Everything you wanted to know about Sleep Apnea

sleep apnea

Sleep apnea can be a serious sleep disorder where you intermittently stop breathing while you sleep. If you snore and feel tired after a full night’s sleep, you may have this condition.

It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and 80% of the cases of moderate to severe cases are undiagnosed.

There are 3 main types of sleep apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form that happens when throat muscles relax leading to airway obstruction.
  • Central sleep apnea happens when your brain does not send the proper signals to muscles that keep you breathing.
  • Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome is what happens when you have both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

The most common symptoms include:

  • Pauses in breathing at night, which is often noticed by a partner
  • Gasping for air while sleeping
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headache
  • Dry mouth when you wake up
  • Difficulty staying asleep – insomnia
  • Difficulty staying awake (daytime tiredness) – hypersomnia
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Irritability

Please note that loud snoring can indicate a problem, but people who do not snore can also have this issue.

When should I see a doctor?

If you show signs and symptoms of sleep apnea, it is time to talk to your doctor. Ask about the sleep problems you are experiencing that leave you irritable, sleepy, and unfocused.

Schedule an appointment with Colorado ENT & Allergy, Colorado Springs’ leading sleep apnea specialists.

Causes of obstructive sleep apnea

This happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax. When these muscles relax, the airway narrows or closes while breathing in. This prevents you from breathing enough air and then your oxygen level in the blood may drop. The brain senses this and lightly rouses you from sleep to encourage you to reopen the airway. It is usually so brief that people do not remember it. These repeated awakenings lead to poor sleep and daytimes symptoms of tiredness, fatigue, poor focus, and the need to nap.

Risk factors that increase the risk having of obstructive sleep apnea

  • Being older
  • Male gender
  • Narrowed airway
  • Excess weight
  • Increased neck circumference
  • Using alcohol or sedatives
  • Family history
  • Nasal congestion
  • Medical conditions

Causes for central sleep apnea

This is a less common form. It happens when your brain does not transmit signals to the breathing muscles. As a result, there is a lack of effort to breathe for a short amount of time. People wake up with shortness of breath and have a tough time getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Risk Factors 

  • Being older
  • Male gender
  • Heart disorders
  • Stroke
  • Narcotic pain medications

Complications that can occur 

This can be a serious condition and complications may develop:

  • Partners that are sleep-deprived. Snoring can prevent anyone sleeping near you from getting a good night’s sleep. Many partners sleep in a separate room or on another floor of the house in order to sleep.
  • Daytime Fatigue. When your body is waking up repeatedly, you just aren’t getting a restful night’s sleep. Which then causes drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability.
  • Concentration becomes difficult and you may start falling asleep at work or in class, or even while driving. This increases your risk of car or workplace accidents.
  • Mood swings, irritability, and depression. People who suffer from sleep apnea may perform poorly at work or school and may start to suffer from behavior issues.
  • High Blood Pressure or Heart issues. Fast drops in blood oxygen from sleep apnea put a strain on the cardiovascular system. It increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and atrial fibrillation. If you have heart disease, these drops in blood oxygen can cause an irregular heartbeat which can then lead to death.
  • Liver Problems. People with this issue frequently have abnormal liver function tests and show signs of scarring.
  • Type 2 Diabetes. People who suffer from this sleep disorder often have an increased risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Complications from medicines and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea can increase the risk associated with taking certain medications and undergoing general anesthesia for routine surgical procedures.

*Before you have surgery, make sure to tell your doctor about your sleep apnea.

Pediatric Sleep Apnea

Pediatric sleep apnea is more common than most people think. It is estimated that it affects between 1 and 4 percent of children. It is especially prevalent in children between 2 and 8 years old but does occur across the age spectrum.

Untreated pediatric sleep apnea can cause mood problems, inattentiveness or cognitive dysfunction, hyperactivity, and poor impulse control.

These children are at an increased risk factor of developing cardiovascular disease later in life, especially when obese.

Does your child have pediatric sleep apnea?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your child snore?
  • Do they show signs of disturbed sleep?
  • Do they toss and turn a lot during sleep?
  • Are they mouth breathing most of the time when asleep?
  • Are they experiencing night sweats during sleep?

If you suspect your child has a sleep issue, seek out one of our pediatric ENT doctors who specializes in sleep disorders.

What are the Available Treatments?

  1. Losing weight – People who are overweight can reduce the number of apneic events with just a 10% weight loss. However, it is often hard for patients with sleep apnea to lose weight due to increased appetite and metabolism changes that occur with sleep apnea.
  2. PAP – (Positive airway pressure) therapy is the initial treatment for most people with obstructive sleep apnea. The most widely used pap device is the CPAP Machine. (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
  3. Mandibular advancement devices – These are for patients who have mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. A dental appliance or oral mandibular advancement device prevents the tongue from blocking the throat. These therapies help keep the airway open during sleep.
  4. Pillar Procedure – The pillar procedure is minor surgery intended to relieve habitual snoring and treat mild to moderate sleep apnea. With this surgery, small polyester rods are placed in the soft palate. This stiffens the area and reduces the relaxation and vibration of tissue. This can also be done with radio-frequency ablation techniques in the office.
  5. Inspire® Airway Stimulation Surgery – A breakthrough FDA-approved treatment that can bring relief for those not able to use a CPAP machine. Inspire® Airway Stimulation Surgery involves placing a device as well at electrodes on targeted branches of the hypoglossal nerve. The electrodes deliver mild stimulation to the airway muscles to keep airways open during sleep.

Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulation (Inspire)

Recently we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Nicholas Beckmann, who provides hypoglossal nerve stimulation (Inspire) for patients who are unable to tolerate CPAP.  All 9 ENT physicians have extensive experience in treating obstructive sleep disorder and can diagnose and manage this effectively. Our goal is to work with you and get you the tools you need to live your best life!  Call us for an appointment to see if you are a candidate for this revolutionary procedure. Check it out on our YouTube channel:

If left untreated, it could cause you to stop breathing during the night and some people even suffocate. Other adverse outcomes that can occur when untreated include hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and heart attacks. If you think you may be suffering from sleep apnea, it is so important that you contact our experts as soon as possible. ENT doctors or Otolaryngologists are specialists that will figure out the cause and make appropriate treatment recommendations.


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