Senior Health

9/16/2014 | By Terri L. Jones

After a certain age, being tired just seems to go with the territory. You muddle along, taking catnaps, nodding off during your favorite shows at night, and yawning a lot. But before you chalk up your fatigue to the aging process alone, make sure obstructive sleep apnea isn’t the culprit. Up to 80 percent of sleep apnea sufferers have no idea they have it!

What is sleep apnea?
When you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks your airway, causing you to briefly, but repeatedly, stop breathing throughout the night. Each time your brain has to awaken you to take a breath. That explains why you’re so tired.

But exhaustion is just the half of it. Each time you stop breathing, your body is thrown into panic mode, raising your blood pressure, stressing your heart and flooding your blood with sugar. This also puts you at risk for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

What are the other signs?
Most people equate sleep apnea with snoring. While it’s true that “sawing logs” is a big tipoff to this condition, sleep apnea sufferers don’t always snore snoring just as snoring doesn’t always point to sleep apnea. Other indications include weight gain, depression and high blood pressure. The surest way to determine if you have sleep apnea or not is through a sleep study by a pulmonologist.

How do you treat sleep apnea?
Treating sleep apnea can sometimes be as simple as losing weight, sleeping on your side, quitting smoking, or avoiding alcohol or sedatives before bed. But there are also medical devices that can keep you breathing.

The one you’ve probably heard about is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Providing a steady stream of air to keep the airway open, CPAP can often take some getting used to.

Oral appliances, which reposition the tongue and lower jaw forward to prevent airway collapse, can sometimes be an easier way to treat moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea or for those who simply can’t get used to sleeping with a mask. Ask your physician if an oral appliance is an option for you.

Do you think you might have sleep apnea? Share your experiences, or questions, in the comments.

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones