Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment Options – Everything you need to Know

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Are you tired of getting disturbed by the noises of snoring and gasping of your spouse during the night? Have you been ignoring it just because snoring isn’t a big deal and a lot of people snore? However, if you hear a gasping sound several times during the night, you spouse probably has obstructive sleep apnea. An estimated 18 million people in the Unites States have sleep apnea. Thanks to better diagnosis and the rising obesity, the cases of sleep apnea are higher than ever.

If you suspect that you or anyone you care about has sleep apnea, it should be diagnosed and treated ASAP. Read on to know more about sleep apnea, it symptoms and treatment therapy.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition wherein the person suffering from it experiences trouble breathing properly while they are sleeping. Their airway gets constricted and the breathing pauses for 10 to 20 seconds or sometimes though rarely up to a minute. This causes them to gasp for breath and the airway opens up again. They resume breathing normally until the next episode of airway constriction occurs. Constriction, paused breathing and gasping; the sequence gets repeated several times an hour, sometimes a hundred times.


Due to constant disruption during the sleep, the person doesn’t feel fresh the next morning. They experience drowsiness, fatigue and inattention during the day. If left untreated, sleep apnea could not only affect the functioning of the mind and physical wellbeing but also be fatal to the patient and others around them. Let’s take a look at the symptoms of sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea


  • Obesity


Researchers suggest that a person must be obese in order to develop sleep apnea. If a person is obese, it is obvious that they will have a big neck because of all the fat deposits. When they lie down and fall asleep, the weightiness of the neck exerts pressure on the airway, causing it to get constricted. Our flawed modern lifestyle, doing sedentary desk jobs, consuming unhealthy processed foods, and lack of physical exercise are the major reasons we are getting fatter every passing day. Obesity is definitely a significant pointer when it comes to developing sleep apnea.

  • Fatigue and Inattention


Like we mentioned before, feeling worn out and being inattentive during the day is a major symptom of sleep apnea. Paused breathing several times during the night prevents you from falling into deep, restful sleep. You are unable to recuperate from the tiredness from the previous day. Hence, you feel extremely drowsy, somewhat restless and disinterested in the things going on around you. You don’t feel like talking to anyone or hearing them out. It’s not because they are uninteresting but because you do not have the energy to hold your end of the conversation. Every activity, small or big, feels like a task. Some people fall asleep while driving, causing fatal accidents.

  • Night Sweats


When the airway gets constricted and the breathing pauses, your body begins fighting for the precious oxygen by activating the fight or flight mode. It makes you panicky as if you just witnessed a nightmare. Hence, you begin to sweat in your sleep. Basically, your body is trying to do anything that will wake you up and gasp for breath so that it could get oxygen. The constant awakenings prevent you from getting a good night sleep. It leaves you wondering what’s going on because the memories of the dream you just had simple fade away and you don’t remember a thing. So if you often wake up frightened and drenched in sweat, odds are that you have sleep apnea.

  • Need to Relieve Yourself Often

Most people sleep 7 to 8 hours at a stretch without having to urinate during the night. However, things are different for those who have sleep apnea. When your airway gets constricted and you stop breathing for a while, your body tries to wake you up. You get nightmares and wake up sweating a lot. The sequence of these activities gets repeated over and over again several times throughout the night. Ultimately, it disrupts your circadian cycle. In simpler words, it is a mechanism that controls your pattern of sleep and wakefulness. It leads to you having to use the bathroom frequently during the night. This phenomenon is known as nocturia.

  • Waking up with a Headache


This one is a no-brainer! How do you expect being restless and fretful all night and not get a headache he next morning? If it happens occasionally, it is still okay because there are a number of reasons for waking up with heavy, aching head. But if it happens on a frequent basis, you definitely need to see a sleep doctor and get your sleep apnea diagnosed.

Your entire head pains because your body is deprived of oxygen. The proportion of carbon dioxide in your blood is higher than usual. Our brain is the only organ that consumes most oxygen that we breathe in. Imagine the consequences of oxygen deprivation several times over a span of 7-8 hours. Yes, headache!

  • Low Libido


When you haven’t slept well and wake up with a headache, you are definitely not the right frame of mind. Waking up tired after a tedious night of futile attempts to fall into a deep sleep on a constant basis can mess with your hormones. It triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone that makes you feel anxious, irritated and frazzled. The turmoil in the hormones causes your libido to hit rock bottom, affecting your sex life.

  • Dry Mouth and Painful Throat


People with sleep apnea often sleep with their mouth open. It causes the mouth and throat to dry up. Sleep apnea messes up with your respiratory tract, no two ways about it. On top of that, the frequent snoring and gasping for breath worsen the condition. So if you wake up with a dry mouth and a painful, dry throat, you could have sleep apnea.

  • Type-2 Diabetes


The association between sleep apnea and type-2 diabetes is stronger than any link between the former and any other autoimmune or metabolic disorder. The obesity is obviously the root cause. When you are unable to sleep well consistently, it hampers your body’s ability to use up the blood sugar efficiently. When your sleep apnea gets diagnosed, get a blood sugar screening done. You might as well have developed type-2 diabetes. Earlier diagnosis means better odds of managing the condition properly. We are well aware of the detrimental effects of untreated diabetes. It could escalate pretty quickly and cause ailments of the kidneys and eyes.

This was all about the major and noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea. Let’s talk about the treatment options available to manage sleep apnea.

The treatment plan for sleep apnea varies from one patient from another depending upon the degree to which their condition has progressed. Some people have a mild sleep apnea while others have a severe one. People with mild sleep apnea are advised to make lifestyle changes. It would help them get a hold on their condition before it worsens. There are treatment therapies for those who are severely affected by the disorder.

  • Weight loss


Obesity is the reason why people get sleep apnea in the first place. Eating healthy and getting some exercise is the healthy way to shed those extra pounds. People who manage to lose weight observe a drastic improvement in their condition. This is applicable to both who have a mild or severe case of sleep apnea.

Quitting Smoking


Sleep apnea already does a lot of damage to the respiratory tract as is. On top of that, if the patient smokes, it will definitely exacerbate their condition. It only makes sense if you kick that butt and make a choice of living a healthy life. Quitting smoking won’t help improve your condition but it will definitely prevent it from getting worse.

Treatment of Allergies


Many people have respiratory allergies to a large number of things. The trigger could be anything; cigarette smoke, vehicular emission, pollens, strong fragrances, dust, molds, etc. The most logical thing to do would be to take care of these allergies. Following a proper treatment plan for allergies would protect your respiratory system from the additional affliction.

CPAP Therapy


For those whose sleep apnea is anything but mild, CPAP is the best method of treatment recommended by the doctors. The acronym CPAP stands for ‘Continuous Positive Air Pressure’. A device known as CPAP machine is used in the course of this therapy. The CPAP machine has a humidifier that sends moist, warm air through the tubing that the user breathes through a mask. A continuous positive air pressure is applied throughout the night while the patient is sleeping. The air flow generated by the CPAP machine has a pressure slightly higher than the surroundings in which the user is sleeping. The higher pressure air gushes in every time the user inhales. The high pressure ensures that the airway stays open throughout the duration of sleep, thus, preventing the windpipe to constrict. Hence, there would be no paused breaths, no gasping for air, and no snoring. The patient sleeps well at night and it ultimately improves the quality of their life. Getting good night sleep means experiencing no fatigue, headache or dullness the next day.

Choosing the right mask for the CPAP therapy is the key. There are full face masks and hybrid masks that have nasal pillows and a mouthpiece. It depends on certain factors what kind of mask would suit you the best; the extent of airway constriction, your facial structure, and whether you sleep with your mouth open. Also, not every mask is compatible with every CPAP machine. You would need to do some trial and error exercise before settling for a mask that you think is the best for you. Besides, if you still snore while on the therapy, you need to talk to your doctor.


Surgery is the last resort when everything else has failed. Doctors do not recommend surgery unless all the other treatment plans are given a fair chance. This goes on for usually 3 months, which is enough time for the patients with a severe case obstructive sleep apnea to adapt to the treatment plan. If at all they can’t, doctors advise surgery. However, if someone has sleep apnea because of their jaw structure, jaw repositioning surgery is the first line of treatment for them. The surgery goes by the name ‘maxillomandibular advancement’. This surgery attempts to create more space between the soft palate and the tongue by moving the jaw forward from the rest of the facial structure. It reduces the degree of obstruction as well as helps with the snoring.

The type of surgery also varies from one patient to another. Some patients might need a tissue removal surgery to simply enlarge the airway. Some tissue from the back of the mouth including the adenoids and tonsils are removed. This creates more space for the air to pass in and out and also reduces of completely eliminates swelling.

Some people might have nasal polyps or a deviated septum. Surgeries to remove the polyps are also helpful in reducing the extent of snoring. Correcting the septum deviation removes the obstruction in the nasal cavity, allowing the person to breathe better.

People with life-threatening cases of sleep apnea might need a tracheostomy. The surgery is considered only when other surgical methods have failed. An incision is made in the throat and a tube is inserted into it. The opening of the tube is kept closed during the day. It is left open throughout the night so that the patient can breathe freely while they are sleeping.

So this was all about the treatment plans available for sleep apnea. If you or any of your loved ones have sleep apnea, check with your doctor the treatment plan that would be the most appropriate and effective for you.

Joanna Levin, Sleep Medicine Specialist

I graduated from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine a while back. My previous work station was at the HFHS. The institution is better known as the Henry Ford Health System. While there, I served diligently, working as a professional sleep consultant.

  1. After a bad breakup I started having trouble sleeping and I blamed it all on the breakup but it turned out I had signs of almost all sleep apnea symptoms. After being properly diagnosed I’m on the lookout for a CPAP machine to improve the quality of my sleep.

  2. My husband is beginning to think that I have sleep apnea. It seems very possible since you mentioned how obesity is the reason why people get it. Before jumping to conclusions, I’m going to get a professional opinion first.

  3. Thanks for explaining how sleep apnea is when someone has trouble breathing properly while sleeping due to their airway getting constricted. I also like that you explain how this disrupts their sleep so that they don’t feel fresh the next morning. A great way to determine if you have this problem and how to treat it would be to go to a local sleep apnea doctor so that you can discuss the problems you’re having with someone who has the skills, experience, and knowledge to help.

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