A condition in which the body stops breathing as it should during sleep, sleep apnea is a serious health problem that interrupts the sleep, deprives the body of oxygen, and can be the cause of a significant number of other health issues.
Sleep Apnea without Snoring
Two types of sleep apnea exist that can cause the body to go without properly breathing while asleep: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea (CSA). The more common of the two is OSA, which is typically associated with loud snoring and other symptoms related to blocked airways. Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by simply carrying too much weight in the neck area, sleeping on the back, or even having a chronic stuffy nose.
Central sleep apnea has very different causes than obstructive sleep apnea, even though the results are very similar because both conditions cause breaks in their breathing. Central Sleep Apnea is not caused by a physical blockage of the breathing, but by a malfunction that keeps the brain from telling the respiratory muscles to breathe on their own. This condition can be caused by various different problems, such as:
- Brain infection
- Neurological conditions of the cervical spine
- Narcotic painkillers and other certain medications
- Severe obesity
About Sleep Apnea
Because snoring is not the only sign of sleep apnea, it important not to assume that you do not have this sleeping condition if you do not snore. Keeping track of your sleep apnea symptoms can be difficult since you are sleeping while they are happening, so it can be useful to get a family member or roommate to tell you if they observe anything while you are sleeping.
In addition to loud snoring, here are some of the more common symptoms of sleep apnea (Central or Obstructive):
- Occasionally waking with a gasp for air or feeling of choking
- Waking up with a headache
- Daytime sleepiness, even after plenty of hours of sleep
- Falling asleep while driving or performing other routine activities
- Insomnia or inability to sleep restfully
- Waking up still feeling tired
- Nightmares or bad dreams
- Sore or dry throat upon waking
- Shortness of breath after waking up
- Irritability, mood changes, loss of sex drive, relationship problems, forgetfulness
- Lack of productiveness at work
- Difficulty breathing through the nose, allergy problems
- Swollen tonsils or adenoids (particularly in children)
In addition to experiencing these symptoms, you may be more likely to have sleep apnea if you have certain risk factors. Risk factors that may make people more likely to be diagnosed with either central sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea include:
- Taking certain medications including prescription drugs and/or opioids
- Drinking alcohol regularly or smoking
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a large neck circumference ( 17” for men or 16” for women)
- Being a man
- Being of an older age
- Having a family history of sleep apnea
- High blood pressure
Can You Have Sleep Apnea without Snoring?
The simple answer to the question is an emphatic yes. You can definitely have sleep apnea even if you don’t exhibit symptoms such as loud snoring. Although it is one of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring does not have to be present in order to for you to have the condition. Because many people have a tendency to think that they can’t have sleep apnea if they don’t snore, then they may not seek to get a diagnosis. And this can be a very dangerous predicament. Undiagnosed sleep apnea not only is unlikely to go away on its own, it also can lead to a myriad of other serious health conditions that could even shorten the span of your life.
Getting a Diagnosis for Sleep Apnea
If you don’t have a family who is complaining about your snoring, maybe you think it’s not necessary to get diagnosed or treated for sleep apnea. But it is very important. Seeking help from a medical professional is critical if you are having trouble sleeping at night, don’t feel refreshed in the morning, or are experiencing other symptoms that could be related to this sleeping disorder.
If you go to a doctor or sleep specialist, they will likely refer you to a sleep clinic where a polysomnography will be performed. A sleep clinic will probably look similar to a hotel room, but you will be attached to a variety of machines which will perform tests. These tests may include measurements of oxygen levels, brain wave activity, heart rate, blood pressure, body movements, eye movements and more. A video monitor may also be setup to make visual observations of your sleeping patterns.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
A sleep study should be able to either diagnose or rule out sleep apnea. And once sleep apnea is diagnosed, treatment options are typically non-invasive and minimal. A few people with sleep apnea actually do need corrective surgery, but even this is usually fairly minimal and performed as an outpatient procedure.
One of the most common treatments for obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea is the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP). This machine uses a combination of tubes and a mask to keep the air flowing. Allowing air to flow into the body continually keeps the airways open for people with obstructions and often works as the only needed treatment for sleep apnea. This not only keeps the oxygen flowing readily, but also minimizes the stagnant carbon dioxide that can remain in the body.
Another treatment for sleep apnea includes the use of specialized pillows that help to elevate the head, or to sleep on the side. This can often work to better open up the airways and allows the person to breathe more readily without blockage. Some special pillows are created for use with CPAP machines that accommodate the straps and help the user to sleep comfortably with the hoses and mask that is attaches.
Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping condition that can lead to a myriad of other health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and even early death. If you are concerned that you or a family member may have sleep apnea, even if they do not snore, then contact a medical professional for the best care.