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Sleep Apnea | Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Sleep health is important and often overlooked. At MaineHealth, our sleep specialists diagnose and treat sleep apnea and other sleeping and waking disorders. We offer diagnostic sleep centers where trained sleep medicine doctors use high-tech equipment to find the cause of your sleeping problems, including sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea affects breathing when a person is sleeping. Breathing can stop for a few seconds to minutes, or breathing can be shallow. This can happen 30 times or more in an hour. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). A person’s airway closes or becomes blocked during sleep. Breathing starts again with a snort through the nose or a choking sound.

Sleep apnea risk factors

The following are sleep apnea risk factors:

  • Age

  • Obesity, or being overweight

  • Having a large neck

  • Taking sleeping pills or other medicines that relax you

  • Smoking or drinking alcohol, especially before bedtime

  • Men have sleep apnea more often than women.

Sleep apnea symptoms

Snoring loudly followed by periods of silence can be symptoms of sleep apnea. But not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Other sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Breathing through the mouth or loud breathing while sleeping

  • Nightmares

  • Insomnia (not being able to sleep)

  • Dry mouth and dry throat

  • Headaches

  • Being sleepy during the day

Sometimes a person with sleep apnea is not aware of symptoms or sleeping problems until a loved one points it out. If you or a loved one have signs of sleep apnea, it is important to see a doctor. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack or an irregular heartbeat. Being overly tired during the day from sleep apnea can lead to accidents and injury.

Diagnosing sleep apnea

Your primary care provider may refer you to a sleep center for a sleep test. The test will tell if you have sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea. The patient may wear a Home Sleep Testing device at home or be observed overnight at a sleep center. A sleep center uses a number of different test modalities while you sleep.

Sleep apnea treatment

If obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed, you may be given a CPAP, which stands for continuous positive airway pressure treatment. It is a medical device that includes a specially fitted mask and keeps people breathing at night.

Other treatments for sleep apnea include:

  • Tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils)

  • Adenoidectomy (surgical removal of the adenoids)

  • Palatoplasty (surgery to correct the palate).