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What to Do When You Stop Breathing While Sleeping

What to Do When You Stop Breathing While Sleeping

sleep apneaAlthough snoring is usually not a sign of anything serious, it can be an indication of a sleep disorder. Have you ever woken up coughing, or been told that you suddenly stopped breathing while sleeping?

Symptoms like these are often a result of obstructive sleep apnea. This sleep disorder, which causes pauses in breathing (at least ten seconds long) or very light breathing during sleep occurs in about 20% of people and can be treated in a number of ways. Although sleep apnea may not be bothersome or noticeable, if left untreated, it can lead to higher chances of developing tumors and cancer.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

During sleep apnea, the throat muscles becomes so relaxed that they obstruct breathing.

Often, the person suffering from sleep apnea does not realize that their breathing is interrupted during sleep. There are a variety of ways to tell that you may have sleep apnea, most of which involve not feeling rested during the day. The disorder disturbs the sleep cycle and does not allow the body to “recharge” as it should during sleep. Some reasons to get check out include:

  • Waking up feeling unrefreshed
  • Falling asleep during the day
  • Feeling a decline in mental sharpness
  • Having feelings of depression
  • Waking up several times during the night
  • Falling asleep when you are a passenger in a car for any amount of time
  • Falling asleep while drivingsleep apnea symptoms

The most common way to find out that you may have sleep apnea is to be told by others. If you ever see someone snoring and they suddenly stop breathing, this is likely caused by sleep apnea.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

If someone has told you that you stop breathing while sleeping, or if you constantly feel fatigued during the day, it is a good idea to go to the doctor and have him or her try to diagnose you. The doctor will take note of your physical symptoms and do a sleep study if they think the cause may be sleep apnea. During the sleep study, the doctor will measure the number of times that your breathing is interrupted. There are three levels of sleep apnea that can be diagnosed:

  • Mild: breathing is interrupted 5-14.9 times per hour
  • Moderate: breathing is interrupted 15-29.9 times per hour
  • Severe: breathing is interrupted over 30 times per hour

Another option is to do an informal sleep study in the patient’s home. This is called “oximetry” and involves using a small machine to measure the amount of oxygen passing through the patient’s blood.

How is sleep apnea treated?

cpap stop breathingThe first step in treatment for breathing interruptions during sleep is behavioral therapy. Patients are told to make lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills and sleeping on the side instead of the back. Sometimes, medications are prescribed to lower blood pH and assist breathing. In addition, a dentist may construct an appliance that shifts the lower jaw forward to open up the airway.

For more severe cases, the most common treatment is to wear a mask that pushes air down the patient’s throat. As a last resort, surgery may be performed to correct the shape of the mouth and throat to encourage breathing.

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