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Wake Up to the Worries and Cures of Sleep Apnea

Wake Up to the Worries and Cures of Sleep Apnea

Walruses groan, hogs grunt, tigers snarl. But those guttural noises can’t compare to the heart-stopping, brain-dinging, sleep-robbing snorts, gasps and snores that humans with sleep apnea emit.

Sleep apnea, which is characterized by interruptions in breathing while asleep—often lasting 10 seconds or more—is triggered when soft tissue in the back of the throat blocks airflow, by irregularities in the brain’s breathing instructions or both. Twenty-five million Americans have sleep apnea. Risk factors include obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking muscle relaxants/sedatives—but even children can have it.

Sleep apnea causes daytime fatigue, forgetfulness and mood changes. Untreated, it can be life-threatening—to the person with sleep apnea and others. People with sleep apnea often fall asleep at inappropriate times and are at risk for mini-strokes, cardiovascular and cognitive problems.

And now federal agencies declare they’re not going to require sleep apnea-testing for truck drivers and train operators, putting lives at risk. The NTSB considers sleep apnea the probable cause of 10 deadly highway and rail accidents it’s investigated since 2000.

Sleep apnea usually is managed by eliminating risk factors and/or keeping airways open when you sleep by using an oral appliance or a mask delivering positive airway pressure. If that doesn’t work, there’s an FDA-approved device that uses implanted electrodes and a remote control to stop the muscles in the back of your throat from obstructing air flow. Occasionally, airway-widening surgery is needed.

So, for your health, your bedmate’s health and the health of travelers on the roads and rails, if you think you have sleep apnea, pledge to Stop the Snore (www.sleepeducation.org) and see your doctor right away!

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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