If you're always feeling tired during the day or waking up during the middle of the night, you may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. This means that you experience periodic episodes during the night where you stop breathing entirely due to an obstruction in your airway. This causes your body to panic, making your heart pump faster to better circulate the limited oxygen around your body's cells and moving you into a cycle of lighter sleep or waking you up completely.
Sleep apnea can seriously affect your quality of life, making it difficult to stay awake during the day and impairing your performance at work. If you think you have sleep apnea, talk to your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a sleep clinic as well as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician. Here's how an ENT physician can help diagnose the true cause of your sleep apnea in order to treat it successfully.
The First Step: Diagnosing the Severity and Cause of Your Sleep Apnea
The first step in diagnosis is to undergo a sleep study – you can either do this in a sleep clinic or do it at your own home. Many people have difficulty falling asleep in unfamiliar environments and find that they are more comfortable doing a sleep study at home. During a sleep study, you'll be monitored while you sleep in order to determine the number of times you stop breathing each night and how long you stop breathing during each episode. This helps your ENT physician determine the severity of your sleep apnea.
To better determine the exact cause of your sleep apnea, your ENT physician may recommend a sleep endoscopy. This is a special type of sleep study where a camera is inserted into your airway to monitor for any obstructions that form when you're sleeping. Once your ENT physician has determined the source of your constricted airway, he or she may recommend surgery to widen your airway and cure your sleep apnea.
The Next Step: Surgical Treatments and CPAP Machine Use
Once the cause of your sleep apnea is determined, your ENT physician can take steps to treat it. Many outpatient surgical procedures (meaning that you do not have to stay in the hospital for observation overnight) are available to treat obstructive sleep apnea – these procedures include performing a septoplasty in order to straighten a deviated septum, performing a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP) to remove your uvula and small amounts of your soft palate to widen your airway or performing a nasal turbinate reduction to widen your nasal passages and help you take in more air with each breath.
Your ENT physician may also prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you sleep better at night. A CPAP machine helps you breathe better at night by constantly forcing air into your airway at a slight pressure, which lessens the effect of your airway obstruction. While this doesn't treat the root cause of your sleep apnea, it can significantly reduce your symptoms and increase your wakefulness during the day.
The Final Step: Assessing the Outcome of Surgery
After you undergo surgery for sleep apnea, you'll undergo another sleep study to determine the outcome of the surgery and to help your ENT decide if more surgeries are needed in order to fully clear your airway. Sometimes it's not possible to remove all constrictions from your airway through surgery, requiring you to continue using your CPAP machine every night. However, widening your airway can help you breathe better during the day and help increase the effectiveness of your CPAP machine.
When you're struggling to stay awake during the day, ask your primary care physician about your surgical options and a referral to an ENT physician. ENT physicians specialize in both diagnosing and surgically treating conditions that involve your airway, making them the specialists you'll want to see to surgically correct your sleep apnea. With their expertise, you'll maximize your chances of obtaining the best night's sleep you've had in a long time.
For more information, contact a medical office like Surgery Center of Kenai.