Sleep Apnea: Basic Overview

Every night, millions of people all over the world are having trouble staying asleep. Having a sleeping disorder can become a serious problem. It is nearly impossible to maintain a healthy and happy lifestylewhen you are not getting the sleep your body requires. Sleep Apnea is one of the most common sleeping disorders affecting people today, but many of the victims that suffer from it have not been diagnosed and are not treating the problem.

What Exactly is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a serious medical condition that occurs when a person stops breathing while they are asleep. The respiratory functions that supply oxygen to the body are interrupted, and an apnea occurs when the patient stops breathing. People who suffer from sleep apnea repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night, and some people experience hundreds of apneas a night.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

There are three different kinds of sleep apnea; Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA), and Complex Sleep Apnea (CompSA). Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea are caused by two very different problems, and Complex Sleep Apnea is caused by having both OSA and CSA.

  • Cause of OSA: Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common form of apnea. OSA occurs when inspiration is slowed or stopped due to a physical obstruction of the upper airway. The upper airway of the body is made up of soft, collapsible tissues and muscles. When the muscles become too relaxed, they fall loose and narrow the size of the airway. People with loose muscle tone in the throat and neck, excess weight around their neck, or a narrow airway are more likely to develop OSA.
  • Cause of CSA: If OSA is caused by the body, Central Sleep Apnea is caused by the brain. People who suffer from CSA experience malfunctions in the respiratory centers in the brain. The respiratory centers of the brain monitor carbon dioxide and blood levels in the body to maintain an even, healthy respiratory rate. When these centers of the brain do not respond to changes in blood and carbon dioxide levels, the respiratory system does not respond to the imbalance and CSA occurs.

How Can I Identify Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is a tricky problem; it is difficult to notice some of the symptoms yourself. Because apneas occur during sleep, many symptoms of the disorder are only noticed by others. Many of the people with undiagnosed apnea live alone and are not aware of their suffering.

  1. Snoring: Snoring is probably the most common symptom of OSA. When the muscles in the throat relax too much, they sometimes touch each other. The friction caused by airflow being forced through the touching tissues causes an audible vibration- snoring. Snoring can be a huge help in identifying sleep apnea, but it is such a common problem that many people ignore it as a sign.
  2. Daytime Sleepiness: When the body is deprived of oxygen, the respiratory system works harder to support breath functions. People who suffer from Sleep Apnea experience frequent arousals during the night and hardly ever get a proper night of sleep, causing daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
  3. Wake up Choking or Gasping for Air: If you wake up gasping for air in the middle of the night, you might have sleep apnea… Your body is fighting for a reason.
  4. Dry Mouth and Throat in the Morning: In an effort to combat apneas, many victims sleep with their mouths open hoping to increase the size of the airway.
  5. Other Common Symptoms Include:
  • Restless Sleep/Shifting Positions
  • Morning Headaches
  • Night Sweats
  • Lack of Focus
  • Moodiness
  • Frequent Need to Nap During the Day

What Kind of People Get Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Apnea is common among the general population. Recent studies show that about 40 million American people suffer from some form of sleep apnea; that is one in five American people. There are a few factors, however, that can contribute to the likelihood of developing the disorder.

  • Sex: Members of both sexes experience sleep apnea, but men are more likely to develop the disease. Women who are pregnant or going through menopause are at a heightened risk for experiencing apneas.
  • Weight: People who are overweight are more likely to experience OSA. Excess fatty tissue around the neck puts unnecessary weight throat, and makes the upper airway more difficult to keep open.
  • Age: People of all ages suffer from sleep apnea; newborns, adolescents, and the elderly are at a greater risk of developing symptoms.
  • Travelers: If you are sleeping at a higher altitude than you are used to, it may cause you to experience difficulty breathing while asleep.
  • Brain Damage: Because the respiratory system is controlled by signals and commands from the brain, people who have incurred brain damage are more likely to experience CSA.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose sleeping disorders is to participate in a sleep study. During a sleep study, a trained medical professional can monitor your bodily functions and responses during sleep.

  • Polysomnogram: The most popular sleep study for people used for diagnosing Sleep Apnea is the Polysomnogram. This test analyzes various functions in the body: electrical activity in the brain, muscle activity, heart rate, eye movements, air flow, breathing patterns, and blood oxygen levels. This test allows medical professionals to identify the conditions and severity of each individual apnea case.
  • Multiple Sleep Latency Test: Sometimes, a Multiple Sleep Latency test is used after an overnight Polysomnogram. The MSLT measures the speed at which the patient falls asleep.

How is Sleep Apnea Treated?

Although there is no cure for Sleep Apnea, the disorder can be managed through treatment and therapy. There are many different treatment options available, and it is important to thoroughly discuss your options with your doctor to find the treatment plan that’s right for you.

  • CPAP: Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, CPAP, is the most common and effective form of treatment available for people who suffer from OSA. The patient wears a facial mask that is attached to a machine that produces a pressurized airflow through a tube. The machine produces an oxygen-rich steady stream of air that pushes through the airway during sleep. There is enough pressure in the airflow to keep the airway open and free of obstruction.
  • Mouthpiece: Many patients who suffer from mild cases of OSA use a mouthpiece during sleep. It adjusts the lower jaw so that the tongue is less likely to fall back into the throat and block the airway.
  • Surgery: Surgery is one of the more extreme treatments for Sleep Apnea. Somnoplasties, Tonsillectomies, Uvulopalatopharyngoplasties, Mandibular Advancement surgeries, and nasal surgeries are popular options among patients who choose surgery. It is important to know that surgery is not a full-proof solution. In some cases, surgery can worsen an apnea case.
  • Lifestyle Changes: In mild cases of Sleep Apnea, a few small changes in your lifestyle may make all the difference. Losing weight, stopping smoking, eating healthy, and avoiding sedative medications may help reduce the symptoms of mild apnea cases.

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