Sleep Apnea Causes Severe Health Problems

Many Unaware Their Breathing May Stops while Sleeping

It’s estimated 500,000 Americans have sleep apnea, but many are unaware they have the dangerous disorder, which causes a person to stop breathing while sleeping. Apnea, which means breathing stops, can go undiagnosed since its symptoms are usually “silent” for the person affected, but not necessarily for family members, who may be awakened by loud snoring or notice you stop and restart breathing while asleep.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, which leads to cardiovascular problems, and daytime drowsiness, which makes you more accident-prone. While sleep apnea is diagnosed during a sleep study, getting to that point is not easy unless a patient mentions his snoring or says a family member complains about it.

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring loud enough to disturb other people’s sleeping (or you wake yourself); shortness of breath or gasping for air that awakens you from sleep; excessive daytime drowsiness; and short pauses in your breathing while sleeping. There is no single cause for sleep apnea although people who are obese have four times the risk of developing the disorder since fat deposits around the upper airway may obstruct your breathing. Other risk factors include being male, smoking, age, nasal congestion and use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers. Children can also be diagnosed with sleep apnea, too, so please tell their doctor if you notice loud snoring or irregular breathing while they’re sleeping.

If your medical provider suspects sleep apnea, additional testing is necessary. A sleep study measures how well you sleep and if you start and stop breathing during the night. While a sleep study at a medical facility such as Encircle Health is the most accurate way to diagnose sleep apnea, you may also be able to complete a sleep study at home with a portable monitor. Both tests monitor the amount of oxygen in your blood, the air movement through your nose while you breathe, and your heart rate.

Once diagnosed with sleep apnea, you will likely need treatment for the rest of your life.  The best treatment for people with sleep apnea is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. The CPAP machine delivers air pressure through a mask on your nose while you sleep that keeps the upper airway passages open and prevents snoring and apnea. Sleeping with a mask on may not sound like fun, but you can get used to it. New, comfortable mask styles are on the market and respiratory therapists help find the right fit and pressure settings. Don’t give up if you experience problems with the CPAP machine since modifications can be made to help it be more comfortable. Talk to your medical provider about any problems you may have with it.

More than 18 million Americans – or about 1 in 15 – have sleep apnea, making it a common disorder. The good news is available treatment options ensure your breathing remains regular while you’re sleeping, leaving you better rested in the morning.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at