Sleep Apnea is characterized by the reduction in a person’s breathing rate while sleeping. Sleep apnea occurs when there are intermittent pauses of breath while sleeping. The pause in breathing can be brief, but it will repeatedly happen during sleep. Sleep Apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that can become severe if left untreated.
Many cases of sleep apnea become severe because it gets detected when it’s already late. This is because several people are unaware of their symptoms when sleeping.
When sleep apnea occurs, and breathing stops, there is no intake of oxygen into the body. As a result, the heart rate drops, and the involuntary reflexes are activated. The involuntary reflexes cause the patient to wake from sleep frightened. This then causes an increase in the heart rate and, consequently, blood pressure.
Types of Sleep Apnea
Based on the cause of breathing loss, sleep apnea can be divided into two which includes:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: OSA is caused when there is an obstruction to the airway at the back of the throat during sleep. The airway blockage will cause loud snoring in the patient because the air from outside is prevented from passing through the usual route at the regular rate.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea has been discovered to be the most common type of sleep apnea. Research has concluded that obstructive Sleep Apnea happens in the United States to about 10-30% of adults.
When obstructive Sleep Apnea happens, the patient can suddenly wake up from sleep and try to pass in the air into the airway forcefully. This can result in choking or snorting.
- Central Sleep Apnea: This is caused by a disruption in the regular communication between the muscles responsible for controlling the breathing process and the brain.
When the disruption in the communication between these organs happens, it results in a temporary pause in the breathing process. This then causes a reduction in the breathing rate and irregular breathing patterns.
Unlike obstructive Sleep Apnea, the percentage of people diagnosed with central sleep apnea is deficient; it is less than 1% of the entire adult population of the United States.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
The person suffering from sleep apnea cannot detect the early symptoms of the disorder, but people present during the sleeping time of a sleep apnea patient can note the following symptoms:
- Repeated loss of breathing during sleep
- Noisy breath after the breathing loss
- Loud snoring
- Gasping for air
Other symptoms of Sleep Apnea noticeable to the patient include:
- Abnormal breathing rate during sleep
- Feeling of sleepiness during the day as opposed to the person’s regular sleep routine.
- Frequent urination time during sleep.
- Waking with a dry mouth and throat.
- Chest pain at night.
- Frequent headaches after waking and the headache last for hours.
- Loss of focus
- Being easily distracted
- Restlessness while awake during the night.
Risk Factors associated with Sleep Apnea
- Nasal Congestion
- Hormonal Imbalance
Complications that can arise with sleep apnea
- Heart Failure
- Cardiomyopathy. (This is the enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart).
- Heart Attack
Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
- Polysomnogram (PSG): This is an overnight sleep study done in the laboratory. Various body functions, including but not limited to electrical activity of the brain, eye movements, muscle activity, heart rate, breathing patterns, airflow, and blood oxygen levels, are recorded at night during sleep. After the study, the number of times breathing is impaired during sleep is calculated. So, the severity of sleep apnea is discovered.
- Home Sleep Test
When to See a Doctor
One can be considering and also looking into the best time to see a doctor when sleep apnea symptoms are concerned; here is the answer. Just like any other medical condition, it is essential to visit medical personnel where sleep apnea can be attended to as soon as possible. This is because sleep apnea does not always stand alone. It is usually an accompanying symptom of another condition. Examples of such conditions include stroke, depression, difficulty concentrating, and much more.
Therefore, it is advised that the medical personnel visit is done immediately after the symptoms are established.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Various methods have been adopted to treat sleep apnea. The established treatments include:
- Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) Therapy: This is a mechanical form of therapy, and it is the most preferred treatment for the initial treatment of sleep apnea, especially when it is obstructive Sleep apnea.
This therapy is done by letting the patient use a face mask and then using an air blower to pass air gently into the nose and mouth of the patient. The air pressure of the air blower is adjusted to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing during sleep by ensuring that only the air that is just enough enters the airway. Positive Airway Pressure therapy is used to prevent airway closure while it is being used. The downside to Positive Airway Pressure Therapy is that apnea episodes return when the treatment is stopped or if it is misused.
The various forms of Positive Airway Pressure Therapy include:
- Bi-Level PAP
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy (CPAP)
- Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV)
- Auto CPAP or Auto Bi-Level PAP
- Use of Mandibular advancement devices: These devices prevent the tongue from blocking the throat and advance the lower jaw forward. They are used for patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea. These devices help to keep the airway open while sleeping. There’s a need for a sleep specialist and a dentist to determine if the method is best for patients.
- Surgery: Surgical procedures list people with obstructive sleep apnea and others who snore loudly but who don’t have sleep apnea. Among the several types of surgeries done is an outpatient process. Furthermore, surgery is necessary for people diagnosed with excessive and sometimes malformed tissue hindering airflow through the nose or throat, like a deviated nasal septum, markedly expanded tonsils, or lower jaw with an overbite that makes the throat to be tiny. These processes are typically performed after sleep apnea has failed to respond to conservative measures and a trial of CPAP.
- Other treatment methods include conservative methods such as weight loss, nasal sprays, sleeping pills, etc.