More than 11 million people in the US  are reported to have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea. These numbers are according to the most recent report from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. There are likely many more who have it but have not yet been diagnosed.
You might be one of the many who think they may have sleep apnea. Here are a few red flags that might make you want to see your doctor, to possibly get checked out:
- You wake up often in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason
- You get up every morning with a headache
- You feel tired all the time, even if you appear to have gotten enough sleep
- You have a hard time thinking clearly
Testing for Sleep Apnea
If you've talked with your doctor about these signs, he or she might refer you to a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist will speak to you and most likely want to conduct a sleep study.
This is where you would go to the clinic at night and go to sleep so that the sleep specialist can observe you. Your oxygen level will be monitored, and your apnea will be monitored to see how bad it is. The sleep specialist will need to measure the severity of your sleep apnea to subscribe to treatment if treatment is found to be necessary.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).
OSA occurs when the throat muscles collapse during sleep, which causes breathing to stop temporarily. CSA happens when the brain fails to send signals to the proper muscles to continue breathing during sleep. OSA is much more common than CSA.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
For a mild case of sleep apnea, your doctor might instruct you to make a few lifestyle changes. Over half of the people who have obstructive sleep apnea are clinically overweight. Extra weight on the body causes more strain on the throat muscles.
If you have bad allergies, your doctor might also try to treat your allergies first, and see if that corrects your sleep apnea.
For severe cases, surgery might be required to remove the tonsils or adenoids. If surgery isn't possible, or if your tonsils and adenoids have been removed already, and you still have it, you will need to use a CPAP machine.
Technology for Sleep Apnea
A CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine can be used to keep the airways open, by pushing air through it while you sleep. This might sound uncomfortable, but with the technology around these machines, they can be used comfortably as an effective treatment for OSA.
One excellent comfort feature is the ramp setting. The machine can be set to cause the air pressure to rise slowly, giving the patient a chance to fall asleep without having to get used to the full pressure of air.
CPAP machines can be used safely at home, with the use of a variety of different types of face masks. The type of face mask you use will depend on which type of mask keeps you breathing while you sleep. Your doctor will also help you get one that fits your face since they come in many different sizes and shapes.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about sleep apnea, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 2, 2018
 American Lung Association. How Serious Is COPD. Last updated: March 13, 2018. http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/learn-about-copd/how-serious-is-copd.html