Overview of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea often stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means that the brain and the rest of the body may not get enough oxygen.
In most cases, people are unaware that they have stopped breathing and believe that their sleep cycle is normal. This is like snoring.
This can cause you more fatigue in the morning, as well as many health problems. If left untreated, this sleep condition:
- Causes mental health problems
- Immune function is not good
- Contributes to memory loss.
- Increases your risk of heart failure.
Common treatments include breathing apparatus, medications, and surgery. However, some lifestyle changes and home care can also improve your quality of life and sleep.
What are the types of sleep apnea?
There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): OSA occurs when the airways in the back of the throat are physically blocked. That blockage can cause a temporary shortness of breath.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): CSA occurs because there is a problem in the brain system controlling the muscles involved in breathing, leading to slow, shallow breathing.
- Mixed sleep apnea: When a person has OSA and CSA at the same time, it is called mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.
Because the underlying causes are different, there are significant differences in the symptoms, causes, and treatments of OSA and CSA.
How common is sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is estimated to affect 2% to 9% of adults in the United States, although most cases are believed to be undiagnosed. It is difficult to determine the exact prevalence because studies have used different criteria to diagnose the condition. The consistent finding is that OSA affects men more than women. It can occur at any age, but it is more common in the elderly.
Central sleep apnea affects 5% of adults over 40 years of age. It is more common in men than in women.
As these data demonstrate, OSA is more common than CSA. For this reason, when people speak of “sleep apnea,” they are generally referring to OSA.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
Often the first signs of OSA are detected by the bed partner and not by the patient. Most of the victims have no sleep complaints. The most common signs and symptoms of OSA are:
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Sleep fluctuations, often nocturnal awakenings.
- Sudden awakenings with a sensation of gasping or pain.
- Dry mouth or throat upon waking.
- Cognitive impairment, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, or irritability.
- Mood disturbances (depression or anxiety).
- Night sweats.
- Frequent night urination.
- Sexual dysfunction
People with central sleep apnea often report recurrent awakenings or insomnia, although they may experience a sensation of pain or swelling after waking up.
Symptoms may not be as obvious in children and may include:
- School performance is not good.
- Slowness or drowsiness is often misinterpreted as laziness in the classroom.
- The mouth is difficult to breathe and swallow during the day.
- Internal movement of the rib during inhalation.
- Abnormal sleeping positions, such as lying on the arms and knees or a very extended neck.
- Excessive sweating at night.
- Learning and behaviour disorders (hyperactivity, attention deficit).
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a person’s airway becomes blocked during sleep. Multiple factors have been found to increase the risk of stagnation and OSA:
- Anatomical features. The size and location of a person’s neck, jaw, tongue, tonsils, and other tissues in the back of the throat directly affect airflow.
- Family history. People with one or more affiliations with OSA are more likely to develop OSA themselves.
- Smoking cigarettes. Smokers, especially heavy smokers, were found to have OSA at a higher rate, than non-smokers.
- Hormonal abnormalities Hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and acromegaly (excess growth hormone) cause inflammation of the tissues near the airways and/or increase a person’s risk of OSA by contributing to the risk of obesity.
Heart failure is considered a risk factor for CSA, and CSA can also occur when a person’s oxygen levels are high.
Treatment for sleep apnea
Treatment aims to normalize breathing during sleep and address any underlying health problems. The options will depend on the cause and severity of symptoms.
Lifestyle modifications are essential to normalizing breathing and are critical first steps in treatment.
- Following a heart-healthy diet
- Developing healthy sleeping habits
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Managing weight
- Sleeping on the side