Many wives and husbands suffer when their spouses snore throughout the night. But it may be worse for the person doing the snoring – it is sometimes a symptom of a problem more serious than a mere lack of sleep.

Sleep apnea is an affliction in which a person’s airway closes while that person is sleeping, preventing air from getting into the lungs, said Joe Kozakowski, RRT, cardiopulmonary director at Hawkins County Medical Hospital.

“Sleep patterns are disrupted, resulting in excessive sleepiness or fatigue during the day,” he said.

Breathing may stop for over two minutes during the night, and each time the person wakes up gasping for air, Kozakowski said. This pattern can repeat itself over 40 times a night, and the person enduring it might not even know it is occurring.

Middle-aged men and people who are overweight are more likely to develop sleep apnea, but it can affect anyone. Excessive snoring and daytime sleepiness, as well as insomnia, headaches and poor memory and concentration are all signs of the condition.

“If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause many health problems, including high blood pressure and other heart problems, impotency, memory problems and weight gain,” Kozakowski said.

Mild sleep apnea can be treated by losing weight and not sleeping on one’s back. However, it may be necessary for a sleep study to diagnose severe problems. The study consists of monitoring the patient during sleep in a quiet, home-like atmosphere.

Wellmont Health System has sleep centers at Holston Valley Medical Center, Bristol Regional Medical Center and Hawkins County Memorial Hospital, where a total of more than 2,500 sleep studies have been conducted this year. However, 95 percent of people affected with sleep apnea go undiagnosed, said Kozakowski.

Continuous positive airway pressure is the most common method of treating sleep apnea. The airway is kept open by a mask worn over the mouth and nose at night.

“I suffered from sleep apnea over two years ago,” Kozakowski said. “I was diagnosed, tested and treated for symptoms. I chose to lose weight, and I’ve felt much better ever since.”


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Jim Wozniak
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