Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which is caused due to interrupted breathing patterns. This happens because the respiratory airways get blocked and the tongue rolls back into the airway causing the throat muscles to collapse. People suffering from sleep apnea stop breathing frequently during their sleep, sometimes even hundreds of times. This means that the brain and the rest of the body’s oxygen supply are hindered repeatedly.
As a result, you experience daytime sleepiness, slow reflexes, poor concentration, irritability, moodiness, depression and an increased risk of accidents. In addition, it results in other serious health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, liver problems, and weight gain.
- Excess weight: People suffering from obesity are at a higher risk of sleep apnea. Deposits of fat around the upper airway obstruct breathing.
- Neck circumference: People with thicker necks or a larger neck circumference have narrower airways which obstruct breathing.
- A narrowed airway: Some people naturally or genetically have a narrow throat. As a result, breathing becomes difficult and interrupted. This phenomenon is common in children.
- Being male: Men are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea than women.
- Family history: Having a family history of sleep apnea increases your risk of developing it.
- Smoking: Smokers are three times more prone to develop obstructive sleep apnea than people who’ve never smoked. Smoking increases the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
- Heart disorders: Having congestive heart failure increases the risk of developing sleep apnea.
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obtrusive sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder in which breathing is momentarily and frequently interrupted during sleep. It occurs when the muscles supporting the uvula, the tonsils, and the throat relax. When these muscles relax, your airway narrows as you breathe. As a result, you don’t get the required amount of air and the blood oxygen level drops dramatically. Your brain senses this inadequacy and briefly rouses you from sleep so that you can reopen your airway and breathe, causing you to snort or gasp. This pattern repeats itself 20-30 times every hour, all night, hampering your ability to experience a night of deep sleep.
2. Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea and occurs when your brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles. This means that you may not breathe at all for a short period. As a result, you might awaken with shortness of breath.
3. Complex Sleep Apnea
Complex sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
If lifestyle changes and self-help strategies have not been able to cure your sleep apnea, it’s time for you to find a doctor who can help you with your condition. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will choose any one of the below-mentioned treatment options.
1. Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP)
Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) is the most commonly used treatment option to treat moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. It involves the use of a CPAP mask-like machine that is worn over your nose and mouth to provide a constant stream of air that keeps your breathing passages open while you sleep.
2. Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure (EPAP)
Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP) is another device used for sleep apnea treatment. EPAP is a single-use device, which fits over your nostrils to keep the airway open while sleeping. It is less invasive or intrusive than CPAP and treats mild to moderate forms of obtrusive sleep apnea.
3. Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP or BPAP)
Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) are devices used to treat people who cannot adapt to using CPAP or EPAP devices. BPAP treats central sleep apnea by automatically increasing the pressure while inhaling and decreasing it while exhaling. BPAP devices are also capable of detecting whether you are breathing or not. If you have not taken a breath for a number of seconds, your BPAP device will deliver a breath automatically.
4. Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV)
Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) devices are used to treat both obtrusive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. The ASV device controls airflow pressure to check gaps in your breathing while you’re asleep. This is made possible by storing information about your normal breathing pattern on the device.
5. Dental Devices
Dental devices like mandibular repositioning devices and tongue retaining devices are used to treat mild to moderate forms of sleep apnea. They are made of acrylic and fit snugly in your mouth, like mouthguards, and bring your lower jaw or your tongue forward during sleep to keep the airway open while you sleep.
6. Sleep Apnea Implants
Sleep apnea implants involve the installation of a pacemaker system that spurs muscles to keep the airways open while you are asleep. They are able to treat moderate to severe forms of obstructive sleep apnea.
Surgery is the last option to treat sleep apnea when you have exhausted all other treatment options. A surgical procedure is used to increase the size of your airway to ensure a healthy breathing pattern while you are asleep. Your surgeon may also remove extra tissue, tonsils, or adenoids from throat or nose and reconstruct the jaw to expand the upper airway.
Sleep apnea is characterized by its most common symptom, snoring. Some other common symptoms related to sleep apnea are:
- Sleepiness during the day due to continuously interrupted sleep at night.
- Extreme restlessness during sleep or insomnia.
- Difficulty in concentrating and increased forgetfulness due to fatigue.
- Irritability and morning headaches.
- Waking up several times while sleeping due to shortness of breath.
- Loud and chronic snoring.
- Choking, snorting, or gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Waking up multiple times for frequent urination
- Heartburn, decreased libido, and erectile dysfunction.
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