Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. It can lead to other health problems such as high blood pressure if left untreated.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive: this is the more common form of sleep apnea that occurs when the throat muscles relax
- Central: this is related to the central nervous system which includes the brain and spinal cord. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing.
When a person has both obstructive and central sleep apnea, it is termed as complex sleep apnea syndrome.
Sleep apnea is caused majorly due to blockage in the airway which results in shortness of breath.
- Excessive fat stores around the airway
- Muscular changes which cause the muscles that help in keeping the airway open relaxes (obstructive sleep apnea)
- Neurological controls for breathing becomes faulty (central sleep apnea)
- Underlying medical conditions such as stroke
- Certain medication may also cause airway blockage
The common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Snoring, which is often loud
- Headaches, usually in the morning
- Night sweats or gasping for air while sleeping
- Mood disturbances and irritability
- Increased daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty maintaining or staying asleep
- Sore throat when waking up
- Dry mouth upon awakening
- Frequent nighttime urination
- Breathless periods or episodes during sleep
Diagnosis of sleep apnea includes:
- Review of signs and symptoms
- Medical history
- Sleep history
- Sleep tests
- Home sleep test
- Nocturnal Polysomnography
Lifestyle choices to prevent sleep apnea includes:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stop smoking
- Avoid sleeping pills or sedatives
- Sleep on your sides
- Reduce weight if you are overweight.
The major goal of treatment for sleep apnea is to reduce airway blockage and normalise breathing during sleep. The method of treatment depends on the cause and severity of the condition.
- Treatment for sleep apnea in milder cases may require only lifestyle changes which include:
- weight loss
- Avoid alcohols, smoking and sleeping pills
- Practice side sleeping
- Nasal sprays or breathing strips
Some of the other treatment methods include:
- Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) is a treatment method for sleep apnea which helps in keeping the airway open by providing a constant stream of positive pressure air through a mask
- Use of oral appliances to keep the throat open. One such device is the Mandibular repositioning device (MRD). This is an oral appliance which holds the jaw in a forward position to expand the space behind the tongue which in turn keeps the airway open, preventing apnea.
- Associated conditions: If another health condition is causing sleep apnea, treatment can be done by treating the underlying health condition such as heart failure or other neuromuscular disorders.
- Use of supplemental oxygen while sleeping may help if you have central sleep apnea.
- Surgery is also a treatment option for sleep apnea, mostly when other treatment measures have failed. There are many surgical procedures depending on the cause of airway blockage.
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