Keep an Eye (and Ear) Out for Sleep Apnea

Do you regularly feel groggy after a full night’s sleep? Do you hear your child snoring at night? In some cases, these might be signs of a potentially serious condition called sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is characterized as abnormal breathing during sleep (i.e., extended pauses between breaths). This can affect the body’s overall oxygen supply and cause serious health problems. To see if you're at risk, request an appointment with us in Ankeny, West Des Moines or Pella.

Types of sleep apneaAnatomy illustration of man sleep snoring

There are three main types of sleep apnea with three different underlying causes.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the throat airway becomes blocked during sleep, causing lapses in your breath. It’s estimated that OSA affects between 2-9% of adults in the United States but is also believed to be underdiagnosedAlthough it tends to affect more older adults and more men than women, it can occur at any age and among any gender.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) has a neurological cause and occurs when the brain has trouble controlling the muscles that are in charge of respiration. This irregularity typically leads to shallow and irregular breathing. CSA is found in around 0.9% of adults and typically in men.

Mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea is when a person suffers from both OSA and CSA.

Sleep apnea symptoms

Even though there are distinct types of sleep apnea, they tend to share symptoms. Be on the lookout for:

  • Disrupted breathing at night
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Irritability
  • Limited attention span

OSA is also linked to a few additional symptoms. These include loud, intrusive snoring; a morning sore throat/dry mouth; and a frequent need to wake up and urinate, especially in younger patients.

It’s important to know that even though snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea, not everyone who snores has the disorder. But snoring should be noted, especially in children.

Pediatric sleep apnea symptoms

Adults are indeed more likely to be affected by sleep apnea. But pediatric obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (POSAS) is still prevalent in 3% of children.

During sleep, symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea may include:

  • Snoring
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Restless sleep
  • Snorting, coughing or choking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Bed-wetting
  • Sleep terrors

As a parent, you may also notice behavioral changes that may point to disturbed sleep caused by sleep apnea, like:

  • Performing poorly in school
  • Having difficulty paying attention
  • Learning problems
  • Behavioral problems
  • Poor weight gain
  • Hyperactivity

Many of these symptoms may be more prevalent in the classroom than at home. That’s why it’s always good to keep in touch with your child’s teacher.

Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is linked to a variety of risk factors.

In children:

  • Enlargement of the adenoids
  • Enlargement of the tonsils
  • Obesity
  • Craniofacial anomalies
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Down syndrome
  • Abnormalities in the skull or face
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • History of low birth weight
  • Family history

In adults:

  • The size and positioning of tissues and organs near the back of the throat
  • Obesity
  • Sedative use, including alcohol
  • Family history
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Sleeping on your back
  • Nasal congestion
  • Hormone abnormalities, which can cause swelling

Sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment

Before you or your child can begin treatment for sleep apnea, your Iowa ENT Center physician will conduct a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, combined with your sleep history. It’s important to seek a diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea so you can avoid more serious health concerns like heart failure (adult) and failure to grow (POSAS).

Treatment for sleep apnea will depend on the severity of the case. For example, mild cases may only require lifestyle changes like losing weight, cutting out alcohol or quitting smoking. In some cases, allergy medication may be prescribed.

There are a number of other treatments available for moderate to severe sleep apnea, including devices that can help open up a blocked airway (like a CPAP machine) or surgery.

  • CPAP machines help to alleviate snoring by keeping the airway open.
  • Surgery can fix issues within your throat and/or sinuses that contribute to sleep apnea.

If you suspect that you or a loved one, including your child, may be suffering from sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to call Iowa ENT Center at 515-223-4368 or request an appointment electronically. We can help you get back to restful, healthier sleep.