What is Sleep Apnea ?

Sleep Apnea Risks and Symptoms

sleep ApneaThere are three types of sleep apnea—obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and mixed apnea, which is a combination of the other two. If left untreated, the person who suffers from any form of this sleeping disorder may risk other severe health issues, such as weight gain, heart disease, memory issues and high blood pressure.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The most common form of this disorder is obstructive sleep apnea. The throat muscles relax, preventing the sufferer from breathing properly while sleeping. As the muscles relax, the airway shuts down and prevents breathing, which lowers the level of blood oxygen.

The person who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea often briefly awakens in order to open his airway. Many people don’t remember awakening. Some people with obstructive sleep apnea have choking or gasping snores throughout the night.

There are some risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. However, the existence or absence of any of the ones listed below is inconclusive:

  • Being overweight
  • Neck circumference of more than 17-1/2 inches
  • Hypertension
  • Narrow throat or airway (may be caused by enlarged tonsils)
  • Being a male
  • Aging
  • Alcohol or sedative use
  • Being a smoker

Central Sleep Apnea

Another form of the disorder is when the brain doesn’t send the correct signals to the muscles that control the person’s breathing. People with central sleep apnea, a less common form of the sleep disorder, are sometimes short of breath when they wake up.

The risk factors for central sleep apnea may or may not be present. These factors are only a guide:

  • Being a male
  • Heart condition such as congestive heart failure or atrial fibrillation
  • Brain tumor or history of stroke

Mixed Sleep Apnea

Mixed sleep apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea, is the combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. Their airway is obstructed, and they have breathing rhythm issues.

Risk factors for mixed sleep apnea are the same as those for central sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms may include the following:

  • Sleepy during the day
  • Snoring that is disruptive and loud
  • Obvious lapses in breathing while sleeping
  • A dry mouth or sore throat when waking
  • Headache upon waking
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Depression or despondency

Sleep Tests

Sleep specialists are likely to order one or more of the following sleep tests:

  • Nocturnal Polysomnography—monitors the lungs, heart, brain, arm and leg movement, breathing and oxygen levels while sleeping.
  • Portable Cardiorespiratory Test—more basic test to measure the flow of air and breathing patters, and it can be done at home.
  • Oximetry—monitors the blood oxygen level while the patient is sleeping.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Most people will find relief with the most common treatments for sleep apnea:

  • CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)—a machine that delivers air through a mask while the person sleeps.
  • Adjustable Airway Pressure Device—another device that can help deliver air while sleeping, often used if the person has trouble with the CPAP.
  • Oral Appliance—a device that is worn in the mouth to pull the chin forward and open the airway while sleeping.
  • Surgery—to remove the excess loose tissue that is vibrating and blocking the air passages.
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Stop snoring

How to Stop Snoring at night 

how to stop snoringThe risks of smoking include the development of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Reduced airflow into the lungs strains the heart and vascular system, overburdening it over time. It is also worrisome because the sleeping sufferer is often unaware how serious his snoring is or that it keeps disrupting his sleep. Disrupted and decreased quality of sleep due to sleep apnea or other reasons can also increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents by up to 8 percent.

Treatments for Snoring

Family doctors can assess risk factors for snoring and sleep apneas and may recommend treatment at a sleep clinic. There are a number of treatments including positive life style changes to medical devices and minor surgery.

Lifestyle changes to reduce or eliminate sleep apnea

Your doctor may recommend the following lifestyle changes that can help manage sleep apnea:

  • Lose weight: Obesity is a risk factor for snoring and sleep apnea. A doctor can recommend a safe and balanced plan to reach a healthy weight.
  • Exercise: An active lifestyle not only helps maintain a healthy body weight, it’ll lead to more restful sleep. Exercise, particularly walking, jogging, running and hiking improve sleep quality. Just remember to avoid strenuous exercise at least three hours before sleeping.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking and second-hand smoke make symptoms worse because of throat irritation and coughing at night, leading to snoring.
  • Good Sleep Hygiene: Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day helps to promote restful cycles of sleep. And prevents overtiredness from a lack of sleep, which can worsen snoring and apnea symptoms.
  • Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills: Alcohol and certain medications such as sleep aids and some pain medications, can make throat muscles relax more than usual leading to narrowing and obstructions. They may also make it more difficult for your brain to wake you up when this happens, causing longer, more serious pauses in breathing. Overtime this can lead to serious damage to the body.
  • Sleep on your side: Medical research shows that sleeping on your back allows gravity to further narrow your airways increasing the risk of snoring and sleep apnea.
  • In more serious cases, Sleep Disorders clinics can assess the severity and causes of your sleep apnea, at home or in in-clinic observations and tests. Treatments include breathing devices such as CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) equipment. This device is a filter air blower that intakes regular room air and funnels it into a mask at a pressure determined by your doctor. The mask is worn over the nose and altered pressure opens the air passages decreasing sleep apnea.

Other treatments include a dental device that is worn while sleeping to dilate the airways, holding the lower jaw and tongue forward. Radio wave treatments are used to shrink tissue in the throat or tongue and surgeries involve reducing the soft tissues in the nose, uvula, and palate (roof of mouth) or the bony tissues in the back of the throat to reduce the risk of blockages.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks before opting for surgery. If surgery is recommended ask for a referral to a specialist with experience in doing surgery for sleep apnea. It is usually best to try other less invasive treatments before deciding that surgery is the best option.