Sleeping should be a calming, positive experience. But if you are one of the 22 million people in the United States with sleep apnea, it can feel like the opposite.

Sleep apnea is caused by a blockage of the airways, which may lead to discomfort in the sinuses and airways. For example, the tongue may collapse on the soft palate during sleep, which in turn collapses on the back of the throat. This closes the entire airway, which leads to brief episodes (around 10 seconds) of breathing interruptions throughout the sleep cycle. This can occur multiple times during the evening.

In more moderate cases, the windpipe may not be obstructed, but the brain does not signal breathing to the muscles. The most severe type of sleep apnea is a combination of the two conditions.

The brain awakens the sleeper with each apnea incident to signal the reintroduction of breathing. Even though the sleeper may only partially waken, this sleep interruption can occur hundreds of times during the night. Consequently, your sleep can be extremely disorganized and unrestful.

In addition, the disorder continually decreases blood oxygenation. This will ultimately affect oxygen levels in your bloodstream and to your brain. If left untreated, sufferers of sleep apnea are at heightened risk for hypertension and cardiovascular issues that include:

Head and Neck Cancers
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Failure
  • Stroke

Perhaps what is most concerning is that 80% of those with sleep apnea do not even know they have the disorder. Sleep apnea occurs most often in middle-aged and elderly patients who may experience a decrease in airflow when their upper airway muscles relax. However, the most common symptoms to look for at any age include:

Head and Neck Cancers
  • Fatigue
  • Mood Swings and Irritability
  • Mouth dryness
  • Depression
  • Morning Headache

While sleep apnea is a condition in the same family as snoring, it can be life-threatening without medical assistance. If you believe you may be suffering from sleep apnea, see an ENT expert such as Dr. Shuaib immediately.

During your appointment, Dr. Shuaib will provide a thorough inspection of the nose, mouth, throat, palate, and neck, often using a fiber optic scope. An exam could reveal whether your snoring is caused by nasal allergy, infection, nasal obstruction or tonsil enlargement.

If diagnosed, you may be instructed to wear a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP. It is currently the most common initial treatment for sleep apnea patients. An appliance delivers the necessary pressure to open the airwaves via the nose and/or mouth during sleep. CPAP stabilizes pressure on all parts of the upper airway and can be very effective, but some wearers may have difficulty tolerating the CPAP.

Numerous surgical treatments for snoring /sleep apnea are available, such as:

Head and Neck Cancers
  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) is a plastic throat surgery involving the reshaping of tissue or removing excess soft tissue to open the airway. The remaining tissue stiffens as it heals, helping to minimize the vibration of the tissue.
  • Tonsillectomy, which can help widen the airway
  • Nasal Surgery to widen the nasal passage and improve airflow

Changing certain habits can also help prevent snoring and mild sleep apnea. These simpler options include:

Head and Neck Cancers
  • Sleeping on your side
  • Losing weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Unblocking your nose when possible
  • No TV in the bedroom

A good night’s rest is not only a dream, but it can also become your reality. Make a point to feel like yourself again and call Dr. Shuaib’s office today to set up your appointment.

Dr. Stefan Shuaib is one of the top head and neck surgeons in Texas and provides on-site diagnosis and treatment in the Rio Grande Valley. If you are concerned about any changes or symptoms you have been experiencing, it is important to schedule an appointment with Dr. Shuaib by calling (956) 362-8125.