Sleep Apnea

Sometimes, loud snoring may be indicative of more serious problems. In fact, snores often signal that something may already be wrong with a person’s breathing.

The snoring may be caused by a sleep disorder known as sleep apnea, in which the breathing of a person while in deep sleep unconsciously gets very shallow or even stops for a few seconds. Characterized by short stops in one’s regular breathing, a person who suffers from sleep apnea could experience these breathing incidents up to 400 times each night.

Almost 12 million Americans experience sleep apnea, a condition more common among adults. It is rarely seen in children and is more prevalent in men, especially those who are extremely overweight.

Three types of Sleep Apnea
There are three known existing types of observed sleep apnea which are classified based on the cause of the temporary interruption of breathing.

Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common among the three. This obstructive apnea occurs when something blocks the trachea, the airway from the mouth to the lungs, cutting off the supply of oxygen in the blood. The blockage could typically be the tongue, the tonsil, the uvula, or a clump of fatty tissues big enough to block the air’s pathway. The upper airways will become obstructed when these muscles relax when the patient goes to sleep.

Central sleep apnea. This is a more complicated form of sleep apnea. This problem is connected with activity of the brain’s central nervous system. With this condition, the muscles responsible for the body’s unconscious breathing do not receive the proper signals from the brain. Thus, in that brief moment, those particular muscles do not work properly to deliver much needed oxygen for the body.

Complex sleep apnea/mixed apnea. Complex sleep apnea is resultant of a combination of both types of sleep apnea. People long suffering from obstructive sleep apnea may develop symptoms of central sleep apnea. The exact mechanism of the and causes of this type of apnea are still being researched.

It is important for those who have sleep apnea to fully understand the seriousness of their condition and to be familiar with its probable consequences. Sleep apnea has no actual physical and visible symptoms that can be easily observed.

However, signs such as heavy snoring, long pauses of breathing, and numerous abrupt awakening in one’s sleep are tell-tale implications that a person is suffering from sleep apnea.

Other indicative signs include irritability, constant fatigue, morning headaches, and forgetfulness.

Commonly a hereditary condition, the likelihood of experiencing sleep apnea is generally higher depending on one’s genes or body structure. If your family has a history of this particular sleep disorder, you or your family members may be expected to have this disorder as well.

Sleep apnea is actually very difficult to diagnose since it only manifests during sleep. More often than not, it is not the patient who first notices their condition, but someone that sleeps close to them who can observe the patient sleeping. Fortunately, there are now available tests and examinations that could make a proper sleep apnea diagnosis.

Although having sleep apnea appears to be quite harmless, it does pose a huge threat to one’s health. Possible health risks include high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and stroke.

Because of the disrupted sleeping patterns caused by sleep apnea, it could also cause drowsiness and fatigue. This is dangerous especially to those who drive, potentially causing life-threatening accidents.

Treatment for sleep apnea may be administered through either surgical or non-surgical processes. Both are effective, and implementation depends on the severity of the patient’s case.

Surgeries such as nasal surgery, genioglossus advancement, palate implants, and tongue reduction surgery could help decrease or even fix whatever causes the blockage in one’s airways. However, these types of medical procedures are costly and often present more risks.

If surgery is not an affordable option, patients may try the non-surgical treatments. One example of this is a simple change in one’s lifestyle, such as changing one’s sleeping position to lessen the chances of blocked airways.

Another example would be regulating the amount of one’s food intake and making healthy food choices, together with exercising, especially for those who are heaver in weight. Weight loss may help the patient decrease fats that have accumulated and surrounded the trachea.

More importantly, patients can try to use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines that give off mild pressure, which ensure an uninterrupted path of air to the lungs for immediate relief. The positive airflow delivered through the CPAP apparatus keeps the upper airways open with air pressure, therefore preventing the obstruction and mitigating the pauses in breathing.

Sleep apnea should not be ignored. If you suspect that you have this problem, consult with your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Your lungs (and whoever sleeps next to you) will thank you.