Could You Have Sleep Apnea and Not Know it?

True or false: If you snore, you must have obstructive sleep apnea. The answer: False. Plenty of people snore, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea. Snoring can be caused by lots of issues, including colds, allergies, and even the structure of your nose and sinuses.

Here’s another one for you: If you don’t snore, you don’t have apnea. A lot of people think that’s true. But guess what? It’s also false: If you have apnea, you may not snore — and if you don’t snore, you can still have apnea. Confusing, right?

Lots of people think snoring and apnea go hand-in-hand. But actually, the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea can be really subtle and hard to spot. And that means there may be lots of men and women who have apnea and don’t know it — and aren’t getting the treatment they need to stay healthy.

Subtle signs of sleep apnea

So if snoring isn’t a foolproof sign of obstructive sleep apnea, are there other symptoms you should be looking for? Actually, there are several:

Breathing interruptions during sleep

Sleep apnea interrupts breathing multiple times per night — sometimes more than a dozen times per hour. Each interruption typically lasts 10 seconds or more — sometimes much more. Often, these interruptions aren’t enough to wake you, so you may not even realize it’s happening unless you experience the next symptom.

Gasping for breath

Once your brain reaches a level of consciousness where it realizes you’re not getting oxygen, it kicks into overdrive. Waking up gasping for breath is one of the classic signs of sleep apnea — even if you don’t snore.

Daytime drowsiness

Even though you may not completely wake up, apnea still interrupts your sleep and your breathing — sometimes a hundred or more times a night. That means you’re not getting really restful sleep, leaving you sleepy throughout the day. 

Getting up to urinate

When apnea interrupts your breathing, your abdominal muscles contract repeatedly in an effort to “jumpstart” normal respiration. That increased muscle activity presses on your bladder, signaling the need to urinate.

Headaches when you wake up

Lack of restful sleep can lead to headaches, but so can the muscle effort involved in trying to breathe during apnea episodes. Plus, when you stop breathing, your oxygen level drops, which can also lead to headaches.

Problems concentrating

Poor quality sleep is one major cause of concentration problems, but some researchers suggest chronic oxygen deprivation associated with apnea also plays a role.

Weight gain

Lack of sleep can wreak havoc with your metabolism, which means it can be a lot harder to lose weight. Plus, having apnea puts you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, which is also associated with being overweight.

Feeling blue

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that sleep apnea causes or contributes to mood disorders — especially depression. In fact, in one recent study, researchers found about 46 percent of men and women with sleep apnea also had symptoms of depression, and 54 percent had anxiety symptoms.

The healthy benefits of apnea treatment

Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and depression — plus, chronic daytime drowsiness can increase your risk for serious accidents and take a toll on how job performance. If you think you might have sleep apnea, having an evaluation is the first step toward improving your overall health. At ENT New York, Dr. Vandana Kumra performs comprehensive evaluations for sleep apnea so the most appropriate treatment can be provided. To learn more about sleep apnea, contact the practice and schedule an office visit today.

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