Frisco or Plano, TX. Complete our online form for an appointment request, or call: (972) 596-4005.

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