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Sleep Apnea


What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes you to stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer during sleep.

What are the types of sleep apnea?

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common kind. The muscles and tissues around your throat relax and block air from passing through. Obesity, use of alcohol or cigarettes, or a family history are common causes.
  • Central sleep apnea means your brain does not send signals to the muscles that control breathing. You do not take a breath even though your airway is open. Common causes include medical conditions such as heart failure, being older than 65, or use of opioids.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

  • Feeling sleepy, slow, and tired during the day
  • Snoring loudly, snorting, gasping, or choking while you sleep, and waking up suddenly because of these
  • Feeling irritable during the day
  • Dry mouth or a headache in the mornings
  • Heavy night sweating
  • A hard time thinking, remembering things, or focusing on your tasks the following day

How is sleep apnea is diagnosed?

  • Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms, when they began, and how bad they are. He or she may ask about medical conditions you have and what medicines you take. Tell your provider if you smoke and if anyone in your family has sleep apnea. Your provider may ask the person who sleeps beside you about your signs.
  • You may need to wear a device that monitors the oxygen level in your blood while you sleep. You may need to have a sleep study (polysomnography) if you have daytime sleepiness. A sleep study helps show your brain, heart, and respiratory system are working during sleep. Sleep studies may monitor the stages of sleep, oxygen levels, body position, eye movement, and snoring.

How is sleep apnea treated?

Treatment depends on the kind of apnea you have:

  • A mouth device that looks like a mouth guard stops your tongue and other tissues from blocking airflow.
  • A machine may be used to help you get more air during sleep. A mask may be placed over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. The mask is hooked to the machine. You will get air through the mask.
    • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is used to keep your airway open during sleep. The machine blows a gentle stream of air into the mask when you breathe. This helps keep your airway open so you can breathe more regularly. Extra oxygen may be given through the machine.
    • A bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machine gives air but lowers the pressure when you breathe out.
    • An adaptive servo-ventilator is a machine that only gives air when it senses you are not breathing.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove extra tissues that block your mouth, throat, or nose.

How can I manage or prevent sleep apnea?

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take sedative medicine before you go to sleep. Alcohol and sedatives can relax the muscles and tissues around your throat. This can block the airflow to your lungs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Your healthcare provider can tell you what weight is healthy for you. He or she can help you create a weight loss plan, if needed. The plan will include healthy foods and regular exercise to help you reach your healthy weight. Exercise can also help you sleep and may reduce stress.
  • Sleep on your side or use pillows designed to prevent sleep apnea. This prevents your tongue or other tissues from blocking your throat. You can also raise the head of your bed.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You feel tired or depressed.
  • You have trouble staying awake during the day.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Sleep Apnea

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.