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May 30 10:16 AM

Always tired? You might have sleep apnea

Your spouse says your snoring is driving her nuts.

You wake up feeling unrested and irritable.

These are common signs that you may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder that, left untreated, can take its toll on the body and mind.

Untreated OSA has been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, work-related accidents and depression. According to the American Sleep Association, OSA affects more than 12 million Americans.

The Food and Drug Administration ensures the safety and effectiveness of medical devices, including the device most often used by those affected by OSA – the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine, commonly known as CPAP – and a new device, the Inspire Upper Airway Stimulation (UAS) System.

What is Sleep Apnea?

The Greek word "apnea" literally means "without breath." With sleep apnea, your breathing pauses multiple times during sleep. The pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes and can occur more than five times per hour to as high as 100 times per hour. (Fewer than five times per hour is normal.) Sometimes when you start breathing again, you make a loud snort or choking sound.

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses. The less common form, central sleep apnea, happens if the area of your brain that controls breathing doesn't send the correct signals to your breathing muscles.

According to Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of FDA's Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices, you may be unaware of these events since they happen while you're sleeping. Because you partially wake up when your breathing pauses, your sleep is interrupted, and you often feel tired and irritable the next day.

Sleep apnea is almost twice as common in men as it is in women. Other risk factors include being overweight, as extra fat tissue around the neck makes it harder to keep the airway open; being over age 40, smoking; having a family history of sleep apnea; and having a nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies or sinus problem.

Children also get sleep apnea, most commonly between ages 3 and 6. The most common cause is enlarged tonsils and adenoids in the upper airway.

"You should certainly tell your physician if you think you, or your child, is experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea," Mann says. "But the diagnosis of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea requires a formal sleep study."

Polysomnogram (PSG) is the most common sleep study for sleep apnea and often takes place in a sleep center or lab to record brain activity, eye movement, blood pressure and the amount of air that moves in and out of your lungs.

The first line of defense can be behavioral. Weight loss may go a long way toward improving OSA. It may also help to stop using alcohol or medicines that make you sleepy, because they can make it harder for you to breathe.

The most common treatment is a CPAP machine. CPAPs use mild air pressure to keep your airways open. The air is delivered through a mask that fits over your nose and mouth, or only your nose.

There are no drugs approved by the FDA to treat sleep apnea.

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