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Last Gasp: Choking In The Bed

Breathlessness, Panic, Fear, a Sense of Helplessness; have you ever felt these?  When the person in bed lying next to you is snoring and it sounds like they are choking in their sleep, what goes through your mind?  If you or your loved one have ever experienced something like this, you may not know it, but the choking you hear at night could be a warning sign of a more serious problem that could lead to significant health issues, including death.   It is estimated that 80% of all sleep apnea cases go undiagnosed.

Choking in the bed is your body talking to you, but are you listening?

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that, left untreated, could lead to:

  • 4 times increased risk of Cancer
  • Increased risk of Stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Higher rate of death due to Heart Disease
  • Heart Attack
  • Diabetes causing impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance
  • Impaired concentration
  • Falling asleep at work or behind the wheel of your car
  • Mood changes
  • Increased risk of being involved in a deadly motor vehicle accident
  • Gastric Reflux (GERD)

Sleep apnea is not just a mild to moderate nuisance that can be endured or will just go away over time.  (Actually, it gets worse with age, not better.)  It is a warning sign that your body is telling you that you need to take action.

What Causes Sleep Apnea And Why Is It Important To Me?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says, “The brain responds to the lack of oxygen (produced by a blockage in your airway) by alerting the body, causing a brief arousal from sleep that restores normal breathing. This pattern can occur hundreds of times in one night…

Most people with OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) snore loudly and frequently, with periods of silence when airflow is reduced or blocked. They then make choking, snorting or gasping sounds when their airway reopens.”

This pattern results in broken sleep, fatigue, restlessness and next-day loss of focus.  But it may also lead to more serious consequences as noted above.

Who’s At Risk?

OSA can occur in any age group, but prevalence increases between middle and older age.  Those most at risk include:

  • Loud Snorers
  • People who are overweight (Body Mass Index of 25 to 29.9) and obese (Body Mass Index of 30 and above)
  • Men and women with large neck sizes: 17 inches or more for men, 16 inches or more for women
  • Middle-aged and older men, and post-menopausal women
  • Ethnic minorities
  • People with abnormalities of the bony and soft tissue structure of the head and neck
  • Adults and children with Down Syndrome
  • Children with large tonsils and adenoids
  • Anyone who has a family member with OSA
  • People with endocrine disorders such as Acromegaly and Hypothyroidism
  • Smokers
  • Those suffering from nocturnal nasal congestion due to abnormal morphology, rhinitis or both
  • People that gag easily, especially at the Dental Office
  • Those diagnosed with High Blood Pressure
  • People with Type II Diabetes

If you belong in any one of these groups, ask yourself, How many times have you had episodes where you’ve awaken in the middle of the night gasping for air, reaching for a pillow, water, anything to make you breathe?  It may be more than just a one-time thing or something to shrug off.  And how about the fear and frustration of a partner sleeping with you whom you wake up from your breathless attack?

It’s one thing to suffer sleep apnea on your own.  It’s another to watch a loved one suffer alongside you when you are trying to sleep.

What Can I Do?

Fortunately there is treatment for sleep apnea.  It must first be diagnosed by having a “Sleep Study”.  This can be done at a sleep center or lab during an overnight sleep study, sometimes referred to as a “polysomnogram,” or in the comfort of your own home, called a “Home Sleep Study,” (HST).  At the Dr. Jonathan Greenburg, Snore No More Treatment Centers, we use both types for our patients.  The sleep study charts vital signs such as brain waves, heart beat and breathing.

After diagnosis, suitable treatments may include:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP):

High success rate, especially for Severe Sleep Apnea but difficult to tolerate for many patients.  , CPAP introduces a steady stream of pressurized air to patients through a mask that they wear while asleep to keep the airway open.

Oral appliances:

Good for mild to moderate cases.  Oral appliances look like sports mouth guards and help maintain an open and unobstructed airway.   Zyppah’s mouthpiece provides double protection by advancing the jaw as well as stabilizing the tongue.


Surgery is a treatment option for OSA when treatments such as CPAP and oral appliances are unsuccessful.

Other options include behavioral changes, over-the-counter remedies and position therapy.  It is essential to have a sleep study done after treatment if you had surgery or an oral appliance.  The lack of snoring does not mean the treatment was successful.

 At Zyppah, we take your health seriously.  If you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea, go see a doctor and get diagnosed.  Uncontrolled choking or waking up at night gasping for air is not something to be ignored.  Take it seriously.  Get it checked out.

1American Academy of Sleep Medicine


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