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Published on May 07, 2017

Ignoring Sleep Apnea Can Be Fatal

Sleep Apnea

If you haven’t been diagnosed with sleep apnea yourself, you probably know someone who has. Obstructive sleep apnea, one of many types of sleep disorders, has become a significant health problem. Estimates of those affected in the U.S. range from 18-22 million, or one in every 15.

Worse still, 80% of the moderate or severe cases have not yet been diagnosed; leaving sufferers at risk for a multitude of related health issues … and even death. They are more likely to be in a traffic accident, and the National Highway Safety Administration reports they are six times more likely to die in a traffic accident. The NHSA also indicates that drowsy driving, in round numbers, accounts for over 100,000 car accidents, 40,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths per year.

“If you’ve ever awakened from a deep sleep gasping for air, or if someone has complained of your loud snoring or noticed that you’ve stopped breathing while you’re sleeping, there’s a strong likelihood you have sleep apnea,” warns Steve Pinyan, BSRT,  and manager of The Nash Sleep Disorders Center at Nash UNC Health Care.

“Symptoms noticeable during the day might be less dramatic, such as irritability, sleepiness, fatigue, headache, but could also be the result of sleep apnea,” he added.

There are two types; obstructive (OSA) and central (CSA) with obstructive sleep apnea being more common. It is possible to have both types, known as mixed sleep apnea, but that’s rare.

With OSA, the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep, creating an “obstruction,” or blockage, of the airway. This restriction of airflow to the lungs causes fluttering of the tissue, creating that familiar sound we call snoring. If the restriction becomes too great, possibly sealing off the airway, the brain will wake the sleeper to gasp for air. The word “apnea” comes from a Greek word meaning “want of breath.”

Central sleep apnea has an entirely different cause and occurs when the brain does not signal muscles to breathe. CSA is generally associated with particular medical conditions and the use of certain medicines.

With sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted during sleep as many as 30 times per hour. Episodes can last for a few seconds or even minutes, depriving the brain and other parts of the body of life-sustaining oxygen.

News Media Contact

Dorsey Tobias, director of Marketing & Communications, at 252-962-8900 or by email.

If calling after hours, please dial the main hospital line at 252-962-8000 and ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on duty and identify yourself as a member of the news media. He or she will be able to assist you.

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