Sleep apnea: what are the causes and symptoms?

Paul Sweeney, a Registered Respiratory Therapist and President of Coastal Sleep, compares suffering from sleep apnea to spending every night at the top of Mount Everest. 

"Apart from losing sleep," Paul says, "sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing for a short period, resulting in a drop of oxygen levels in your blood stream. If left untreated, the drop in oxygen levels can lead to cardiovascular issues, hypertension, diabetes, and even stroke."

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes a loss of muscle tone in the muscles that keep the airway open, resulting in the tongue and tissue falling back and blocking the airway.

"Patients with OSA are continually woken from deep sleep, so they're tired the next day," he explains. "It's a very prevalent condition; about 75 percent of sufferers don't even realize they have it."

A common misconception is that sleep apnea is caused by being overweight. While obesity can be one cause of the condition, says Paul, it's not the only one.

"At Coastal Sleep, we treat a lot of slim patients who suffer from sleep apnea because of an anatomical issue with their throat," Paul notes. "Some people have a really short jaw and/or crowded airway. Or they have large tonsils and redundant tissue in the throat."

Most patients experience the obvious symptom of snoring or their partners notice frequent interruptions in their breathing. Another symptom could be those frequent bathroom visits in the night.

"That's the starting point," Paul says. "Then there are other related issues such as headaches in the morning, or a feeling of heartburn. When we're screening patients we look at the symptoms as just one part of the puzzle. If they have other medical conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, or previous heart failure, they're at a higher risk for sleep apnea."

For more information about the causes and symptoms of sleep apnea, call Coastal Sleep at 1.877.241.9066, visit their website or send them an email. There is a Coastal Sleep facility in Richmond located at 130-7360 Westminster Highway. Coastal Sleep can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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