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Q&A: What Do You Know About OSA?

More than 18 million American adults likely can’t remember the last time they had a good night’s sleep — nor, for that matter, can their bed partners.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a hugely common sleep disorder affecting up to 20 percent of the American adult population. Studies have found that up to a third of adults have mentioned to their primary care providers that they have symptoms of OSA, such as snoring and daytime tiredness, hinting that the figures above may be underreported.

Q. What is sleep apnea?

A. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder during which there are pauses or shallow breaths while you sleep. These episodes can last for seconds to minutes at a time during sleep. When this happens, your brain alerts so that breathing can improve, causing deep sleep to become light sleep. The result is like a battery that is not getting recharged. Sometimes this cycle happens more than 300 times a night. For most, congested nasal passages or the tongue, palate or uvula at the back of the throat may block airflow. Excess weight in the upper body can put pressure on the windpipe, also blocking airflow.

Q. What are the signs that someone has sleep apnea?

A. Extreme sleepiness during the day is the most common sign. In addition to feeling drowsy during the day, other symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, choking or gasping during sleep; morning headaches; trouble with concentration or memory; or mood changes, such as depression.

Q. Is sleep apnea dangerous?

A. Sleep apnea can be very dangerous. Untreated, it raises the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, irregular heart rhythms, heart attack, stroke, memory loss and even death. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor. You may need to participate in a sleep study. This involves having your brain waves, heartbeat and breathing tracked during a night of sleep in the sleep lab.

Q. Can sleep apnea be treated?

A. The most effective treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). It involves wearing a mask-like device that pumps air as you inhale during sleep, helping to keep the airway open. If an underlying medical condition—such as an underactive thyroid—is causing sleep apnea, medicines can help. Mouth devices that keep the airway open and surgery are other options.

Q. How do I get a sleep study?

A. Your primary care provider can order a sleep study at any time by completing the referral form at TannerSleep.org. Once your doctor has completed the form, you can schedule the sleep study by calling Tanner Central Scheduling at 770-836-9721. The Tanner Center for Sleep Disorders has comfortably appointed, hotel-like sleep labs in Carrollton, Villa Rica and Wedowee. You can also arrange an in-home sleep study through the Tanner Center for Sleep Disorders to undergo the study in the comfort of your own bed.

Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine

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