Sleep apnea is characterized by episodes of obstructed breathing, which occur while you sleep. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s wise to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. Sleep apnea can be dangerous, so it’s crucial to ensure that symptoms are managed carefully. 

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder, which causes your breathing to stop while you sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. In most cases, the symptoms of sleep apnea become apparent when you sleep, but they can have a knock-on effect on your health and wellbeing during the day. Sleep apnea causes different symptoms in different people, with some experiencing milder effects than others. 

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Heavy breathing
  • Breathing that stops and starts
  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Waking up repeatedly during the night

As sleep apnea contributes to poor quality sleep, some people may also experience daytime symptoms, including:

  • Low energy levels
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings and increased irritability
  • Headaches (usually in the mornings)

When to seek advice from an ear, nose and throat doctor

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, or your partner informs you that you’ve been gasping for breath or showing signs of breathing difficulties while you sleep, it's beneficial to arrange an appointment with your ear, nose and throat doctor. ENT doctors specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions that impact the ears, nose and throat, and they can carry out tests to confirm or rule out a diagnosis and determine suitable treatment options. Tests for sleep apnea will monitor your breathing and your heart rate while you sleep. If there are abnormalities or signs of sleep apnea, your ENT doctor will discuss the findings with you.

Can sleep apnea cause other health problems?

If you’re having trouble with your breathing when you sleep, or you have noticed symptoms such as loud snoring or periods when you struggle to catch your breath during sleep, it’s crucial to seek expert advice. There are effective treatments available for sleep apnea, and early intervention is recommended. If sleep apnea is not managed effectively, it can put you at risk of other health problems and complications. Sleep apnea can be related to the following complications:

  • High blood pressure
  • An increased risk of having a stroke
  • Depression and changes in your mental health
  • An elevated risk of having accidents linked to a lack of sleep

Some people also experience fatigue and this can impact relationships, as well as performance levels at college or work. 

What can be done for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can put you at risk of potentially serious health problems, so it’s critical to ensure that your condition is managed effectively. When you see an ear, nose and throat doctor, they will conduct tests to determine the severity of your symptoms. Once they have the relevant information, they can discuss treatment options with you. In mild cases, making lifestyle changes may be sufficient to reduce the severity of symptoms.

Examples include giving up smoking, living a more active lifestyle, changing your sleeping position, avoiding alcohol in the evenings and losing weight if you have a high BMI (body mass index). In more severe cases, ENT doctors may recommend using a device known as a CPAP machine to aid breathing. This form of treatment prevents the airways from narrowing when you sleep. If your breathing improves once you start treatment, you should also notice that you sleep better and that you feel less tired during the day. 

In cases where CPAP machines don’t benefit the individual, it may be necessary to consider the option of surgery. Examples of surgical procedures that may be recommended by ENT specialists include UPPP, also known as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. This procedure involves removing excess tissue, including the tonsils, from the throat to create wider airways and lower the risk of reduced oxygen flow during sleep. It may also be possible to improve breathing by using a device known as a mandibular advancement device, which pushes the jaw forward slightly to open up the airways. 

How can I find out more about sleep apnea?

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, or your partner has informed you that your breathing stops and starts while you sleep, it’s a good idea to seek advice as soon as possible. Many cases of sleep apnea are mild, but if left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to an elevated risk of serious health problems. To find out more about sleep apnea and arrange an appointment with an experienced ENT doctor, contact Vero ENT Associates today at (772) 408-9556.