Sleep apnea is a condition wherein, the patient is unable to breathe normally during sleep. This produces various symptoms during sleep and wakefulness. Also, the symptoms vary for both adults and children and for the different types of sleep apnea. The commonest (more than 80 % of sleep apnea) is the obstructive type.
Symptoms in obstructive sleep apnea
Adults: the most obvious symptoms are visible to observers of the sleeping patient. The patient misses breaths for spans of 10 seconds or more. The numbers of breaths that are missed vary from 5 times per hour in mild obstructive sleep apnea to more than 50 times per hour in severe cases. In addition, the person may have deep and loud snoring. Here it must be emphasized that, not all cases of snoring are attributable to obstructive sleep apnea, but the vast majority of patients with this condition do also snore. Another symptom that is obvious to the observer is restlessness or tossing and turning of the patient during sleep. Additionally, the patient may have gasping or choking during sleep.
During the waking hours there are various symptoms that can sometimes be very obvious but may also be subtle and might mimic psychological or psychiatric conditions. The commonest symptom is drowsiness during the daytime, due to disturbed sleep. Other changes that may be visible are lack of concentration at work and a feeling of not having been refreshed during the night. Others may show personality changes like increased irritability and bad temper. The underlying cause in all these cases is poor or disturbed sleep during the night time. Many people with sleep apnea also complain about having headaches. Headaches in conjunction with other related symptoms may indicate obstructive sleep apnea. Headaches typically occur at night or early morning. Other patients report having chest pain and sweating during sleep. This symptom thus might mimic a heart disorder or angina (heart pain resulting from poor blood flow to the heart). The patient may also have swelling of the legs due to edema or fluid collection around the feet. Another commonly reported symptom is getting up frequently during the night to urinate. This is called nocturia and results from disturbed sleep. Other symptoms include those that result from complications of long term sleep apnea like right heart failure, or cor pulmonale. These include chest pain and coughing.
In children: The symptoms in children can often be masked by the inability of kids to properly describe their problems. This is especially true of young children, less than 3 years in age. Most children with sleep apnea have poor or delayed growth. Younger children may show delayed milestones. In children below 5 years old the symptoms include snoring, breathing through the mouth and sweating during sleep. Other children might get up frequently during the night. This is an important symptom and might be the only visible clue to sleep apnea. Older children might show lack of attention in school or drowsiness in the morning.