What is Sleep Apnea?
According to the National Sleep Foundation research, about 18 million of adults are not getting enough sleep because of sleep apnea. In the middle of every night, do you suddenly wake up choking and gasping for air? It can not be due to a nightmare every night. You definitely need to look into the matter as you might be suffering from a sleep disorder known as Sleep Apnea.
In the night, does your snoring often make your partner wake up? And in the mornings, are headaches and a dry mouth regular occurrences? As soon as you experience these symptoms, its time to see a doctor, you may be suffering from this sleeping disorder!
The word “apnea” is a Greek word, it’s meaning, “want of breath”. Sleep Apnea is a disorder that causes disruption of breathing during sleep. Your breathing either becomes slow or stops completely during sleep. The frequency of disruption can range up to 20 times in an hour. The duration of disruption can last up to 20 seconds, bringing you close to death.
It devastates your sleeping routine. It also affects your body. There are three categories of it. All three are equally lethal.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This is a widely prevalent type of sleep apnea. It’s caused when your airway gets obstructed due to relaxation of the muscles of the soft palate around the base of tongue. When the airway gets obstructed, it lowers the level of oxygen in the blood and leads to a condition known as hypoxia. It also elevates the blood pressure and increases stress on your heart. These conditions prevent the patient from entering into sound sleep. This makes a person suffer from lack of quality sleep. A person suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea snores in the night and wakes up choking several times and tries desperately to sleep again.
Central Sleep Apnea
This is not common. It is marked by a brain signal flaw. In Central Sleep Apnea, the brain’s signals instructing the body to breathe get flawed. As a result of this delayed signal to breathe, throat breathing, abdominal breathing and oral breathing cease simultaneously. Though the duration of interruption lasts a few seconds, it lowers the oxygen supply to blood and tissues significantly. A person suffering from central sleep apnea experiences high blood pressure, irregular heart beat and even heart stroke.
Mixed Sleep Apnea
This is a condition characterized by a person experiencing the combination of symptoms of the two Sleep Apnea conditions— Obstructive and Central.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is highly prevalent and common in people suffering from this disorder. Let’s look deep into the symptoms, causes and treatments required for Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Sleep Apnea Causes
One of the most well-known sleep disorders, sleep apnea is a fairly common condition. Marked by interruptions in breathing during sleep, sleep apnea causes the person suffering from this condition to wake up, or partially wake, several times during the night. Because of the frequency of these interruptions in breathing, a person with this disorder will have trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, causing them to feel the effects of sleep deprivation during their waking hours.
There can be several causes that lead to the obstruction of your airway passage during sleep, leading to Obstructive Sleep Apnea. One of the major reasons is that your throat muscles and tongue relax and shrink excessively than normal.
Two types of sleep apnea have been diagnosed: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. OSA is caused by the soft palate becoming so relaxed that it actually blocks off the breathing passageway, while central sleep apnea is caused by the brain relaxing to the point that it does not remind the body to breathe. While both types can cause interruptions to breathing on their own, most people with sleep apnea actually have mixed apnea, which is a combination of both forms.
Sleep apnea is sometimes difficult to diagnose, simply because it only strikes while the person is asleep and won’t notice that it is happening. Because most people with this disorder awake only partially – not fully – so they do not actually notice that they have had their sleep cycle interrupted. Thus, if someone wants to determine if they have sleep apnea, they will have to look for the symptoms.
If you are overweight, the soft tissue in your throat can become stiff and enlarged and causes obstruction in the airway passage. The other reasons could be increased size of your adenoids and tonsils, which further contribute in the disruption of flow of air.
Undetected sleep apnea may increase your risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke, as well as diabetes and work-related and driving accidents. Sleep apnea can also cause brain damage and result in shorter life span.
List of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Symptoms
The common symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea are choking and gasping for air several times in the night. Snoring loudly is also among a number of symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you suffer from this, you would experience sleepiness during the daytime as well. You would not be able to concentrate and would suffer from dry throat and headache in the mornings. Among other symptoms are rapid weight gain, lethargy, high blood pressure, and lack of concentration and even depression.
Another most common sleep apnea symptom is excessive sleepiness upon waking. Because the sleep cycle is being interrupted, the person is not refreshed during the night and will wake up feeling lethargic, fatigued, or even feel like they need to go back to bed for another round of sleep. Also, people with this disorder almost always snore; often very loudly. However, a person does not necessarily have to show these symptoms to have sleep apnea. In fact, a bed partner may be the only person to notice the interruptions in breathing during the night.
List of Symptoms:
- Restless tossing and turning during sleep
- Nighttime choking
- Nighttime sweating
- Mild to severe chest pain
- Waking tired after sleep
- Having problems with memory and concentration
- Feeling irritable and nervous
- Experiencing personality changes
- Morning headaches
- Swelling of the legs
- A feeling of exhaustion
- Heavy snoring
- The inability to concentrate
- Heavy snoring during sleep and waking up short of breath or
- In extreme cases possibly even gasping for air
- Pauses between breaths
Obstructive sleep apnea may cause the sufferer to awaken as the muscles and tissue in the throat completely block the air passage and forces them from their sleep due to a lack of air.
Sleep Apnea Treatments
There are many treatments available for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The common ones are losing weight, avoiding alcohol consumption during the evening and sleeping on your side. Medical treatments include Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and Oxygen Administration. Surgeries are also performed and tracheostomy is a surgery used in treatment of severe Sleep Apnea conditions.
If you feel you are displaying symptoms of this, then you should visit your doctor immediately for sleep apnea test and formal diagnosis.
Additionally, people with this condition are often overweight to obese, so treatment usually involves helping people to lose weight. Treatment can also include eliminating alcohol or other substances that help people relax, quitting smoking, using special pillows or other appliances that help keep the airways open, or even special apparatus that uses air pressure to keep the airways open. This last form of treatment, continuous pressure airway pressure (CPAP), uses a breathing mask to pressurize the airways and inflate them, almost like a balloon. Though this form of treatment is more than a little disconcerting at first, they quickly get used to the mask and find that they feel much more alert in the morning.
It is very difficult for a person to self-diagnose but, once the problem is found, there are treatments available. But for people who are overweight and have large necks, smoke, use sedatives or muscle relaxers, or just drink too much alcohol, lifestyle changes would be the best place to start either keeping this away or treating it before it becomes a major health concern. After all, not breathing is a problem whenever it happens. So by treating sleep apnea now, sufferers can keep performing the one act they need to perform every day and every night.
Medical and surgical treatment options available to treat sleep apnea
Few drug-based treatments of obstructive sleep apnea are known despite over two decades of research and tests.
Oral administration of the methylxanthine theophylline (chemically similar to caffeine) can reduce the number of episodes of apnea, but can also produce side effects such as palpitations and insomnia. Theophylline is generally ineffective in adults with OSA, but is sometimes used to treat Central Sleep Apnea, and infants and children with apnea.
In earlier years, some neuroactive drugs, particularly a couple of the modern-generation antidepressants including mirtazapine, have been reported to reduce incidences of obstructive sleep apnea. As of 2004, these are not yet frequently prescribed for OSA sufferers.
When other treatments do not completely treat the OSA, drugs are sometimes prescribed to treat a patient’s daytime sleepiness or somnolence. These range from stimulants such as amphetamines to modern anti-narcoleptic medicines.
In some cases, weight loss will reduce the number and severity of apnea episodes, but for most patients overweight is an aggravating factor rather than the cause of OSA. In the morbidly obese a major loss of weight, such as occurs after bariatric surgery, can sometimes cure the condition.
Many researchers believe that OSA is a neurological condition, in which nerves that control the tongue and soft palate fail to sufficiently stimulate those muscles, leading to over-relaxation and airway blockage.
A few experiments and trial studies have explored the use of pacemakers and similar devices, programmed to detect breathing effort and deliver gentle electrical stimulation to the muscles of the tongue. This is not a common mode of treatment for OSA patients, but it is an active field of research.
A number of different surgeries are often tried to improve the size or tone of the patient’s airway. For decades, tracheostomy was the only effective treatment for sleep apnea. It is used today only in very rare, intractable cases that have withstood other attempts at treatment.
Modern treatments try one or more of several options, tailored to the patient’s needs. Often the long term success rate is low, prompting many doctors to favor CPAP as the treatment of choice.
- Nasal surgery, including turbinectomy (removal or reduction of a nasal turbinate), or straightening of the nasal septum, in patients with nasal obstruction or congestion which reduces airway pressure and complicates OSA.
- Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy in an attempt to increase the size of the airway.
- Removal or reduction of parts of the soft palate and some or all of the uvula, such as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty or laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty. Variations of this procedure sometimes use radio frequency waves to heat and remove tissue.
- Reduction of the tongue base, either with laser excision or radio frequency ablation.
- Genioglossus Advancement, in which a small portion of the lower jaw which attaches to the tongue is moved forward, to pull the tongue away from the back of the airway.
- Hyoid Suspension, in which the hyoid bone in the neck, another attachment point for tongue muscles, is pulled forward in front of the larynx.
- Maxillomandibular advancement. A more invasive surgery usually only tried in difficult cases where other surgeries have not relieved the patient’s OSA, or where an abnormal facial structure is suspected as a root cause.
In MMA, the patient’s upper and lower jaw are detached from the skull, moved forward, and re attached with pins and/or plates.
Pillar procedure, three small inserts are injected into the soft palate to offer support, reducing snoring and sleep apnea.
The type of surgery is necessary for you will depend on the severity of your sleep apnea. Explore all the possibilities with your doctor.
How To Prevent Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea doesn’t have to control your life. In fact, there are steps that you can take today in order to prevent sleep apnea from invading your night’s and ruining your days.
In order to prevent sleep apnea, you must first understand the disorder and what causes it. This is a disorder that causes the sufferer to stop breathing on multiple occasions throughout the night. When this happens, the muscles and tissue in the throat are relaxing and causing a block in the airway. The results, which are often symptoms, including heavy snoring, pauses in breathing and waking up short of breath or, in extreme cases, even gasping for air. At first, the sufferer may not realize what happened, but soon will begin to realize a pattern and feelings of fatigue, irritability and lack of concentration during the day. If left untreated, sleep apnea may lead to heart problems, a greater likelihood of a stroke or other serious medical condition.
While all of these things sound very intimidating, the good news is that there are ways to prevent sleep apnea and even control it if already present.
Among the ways to prevent sleep apnea are:
- To sleep on your side instead of your back
- Lose weight if you are overweight or have been diagnosed with obesity
- Elevate your head using two standard pillows instead of just one
- Give up cigarettes and alcohol
- Rid your home of allergens
These are the simplest ways to prevent sleep apnea but, if these prove unsuccessful, a more aggressive approach may be required.
After all treatment methods have been exhausted, including the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, a physician may recommend surgery. Before electing for this treatment, however, the patient needs to understand all of the risks associated with any surgical procedure. Many people find success with the CPAP device because it provides pressurized air to prevent the collapse of the throat muscle and tissue during the night. The patient must sleep with their mouth closed to avoid losing the effects of the CPAP. Many users find additional comfort with a product known as the Sleep Genie, which is designed to support the jaw while keeping the mouth closed during sleep. While not intended to prevent sleep apnea, or cure it, the Sleep Genie often provides better quality sleep for sufferers.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as, or in place of, professional medical advice. Before beginning any treatment for snoring, please consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and remedy.