Does choking, coughing or snoring keep you or your spouse up at night?

Find Out If You Might Be Suffering From Sleep Apnea, Treatments And Long-Term Effects

apneaYou’ve just drifted off to sleep and suddenly you’re awakened by your spouse’s loud gasping. They settle right back into slumber, but you’re left awake, listening to them snore.

Your sleep partner’s dozing habits are not only annoying, but they could also be dangerous if they are suffering from sleep apnea.

“Basically what happens is that the person is actually choking,” said Carl D. Boethel, MD, director of the Scott & White Sleep Institute. “The brain kicks in and wakes the person up. It’s a survival mechanism.”

Although gasping for air awakens the person and keeps them from choking, sleep apnea can lead to more serious illnesses.

“Sleep apnea itself can put the person at double the risk of stroke as well as the risk of myocardial infarction (a heart attack),” Dr. Boethel said.

When someone has sleep apnea they aren’t getting air into their lungs, preventing the oxygenation of their blood and causing strain on the heart.

“Every time you wake up in the middle of the night, you get a little bit of an adrenaline rush, and that strains the heart as well,” he said.

Sleep apnea can also lead to diabetes if left untreated because the low oxygen at night increases insulin resistance. The body doesn’t utilize glucose as well, so the blood sugar goes up.

Another risk associated with this sleep disorder is being involved in an automobile accident.

“If you have excessive daytime sleepiness, your reaction time and your ability to move as well as you should are reduced,” Dr. Boethel said.

Patients with sleep apnea can have anywhere from 2.5 to seven fold risk of having a car wreck.

So, how do you know if you have sleep apnea?

“Coughing and choking would be some of the signs of sleep apnea,” Dr. Boethel said. “Usually, the most specific thing is that the spouse will state that they hear the patient stop breathing at night.”

Feeling tired and fatigued during the day can also be a sign that you’re not getting the rest you need.

And the biggest cause of sleep apnea is obesity.

“About 50 percent of people who are obese, have this condition,” the doctor said. “And the prevalence of this disease is much higher now than it was 20 years ago. Part of that is because we’re recognizing it more, but the second part is that our obesity rates have climbed.”

But, there is hope for sleep apnea sufferers in the form of a sleep study at the Scott & White Sleep Institute.

“The patient will come in and we’ll attach some wires to their head, measuring brain waves, which will determine whether they are asleep or not,” Dr. Boethel said. “There’s a cannula that goes near the nose to measure breathing and a few belts around the chest and waist to measure the respiratory effort.”

If the patient has no air flow at the nose, but has respiratory effort in the chest, then they could have sleep apnea.

“The most common treatment is the use of positive airway pressure through the use of a CPAP device,” he said. “This is a mask and a machine that provides air pressure, which blows air into the throat, opening the airways.”

Other treatments include removing the tonsils—for children suffering from sleep apnea, or an oral appliance that is designed to pull the lower jaw forward.

“We can treat the sleep apnea, but treating the underlying cause, which is the need for weight loss, exercise and a better, healthier lifestyle, is really what’s key to prevention of this problem,” Dr. Boethel said.

If you think you might have sleep apnea or another sleep-related problem, ask your primary care physician for a referral to undergo a sleep study, or contact the Sleep Institute at 254-724-4189.

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Does choking, coughing or snoring keep you or your spouse up at night?