Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea, affecting 18 million American adults. If you think you may have this sleep disorder, you’re far from being alone, but a casual self-diagnosis isn’t enough. You need to understand what obstructive sleep apnea is so you can take action and avoid the dangerous side effects.
Read on to learn about the causes and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea so you can get diagnosed and treated by a sleep specialist as soon as possible.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder that causes your breathing to be interrupted repeatedly during sleep.
How Does It Happen?
The muscles in the back of your throat support the roof of your mouth, the uvula, the tonsils, and your tongue. When these muscles relax too much during sleep, your airway narrows, which can cause snoring. This can lower the level of oxygen in your blood to the point where you need to wake up — often with a gasp — to breathe.
These events can happen between 5 and over 30 times an hour, which can take a huge toll on your sleep quality and overall health.
Why Does It Happen?
You may be at increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea if you have:
- A family history of sleep apnea
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Naturally narrowed airways
- High blood pressure
Smoking, drinking, and carrying excess weight can also increase your risk.
Don’t have any of these medical concerns? That doesn’t mean you can’t still develop this sleep disorder. That’s why it’s so important to look out for the early signs of obstructive sleep apnea.
The 3 Main Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Getting a sleep test is the only way to confirm whether you have obstructive sleep apnea, but these warning signs can be a strong indicator. If you’re suffering from any of these signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist.
One of the most common signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea is loud and chronic snoring. Pauses may occur in the snoring. Choking or gasping may follow the pauses. The snoring is usually loudest when you sleep on your back and may be less noisy when you turn on your side.
You’re asleep when the snoring or gasping happens. You likely won’t know that you’re having problems breathing or be able to judge how severe the problem is. A family member or bed partner often will notice these problems before you do.
If you sleep alone, ask yourself if you ever wake up with a headache, sore throat, or the feeling that you’re choking.
Another common sign and symptom of sleep apnea is fighting sleepiness during the day, at work, or while driving. You may find yourself rapidly falling asleep during the quiet moments of the day when you’re not active. You may also develop memory, learning, or concentration problems.
Other Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Just because you aren’t presenting with the main signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, doesn’t mean you don’t have this sleep disorder. You may be experiencing other warning signs that need to be checked out.
Night after night of poor-quality sleep from obstructive sleep apnea can cause mood swings. You may find yourself feeling more irritable or even depressed if you have this sleep disorder. Since these symptoms are linked to many other medical concerns, you will need to consult with your doctor for a more reliable diagnosis.
Waking Up Frequently to Use the Bathroom
A less common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is nocturia, or the need to get up to urinate throughout the night. When your breathing is disrupted, your heart finds itself under extra pressure. This affects the hormone that controls urine production in the kidneys and increases the frequency that you need to urinate. Because you keep having to get up to use the bathroom, your sleep quality deteriorates even further.
Dental Signs of Sleep Apnea
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you’re more likely breathing through your mouth, which can lead to dry mouth and tooth decay. Another dental sign of obstructive sleep apnea is bruxism, or teeth grinding, during the night. The Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache found that bruxism affects up to 31% of adults, a quarter of whom may also have sleep apnea.
Similarly, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders have a strong link with sleep apnea. The Journal of Dental Research found people with two or more signs and symptoms of sleep apnea had a 73% higher risk for a TMJ disorder. If you’re already aware that you have dental concerns as well as any signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, you should speak with your doctor.
Why It’s Important to Diagnose and Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea
While it’s helpful to learn about the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, the only way to know whether you have this sleep disorder is to get tested. A sleep specialist will be able to provide you with a sleep test to get you an accurate diagnosis and, in the event that you have obstructive sleep apnea, an effective treatment plan.
Following your treatment plan consistently will be the key to your success. Developing a new healthy habit isn’t easy, but it’s worth it in the long-run. Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to serious health events such as stroke and heart attack. Not only will your treatment eliminate the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, but it will also reduce the risk of many comorbidities and allow you to live a longer and healthier life.
You can make the acclimation process easier by getting expert support. The Somnera® System doesn’t just provide effective positive airway pressure to treat your obstructive sleep apnea — it also comes with personal sleep coaching to help you stick with your treatment. If you’re suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, find out how you can reclaim your night here.