Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder in South Carolina. It can lead to a number of serious health complications, a list that includes cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes – and even hearing loss.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes interruptions in breathing throughout the night. It occurs when muscles in the back of the throat relax while you sleep, causing an obstruction in the airway and frequent breathing pauses that may last for ten seconds or longer. People with sleep apnea experience poor sleep and low blood oxygen levels, factors that put them at risk of developing serious health problems. Sleep apnea patients often nod off during the day, putting them at a higher risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Sleep apnea can affect all facets of their lives, impeding job performance, hurting personal relationships and leading to anxiety, stress and depression.
Often, people with sleep apnea aren’t even aware of their condition until a sleeping partner says something. If you exhibit the following signs, you may be among the 18 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea:
- Loud snoring
- Wake up gasping or choking
- Morning headaches and dry mouth
- Daytime fatigue
- Concentration difficulties
- Memory loss
Another side effect of sleep apnea is hearing loss. One large-scale study looked at 14,000 people and found that hearing loss was more common in those with a higher body mass index (BMI), snorers and patients diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. In another study of patients with severe sleep apnea, individuals with the lowest oxygen levels had an increased likelihood of developing hearing loss. The reason for this connection is probably the combination of loud snoring and reduced blood flow to the ears, factors that can cause permanent damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea that are responsible for hearing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, risk factors for sleep apnea include:
- Age (40+)
- Gender (male)
- Ethnicity (African-American, Hispanic, Pacific-Islander)
- Anatomy (small upper airway; large tongue, tonsils, uvula; large overbite; recessed chin; large neck)
- Alcohol use
- Genetics (sleep apnea appears to run in some families)
Treat Sleep Apnea to Preserve Your Hearing
Treating sleep apnea as early as possible is a top priority. Your health and welfare depend upon this! A visit to a CENTA ear, nose and throat specialist for a thorough evaluation and sleep study (either at home or in a laboratory) are the first steps in diagnosing sleep apnea. Once it is confirmed, you’ll likely undergo treatment utilizing a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, oral device such as a mouth guard or surgery. Lifestyle changes can go a long way toward reducing your risk; losing weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet, giving up cigarettes and reducing alcohol consumption, especially close to bedtime, should prove helpful.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, you’ll also want to make hearing exams a regular part of your health regimen. Contact a CENTA audiologist for more information.