What is Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Have you ever wondered if sleep apnea is really that dangerous? Some may feel so, but until or unless you know what it is and how it affects one, you don’t need to get worried about it.

Definition of Sleep Apnea

Like most sleep disorders, this occurs when the breathing of an individual is interrupted while sleeping. Now most people who have untreated sleep apnea will stop breathing repeatedly. This happens during their sleep hundreds of times. It means that the rest of the body and brain will not get the required oxygen.

Studies show that about 20-30 million US citizens suffer from sleep apnea. This study even suggests that sleep apnea is more common among men than women and affects about 15% of males and somewhat 10% females. In addition, even studies have displayed that certain kind of chronic health issues will increase the risk of having sleep apnea and it is quite common among older people. Even health diseases like tonsils (the enlarged ones) and diseases in other structures of the throat even lead to sleep apnea and it can develop at any stage.

Irrespective of its condition, this disease can sometimes be not diagnosed as there are various symptoms. Some of them are gasping for air, loud snoring, unlimited interruption in breathing while sleeping and you might be surprised to know that people won’t realize what is happening and know whether they suffer from sleep apnea.

Now if sleep apnea is under-diagnosed it will be a huge problem especially when untreated as it can lead to various health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and sometimes the risk of sudden death. Since this sleep disorder is often related to chronic daytime sleepiness, it is the major causes of various serious transportation and industrial accidents.

Most physiatrist feel that by correctly treating and identifying the sleep apnea, one can easily overcome it and become healthy. Of course, it is a public health problem which is common among various people, but there is a reason for why people get it and even it can be easily be controlled and cured.

What Needs to Be Done If You Have Sleep Apnea?

Sometimes you might have tried various strategies to improve your sleep, however, you might end up snoring and even wake up feeling a whole tired. In such case, it is better if you consult with your doctor. It doesn’t mean you have a dangerous disease, but consulting with the doctor will help you to realize that the sleep apnea isn’t that serious, but the major seriousness lies when people take a lot of time to consult and open up with their doctors regarding the snoring, tiredness and lack of motivation.

Types of Sleep Apnea

One thing to keep in mind is that sleep apnea is characterized by various kinds of interruption involved in breathing. However, the underlying factor that causes the interruption in the breathing is the variation. The major kinds of sleep apnea are –

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

One of the most common sleep apnea is the obstructive sleep apnea. It happens when there are certain kinds of complete or partial obstructions in the human airway. While we are sleeping, the muscles of your body get relaxed, even the ones in our throat. Most of the time, the airway always remains open for the air to enter the body while sleeping.

However, in case of the obstructive sleep apnea, it is entirely different. Here, the airway becomes quite narrow (this because of the way the person is born or other times it is due to the body weight which develops into extra fat deposits in the throat) and as you sleep, the muscles gets relaxed and the tissues at the back of your throat will block the airway. Now this airway blockage will lead to snorting, loud snoring and even sometimes gasping for air while sleeping. One thing you need to note down is that not everyone who has obstructive sleep apnea will snore and not everyone who snores will have sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea will happen when the human brain normal signalling procedure to the muscles goes awry. This is serious as it even controls the breathing of the human body and might make the breathing repeatedly stop and even to an extend shallow.

However, the central sleep apnea is different from obstructive sleep apnea which is caused due to physical blockage. Here this sleep apnea is nothing but a neurological issue. It is common for individuals who suffer from central sleep apnea to suffer from serious illness or conditions which can affect the brain stem. This brain stem is the central area of the brain that controls the breathing.

There are various health issues which are related to stroke, Parkinson’s disease, brain infection and heart failure. In addition, there are medications which can interfere with the method on how the brain sends signals to the muscles like opiods, sedatives, and benzodiazepines. All these play a major role in central sleep apnea.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

This particular sleep apnea occurs when an individual suffers from both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. Individuals suffering from this kind of sleep apnea will at first have obstructive sleep apnea and when they get treated for this sleep apnea (where a breathing machine is slowly pushes the air into the airway while sleeping with the usage of the mask that fits on the nose and mouth) and when that doesn’t improve, doctors realize that the patient is also suffering from central sleep apnea.

Factors Causing Sleep Apnea and Ones That Can Put Your Health To Risk

As you know, sleep apnea occurs when the muscles and the soft tissues present in the throat gets relaxed while sleeping and this repeated action will ultimately block your airway. Most of the time, it is either the physical structure or anatomy of the throat or the medical condition which leads to sleep apnea.

Basically, it is necessary to know and be aware of the risks which can increase the chances of getting sleep apnea. There are some which can be avoided while other like family history of suffering from sleep apnea is tough to ignore. Some of the major factors that lead to sleep apnea are –

  • Having a huge tonsils or adenoids
  • Obesity
  • Having a family history of suffering from sleep apnea
  • Having a lower jaw which is smaller or misaligned compared to upper jaw
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Heart Failure
  • Usage of medications and alcohol
  • Tumor or brain infection or any other conditions which can affect the brainstem

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

If you are really suffering from sleep apnea, or think you might have one, then check out if you are suffering from the following symptoms –

  • Having morning headaches
  • Waking up in the morning with a dry mouth
  • Feeling sleepy and exhausted in the day irrespective of having seven or more hours of sleep during the night.
  • Irritability
  • Having issues with concentration, attention and memorizing things
  • Depression
  • Having lower sexual dysfunction or sex drive
  • Suffering from excessive shortness in breath, issues with swallowing, numbness or weakness in the human body, changes in voices (these are quite common among individuals who suffer from central sleep apnea)

Besides these symptoms, your family members of partner might inform you that they have witness one or more of the below things from you –

  • Repeated pauses while breathing which is followed by
  • gasping for air and snorting
    Chronic snoring that can be quite loud.

Diagnoses by Medical Professional And Requirement Of Sleep Studies

The first step doctors take for diagnosing sleep apnea is by recording the entire medical history of the patient as well as conducting the physical examination. As soon as they get the information, the doctor will recommend for sleep study.

Sometimes, one can do the sleep study at home and in most of the cases, they are done while staying overnight at sleep disorder clinics. Sleep study is called polysomnography and it will measure and monitor various things like heart rate, blood oxygen level, the way the air flows in or out of the lungs, mouth, and nose; periods of pauses in breathing, brain waves, and all these are done to check out if you are suffering from sleep apnea.

There are chances that your physician will do various tests for seeing if you have sleep apnea related medical issues. Some of the major test which are done consists of echo cardiogram which will view the function and structure of the heart in order to evaluate the heart failure and various other issues. Doctors will even use an EKG (Electrocardiogram) for scanning the irregular heartbeats like arterial blood gases, atrial fibrillation, etc so that one can measure the oxygen levels and even the carbon dioxide in the blood.

Possible Treatments for Curing Sleep Apnea

In certain cases, one can cure and recover from sleep apnea by changing lifestyle. For managing the sleep disorder, it is recommended that –

Do exercise, eat right and lose weight

You need to make sure to fill your plate with various heart and health options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, you must do plenty of exercises and activities. By following such kind of healthy habits, you can have a healthy weight, and this is one of the major reasons why people suffer sleep apnea.

Avoid smoking

Smoking can increase the inflammation in the upper airway and even reduce the function of the airway.

Avoid medication and alcohol

It is better to avoid taking opioids, sedatives, and benzodiazepines. Also, you even need to avoid drinking alcohol especially when it is close to your bedtime. These substances will end in relaxing your muscles present at the back of your throat and will even interfere with your breathing.

Avoid sleeping on your back

There are chances that sleeping on your back will sometimes increases the chances of your soft palate and tongue to fall back into the airway. This will lead to snoring, airway obstruction and even sleep apnea. There are many cases of sleep apnea which need treatment beyond modification in lifestyle.

Some of the common sleep apnea treatments that doctors can suggest are –

  • CPAP(Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) – One of the most common treatment for sleep apnea is CPAP machine. This is a normal device which one can use at home, and this slowly forces the pressurized air to flow through the mask that you are wearing over your mouth and nose (or just the nose) into the airway so that it is open while you are sleeping. CPAP is quite effective in treating sleep apnea and there are quite a lot of people who find it tolerable and refreshing. Of course, there are others who might experience certain kind of difficulties in using this device and even suffer from problems like being claustrophobic while using the machines or sometimes there are individuals who feel uncomfortable in using the mask.
  • Oral Devices – Before trying the CPAP or any kind of breathing machine, your physician will suggest going for an oral device. Now these are mouthpieces which typically have to be custom-fitted by the dentist. They can easily be helpful for people having obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Surgery – If the changes in lifestyle, CPAP and other different sleep apnea treatments aren’t working, then your doctor might recommend doing a surgery which is done for making more room in the throat. This is done by removing the adenoids, tonsils and other tissues present in the back of the throat. Sometimes surgery will be done to reposition the jaw for open the airway.

What Next?

If you suspect that you are suffering from sleep apnea, then don’t worry. Of course, it can be a treat for the public safety and even for you, still it is curable. By taking the required precautions and consulting your doctor for the treatment, you can easily get rid of the sleep apnea.Waking up feeling fresh is worth the effort of fixing the issue.Don’t wait.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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