Sleep Apnea: How to Treat It
Loud snoring may be more than a mild annoyance that keeps the person sleeping next to you awake. It may be a signal that you have sleep apnea – a serious condition affecting more than 18 million Americans that causes breathing difficulty during sleep. Sleep apnea occurs because the airway is partially or completely closed. The noise of snoring is caused by air being forced through the narrowed passageway.
With sleep apnea, there are pauses in breathing during sleep that result in lower levels of oxygen in your blood. Your body will fight to get the oxygen it needs, so if your airway is constricted, it may wake you up. Waking up repeatedly throughout the night impairs the depth of your sleep, which leads to chronic fatigue. If you experience daytime sleepiness or wake up tired every day, you may have sleep apnea.
In addition to chronic fatigue, the adverse effects of sleep apnea on a person’s health have been well established. It is associated with an increased incidence of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, depression and sexual dysfunction. It also raises your risk of having an automobile accident.
Although not all people who snore have sleep apnea, proper diagnosis is essential to rule out this condition. If you feel you have a problem, you should first consult with your primary care physician about snoring, fatigue, and other sleep issues. If you and your doctor feel that you would benefit from a sleep evaluation, the staff of the Phelps Sleep Center can provide a complete test and diagnosis. In addition, an otolaryngologist (ENT) can identify any anatomic irregularities in your nose or throat that may be contributing to the condition.
The gold standard for the treatment of sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which increases air pressure in the throat to prevent your airway from collapsing when you breathe in. There are various types of CPAP masks. Some cover the nose and mouth, some cover only the nose, and some have prongs that fit directly into the nose (nasal pillows). If one type of mask seems uncomfortable, you can try another. Other non-surgical treatments for mild to moderate sleep apnea include dental appliances and mouth guards. It may take time to find the treatment that will work for you.
Sometimes a deviated septum (the wall between the right and left sides of the nose) contributes to sleep apnea. In people who have a deviated septum, one side of the nose is wider than the other, which alters the pattern of airflow in the nose and sometimes blocks the narrower side. Surgically repairing the deviation has been shown to reduce the number of times a patient stops breathing during sleep. This surgical repair may also make the use of a CPAP mask more comfortable because the level of air pressure being administered can be decreased.
Not to be overlooked, weight loss may significantly reduce sleep apnea or at least reduce the CPAP pressure that would be needed to prevent the airway from collapse.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, treatment may reinvigorate you by allowing you to enjoy uninterrupted sleep. More importantly, it may improve your overall health and quality of life.
The Sleep Center at Phelps
The Sleep Center at Phelps is a state-of-the-art diagnostic facility dedicated to the diagnosis of sleep disorders. The center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the gold standard by which the medical community and public evaluate sleep disorder programs. The Sleep Center is capable of diagnosing a full spectrum of sleep disorders. Using the latest diagnostic equipment, the center’s credentialed staff can determine if you are experiencing sleep apnea or other less common sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy or chronic fatigue syndrome. Sleep studies are conducted in comfortable, private rooms. Phelps also offers sleep studies for children under the guidance of a board-certified pediatric sleep specialist. Sleep Center staff work closely with patients who choose CPAP therapy to ensure that adjustment to the therapy is successful. In addition to overnight sleep studies, the center will soon be offering daytime studies and studies that can be conducted in the home. The center also offers a sleep support group that meets in the evening or daytime. For information about the Phelps Sleep Center, call 914-366-3755.
Michael J. Bergstein, MD, FACS, is surgical director of the Phelps Sleep Center and chief of the department of otolaryngology. Dr. Bergstein earned his medical degree at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he also performed an internship and residency in general surgery and otolaryngology. He completed a fellowship in facial plastic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Dr. Bergstein is board certified in otolaryngology – head and neck surgery and in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. He is an assistant clinical professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He has offices in Sleepy Hollow and Yorktown Heights (914-631-3053).