Sleep Apnea Symptoms & Warning Signs

Published: February 1, 2012

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Symptoms

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the tissues of the pharynx obstruct breathing patterns during sleep. When you are unable to breathe due to an obstruction in your windpipe, the oxygen level in your blood will drop, and you will either wake up to take a breath or gasp for air in your sleep.

One of the most common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring, a noise that occurs when air cannot move through the nose, mouth, and throat smoothly. The amount of snoring does not necessarily correlate with the level of sleep apnea - your condition might actually be more severe if you snore quietly. Some people who snore do not have sleep apnea, and some people who have sleep apnea do not snore.

Snoring can help identify pauses in breathing during sleep. Typically, when breathing stops, snoring will subside. After this pause, the sleep apnea patient will gasp for air and then resume breathing.

You may not realize that you have sleep apnea since you experience symptoms while you are sleeping. In many situations, your partner will need to point out whether you are snoring. You may wake up in the night due to shortness of breath or loud snoring, but you may not remember doing so. Because the symptoms of sleep apnea occur when people are sleeping, the condition can be difficult to diagnose. Many people will go years - even decades - before realizing that something is wrong. Even a doctor, at first, may not realize what is causing your problems. Only a sleep test can conclusively reveal whether you have sleep apnea.

If you have sleep apnea, you may feel sleepy in the day time, even after you have received a full night's sleep. When you wake up, you may have a headache or feel groggy. You may feel dehydrated and experience dry mouth or a sore throat. You may have trouble concentrating at work or at school, and you may even fall asleep throughout the day while watching television, working, or focusing on projects. Your partner might complain that you are snoring very loudly or gasping for air every so often.

In the long term, if left untreated, sleep apnea can cause substantial damage. As a result of sleep apnea, people can develop cardiovascular problems such as heart palpitations and heart failure.

Furthermore, scientists believe that the brain sustains injuries due to lowered levels of oxygen. According to recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies, people with obstructive sleep apnea will lose tissue in areas of the brain that regulate memory.

Children can also experience sleep apnea with symptoms that are different from adults. Children with sleep apnea may sleep longer, need more effort to breathe, experience hyperactivity, have difficultly focusing, and become temperamental. Children with sleep apnea may also wet the bed, have trouble growing, and complain of headaches.

Warning Signs

With central sleep apnea, the brain does not signal the body to breathe, so snoring might not occur. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to other symptoms including sleepiness after a full night's sleep, morning headaches, dry throat when waking up, difficulty remembering, problems concentrating, and unexplained irritability. People can develop central sleep apnea after experiencing a head injury or stroke.

If you experience sleep apnea, it is important that you seek medical attention. If your sleep apnea goes untreated, you may develop brain problems or memory loss. Over time, problems may be irreversible.

Heart palpitations may indicate that you are developing problems in your cardiovascular system. You may also develop hypertension, a condition that causes chronic high blood pressure. If you have cardiovascular complications as a result of your sleep apnea, it is possible for low oxygen levels to trigger a potentially fatal cardiac emergency.

Many people with sleep apnea experience exhaustion throughout the day. You may have trouble at work, or you may have trouble getting through school. Your sleepiness can kick-in at inopportune and potentially dangerous times, while you are at work or while you are driving. If you experience fatigue throughout the day, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may experience problems in your life, and your symptoms may become potentially dangerous for you or your family - especially if you are at risk of falling asleep while driving.

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