Sleep apnea: When loud snoring is no joke

By CHERYL WALKER Milam County AgriLife Extension Agent

Snoring ... it's the punch line for a million jokes. But for people with sleep apnea, it's no laughing matter.

"Apnea is a Greek word meaning without breath," said Dr. Carol Rice, Extension health specialist. "Those with apnea literally stop breathing in their sleep or have very shallow breathing known as hypopnea while sleeping."

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that 12 million American men, women and children have the condition. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, "Sleep apnea is clinically defined in adults as a cessation of breath that lasts at least 10 seconds and in children as a cessation of breath that lasts the equivalent of two and a half missed breaths." Many of those cases are undiagnosed.

This reduction in air flow can lower oxygen in the blood and lead to learning and memory problems, irritability, depression, accidents and productivity problems at work or school. Such medical conditions as heart attacks and heart disease, stroke, weight gain, headaches, high blood pressure and kidney disease have also been linked to sleep apnea.

People with untreated sleep apnea have been estimated to be three times more likely to have vehicle accidents, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Symptoms of the condition include:

• Excessive sleepiness in the daytime.

• Frequent instances of obstructed breathing during sleep that go unnoticed by the sleeper until someone else points them out.

• Loud snoring punctuated by episodes of silence.

• Snorting, gasping and choking during sleep that may wake the sleeper.

• Morning headaches and dry mouth when waking.

• Lack of refreshing sleep.

• Excessive perspiration during sleep.

• Excess weight and heartburn.

• Irritability, mood sw ings or personality changes and/or depression.

• Difficulty concentrating and confusion when waking up.

• In young children, chest retraction (where the chest pulls in) during sleep.

• Instead of chronic daytime sleepiness, children might show an x iet y, behav ior problems, aggression and/or emotional instability.

If you or someone you know experiences (these) signs and symptoms on a regular basis, sleep apnea may be the reason. Consult your doctor immediately.

Sleep apnea is found "in all age groups, both sexes, among all body types and ethnicities large or small, male or female, adult or child, African American or Caucasian. Sleep apnea, however is more common among certain groups like: overweight, middleaged men with recessed chin and/ or large neck, who smoke and/or drink alcohol and come from African American, Pacific Islander or Mexican heritage and have a family history of sleep apnea are more likely than most to develop the condition. Although these risk factors put you at higher risk ... anyone can have sleep apnea.

What can be done about it? Get advice from a medical professional. Once he or she has taken a medical history and conducted necessary and mostly painless tests, a diagnosis can be made. Depending on the severity of the sleep apnea, treatments may vary.

If you have a family member that may be suffering from sleep apnea, encourage them to seek medical help. The health risks are much worse than the treatment.

For more information visit the American Sleep Apnea Association website at: http://www. or contact the Extension Office at 254-697-7045.

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2009-07-02 digital edition

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