Many people seem to forget the significant impact our sleep has on our daily life and overall health. Sleeping does not only help us look and feel great but it also gives us the strength we need to perform our best during the day. However, there are instances when sleep becomes detrimental to our health and well-being, especially if we have sleep apnea. Learn more about its warning signs, causes and effects to your health, diagnosis, and treatment.

About Sleep Apnea

Tens of thousands of people all over the world have sleep apnea. It is a chronic sleeping problem that takes place when your respiratory muscles relax when you are asleep. When this happens, air is prevented from getting into your lungs, which results into repeated breathing pauses.

These breathing pauses may last from a few seconds to minutes and may take place at least 30 times in a single hour. Normally, the patient restarts his normal breathing, and it usually begins with a choking sound or a loud snort. These breathing interruptions do not only reduce your brain and body’s oxygen supply but it also disrupts your normal sleep rhythm and cycle. During these episodes, you move out of deep sleep and into a light sleep. Given that, patients end up having poor sleep and they wind up feeling exhausted during the day.

Most of the time, sleep apnea goes undiagnosed. Some people don’t have any idea that this kind of sleep problem exists, others feel embarrassed to seek medical attention, while others simply ignore it. Furthermore, doctors generally cannot detect this problem during regular health checkups plus, no blood test can assist in diagnosing the condition.

Many of those who are affected by this condition don’t know that they have it simply because it happens during sleep. One of the first few people who will notice signs of sleep apnea are a family member or a bed partner.

3 Types Of Sleep Apnea

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea – it is the most common form of sleep apnea. It is characterized by breathing interruptions due to the relaxation and collapse of the muscles in the throat, which in turn prevents air from getting into the lungs. This results into shallow breathing or breathing pauses. When patients try to breathe again, the air that tries to get past the blockage causes the snoring sound. Although OSA is commonly seen among people who are overweight, anybody is still at risk and that includes children who have enlarged tonsil tissues.
  2. Central Sleep Apnea – it is a less common form of sleep apnea, which happens when the brain is unable to send out the correct signals to the muscles that control automatic respiration. As a result, the patient makes no effort to respire for short periods. Just like OSA, central sleep apnea can affect anyone. However, it is most common among those who have certain medical problems or those specific medications. Snoring does not typically happen among patients who have central sleep apnea.
  3. Mixed Sleep Apnea – This condition is also referred to as treatment-emergent sleep apnea. It is a mix of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.


Untreated Sleep Apnea

If you think you have any of these types of sleep apnea, or perhaps suspect that you are suffering from this kind of sleep problem, do not hesitate to see your doctor. Your medical specialist will be able to refer you to a reliable sleep specialist who can help alleviate the symptoms and prevent more serious health complications.

Untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of experiencing high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, stroke, and heart failure. It will also predispose you to obesity, irregular heartbeats, and higher chances of having driving or work-related accidents. Keep in mind that sleep apnea is a chronic sleeping disorder that requires long-term management. These may include using sleep apnea machines, oral appliances, and even undergoing surgeries.

The Causes

If you are awake, your throat muscles will keep your airway open and stiff so that air can pass through to your lungs. Meanwhile, when you go to sleep, these muscles will relax and cause your throat to narrow. Under normal circumstances, the narrowing down of the throat does not stop air from flowing in and out of your lungs. However, things are different if you have sleep apnea. Your airway either becomes partially or fully blocked due to the following reasons:

–    Your throat muscles relax more than normal

–    Your tongue relaxes more than normal

–    Your tongue and tonsils are larger than normal

–    You are overweight, which thickens the wind

–    You have an irregularly-shaped head and neck that may cause airway size in the throat and mouth

–    The aging process restricts your brain’s capacity to send signals that would cause your throat muscles to remain stiff while asleep.

If the airway is partially or fully blocked, an insufficient amount of air gets into your lungs. It may result in loud snoring and a decline in blood oxygen level. Always remember that frequent declines in blood oxygen level, as well as a reduced sleep quality, can induce the release of stress hormones, which in return could raise your risk of having high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmia, and worse, heart failure.

Risk Factors

–    Older people

–    Family history of sleep apnea

–    Small airways

–    Airways with irregular shape

–    Enlarged tonsils

–    Smokers

–    Men

–    Obesity


Major Signs And Symptoms

–    Loud and chronic snoring

–    Choking or gasping sounds after breathing pauses

–    Sleepiness during the day

–    Morning headaches

–    Memory problems

–    Lack of concentration

–    Frequent urination

–    Sore throat or dry mouth when you wake up


Kids who have sleep apnea may exhibit hyperactivity, hostile behavior, moodiness, and learning problems. They may also breathe through their mouths rather than their noses when they are awake.


The Diagnosis

Sleep apnea is diagnosed based on various factors like medical and family history, physical exam, and results of a sleep study. Your family doctor may evaluate you first and then refer you to a sleep specialist, who can give a clear diagnosis and treatment for your sleep apnea problem.


The Treatments

Lifestyle changes – changes in your daily activities could very well be all the treatment you need. These may include avoiding alcohol and certain medications that may you feel sleepy. You may also try losing weight and sleeping on your side. You can use nasal sprays or allergy medicines to keep your nasal passages open when you sleep. You should also consider quitting smoking.

Mouthpieces – also referred to as an oral appliance, mouthpieces are recommended to those who have mild sleep apnea. It may also be given to people who snore loudly but do not have sleep apnea problems. An orthodontist can create a custom-fit mouthpiece for patients with sleep apnea. It works by adjusting your tongue and lower jaw and keep them in a position that would ensure your airway is open while you are asleep.

Breathing devices – CPAP machines or continuous positive airway pressure is the most common treatment given to patients who have mild to moderate sleep apnea. These devices come with CPAP masks that would cover the mouth and/or the nose. CPAP machines work by delivering air into your throat and the air pressure keeps your airway open while you sleep. There are different types of CPAP machines and they are also available in different brands like Resmed, Fisher and Paykel, and Philips Respironics. In case you are not happy or comfortable with your current CPAP machine, be sure to inform your sleep specialist. He or she will find an alternative that would be more suitable for your needs.

Surgery – Some patients who have sleep apnea undergo surgery. The cause of the sleep apnea generally determines the type of surgical procedure that will be performed. The operation is carried out to widen the patient’s airways and may involve stiffening, shrinking, or removing extra tissues in the throat or mouth. The procedure can be done in a hospital or clinical setting. Patients will be given a medicine that induces sleep before the operation. Once it is done, you can expect temporary throat pain for at least one week. Kids with sleep apnea may also undergo surgery, which usually involves the removal of the tonsils that could be blocking the airway. However, doctors also suggest waiting some time to determine whether these enlarged tissues would shrink on their own.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. Seek the help of an expert to get an effective treatment plan that can help improve your quality of life. With proper treatment, you will be able to have better sleep and alleviate daytime sleepiness. It will also help reduce your risks of suffering from health complications like heart disease and high blood failure. Do not forget to follow up with your doctor on a regular basis to make sure that your treatment is working and if you are experiencing some bothersome side effects. Get yourself treated and enjoy a restful sleep that you deserve.


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