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What is sleep apnea?

One man falling asleep and snoring in bed

You may have been diagnosed with sleep apnea or have a friend or relative who is being treated for this problem. Let’s review what sleep apnea is and the different options for treating this common disorder. In fact a large review indicated that sleep apnea affects 10% of the population globally with a 2:1 male/female ratio. Sleep apnea affects over 30% of seniors and tends to increase with age.

Technically, sleep apnea is defined as a pause in breathing for more than 10 seconds with a frequency of greater than 5 times in an hour of sleep. In its most common form, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), it is associated with loud snoring, gasping and choking episodes and restless sleep. Non-restorative sleep results in fatigue, sleepiness, brain fog and increased frequency of headache.

In reviewing conditions that are worsened by sleep apnea we find heart disease, diabetes,  stroke, Alzheimer’s and obesity among common disorders exacerbated or caused by sleep apnea. For these reasons as well as the significant symptoms associated with OSAS it is important to accurately diagnose the causes of sleep apnea.

There are actually many causes of sleep apnea and a thorough evaluation for individual patients is critical to determining the correct treatment. Sleep apnea evaluation begins with a patient history and complete physical examination. At Nevada Sinus Relief, this usually includes video endoscopic evaluation of the upper airway. Often, a Mini-CAT office CT scan is also used to assess and measure the upper airway and constraint points in breathing. A home sleep test (HST) is ordered in appropriate cases and reviewed in conjunction with sleep medicine physicians.

These evaluations may disclose nasal obstruction from a deviated nasal septum or chronic rhinitis/sinusitis. Enlarged tonsils as well as an abnormal tongue position and unfavorable pharyngeal (throat) anatomy may also contribute to sleep apnea. Importantly, these evaluations and tests lead to a customized treatment plan for each patient.

At Nevada Sinus Relief we make recommendations for treatment based on the information from the examination and appropriate tests. Options include sleep position change, an oral appliance to alleviate tongue obstruction, nasal breathing management including correction of structural problems such as a deviated septum (also an office based treatment in most cases), tonsillectomy when indicated and use of a CPAP device. Additional options include hypoglossal nerve stimulation with the Inspire or equivalent device.

Clearly, sleep apnea is a common disorder that is important to treat. Newer technologies are changing the evaluation and options for treatment which should be tailored to each individual. We look forward to helping you evaluate and treat your sleep apnea at Nevada Sinus Relief.

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