Sleep Disorder: Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep Disorder: Understanding Sleep Apnea

Out of the many types of sleep disorders, Sleep Apnea is one of the severest. Untreated or chronic sleep apnea can trigger lack of oxygen in the body and result in liver problems, heart problems and even Type 2 diabetes in the patients. Sleep apnea can occur in kids as well as adults and the worst about it is that in most cases the patient doesn’t even recall facing any difficulty.

  • Overview
  • Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Treatment
  • Living

How does sleep apnea pose a health threat?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the person experiences repeated breaks in his breathing pattern, which could extend up to several seconds and multiple times in an hour. This causes a lack of sufficient oxygen supply in the body that easily ushers in a number of diseases and other conditions.

People who snore loudly are mostly at risk of developing sleep apnea – because one can easily miss the early signs, there can often be a delay in seeking medical help.

In the case of sleep apnea, the breathing pattern gets broken abruptly several times during the night. The pause in the breathing rhythm continues till the brain kicks in. This resumes the breathing and the affected person seldom realizes this.

However, due to this repeated ‘break and resume’ breathing activity, the person isn’t able to enjoy sound sleep – for most part of the night, he/she may only experience light sleep. This results in the next day being very tiresome for the person and he/she may often feel fatigued, drowsy, and unable to concentrate on the tasks at hand. These, besides the risk of developing health issues such as the ones mentioned above.

Types of sleep apnea

Doctors classify sleep apnea into the below three types:

In the case of central sleep apnea, the brain doesn’t hint the muscles to resume the breathing after it has paused. This type is often associated with serious illness affecting the lower brainstem that controls our breathing activities. People who are at risk of central sleep apnea include hypothyroid, congestive heart failure and kidney failure patients, among others.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the commonest type of sleep apnea in which the upper airway gets blocked, due to the relaxation of the throat muscles, while the person is asleep. This prevents the oxygen supply in the body triggering heart ailments, hypertension, etc. The person typically is able to resume his breathing pattern, after the lapse, on his own. A snort or loud gasp usually accompanies the resume. Most of the time, the person doesn’t even realize this during his sleep.

Complex sleep apnea is often also called mixed sleep apnea due to the presence of symptoms occurring in both the above types. A person suffering from complex sleep apnea initially experiences the obstructive sleep apnea-like signs. However, even after treatment, the breathing may not be regulated and this can happen several times every hour during the night. In most cases, the cause of complex sleep apnea is not known.

What are the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea?

Although segregated into the different types, the symptoms may often overlap. This includes:

  • Loud snoring
  • Breathing is often paused during the night
  • Inability to wake up fresh
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks
  • Headache and dry mouth

Although snoring is common for all the sleep apnea types, sleep apnea may even affect people who o not snore. Therefore, the break in the breathing pattern while asleep is usually the main thread that doctors follow while diagnosing this disorder.

What causes sleep apnea?

The cause of obstructive sleep apnea is usually the relaxation of the throat muscles that include the soft palate, the tonsils, the side walls of the throat, the tongue, etc. this narrows the airway causing the person to choke or gasp for breath. The breathing resumes as soon as the brain signals the activity to be resumed. This continues throughout the night but because it happens so subtly, the person may not even remember it.

The cause of central sleep apnea is the brain’s inability to signal the resumption of the breathing pattern. This prompts the person to wake up with a jerk to be able to continue breathing. Because this act is so forceful, the person may completely wake up from his sleep and find it difficult to fall asleep again.

What increases the risk of developing sleep apnea?

Anybody can develop this condition, irrespective of the age, gender and race type. Some of the risks include:

  • Over-weight people
  • Hereditary conditions
  • People with thick necks
  • People with heart ailments
  • Senior citizens (risks increase with age)
  • Smokers and people who do alcohol and substance abuse

How is sleep apnea diagnosed and treated?

Sleep apnea in India is easily diagnosed via home kits that monitor the snoring and sleep apnea sessions during a night, the heart and pulse rate, the oxygen levels in the blood, nasal congestion, and others. In case of a complication, the doctor may get you hospitalized to be able to perform this test in a better controlled environment.

To treat sleep apnea, your doctor may treat an underlying throat or nasal allergy that may be preventing the airflow. Other than this, there are a host of machines and simple devices that aid in air pressure supply while the patient is asleep. These are mask-like devices that the patient has to wear while sleeping. These machines may be somewhat uncomfortable in the beginning; however, the effects are impressive.

Lifestyle changes may also constitute a part of the sleep apnea treatment.

Coping with sleep apnea

Good eating habits and lifestyle changes prove helpful while a person is dealing with sleep apnea. This includes:

  • Regular exercises
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Maintaining an ideal weight
  • Avoiding alcohol, smoking and substance abuse
  • Taking care of nasal allergies to keep the airway clear
  • Sleeping on the sides rather than on the back
One thought on “Sleep Disorder: Understanding Sleep Apnea”
  • Retta says: November 25, 2016

    Thanks for writing such detailed article. It is always good to find a real expert like you .

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