Quick Facts About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a common problem in the adult population, and is characterised by a reduction or stoppage of breathing when someone is asleep.
There are 2 main types – obstructive (which is more common) and central,but also a mixed type which is a combination of both obstructive and central. Treatment for sleep apnea can be nonsurgical or surgical.
What is apnea? In layman’s terms it means that someone has stopped breathing for about 10 seconds or perhaps more. These episodes of apnea have a tendency to occur more often when a person is asleep, thus disrupting the sleep, and often wakening the sleeper up.
Doctors use various indexes which measure the severity of the sleep apnea to decide on their treatment options.
What causes sleep apnea?
In the case of central sleep apnea it happens when the brain fails to send signals to the respiratory muscles. This is most common in babies, and in adults with heart problems, but can also be caused by some medicines.
In obstructive sleep apnea the message from the brain to the respiratory muscles gets through but breathing fails through an obstruction preventing the flow of air.
Mixed sleep apnea is caused by a combination of these failures. Obstructive sleep apnea affects more men than women,and is more common and has increased severity in obese people.
What are the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea? Not only does it disrupt sleep, it also causes heart problems and high blood pressure, and increased risk of stroke. Sufferers are also more likley no have accidents at work and on the road through lack of concentration related to not getting enough sleep.
How is obstructive sleep apnea treated?
There are several non surgical options varying from behavioral changes to medications and dental appliances.
Behavioral changes may simply involve getting the sufferer to change their sleeping position, as most apneas seem to occur whilst sleeping on the back. A change in diet and lifestyle with consequent reduction in obesity can also markedly reduce the severity of symptoms. However, these changes are easier to talk about than to implement.
Dental appliances are sometimes used for mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea – these work by holding the jaw and tongue forward and the palate up to prevent airway closure.
One of the best non surgical treatments is called CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure. This is a machine which delivers heated and humidified air under pressure through a mask to the sufferer whilst they sleep. The machine is light and portable, and most people quickly get used to the noise the machine makes, and to wearing a mask.
Surgical options for obstructive sleep apnea include palate implants, reducing the size of the tongue, procedures on the jaws, and surgery of the nasal passages. Surgery should not be undertaken lightly because of the underlying risks of anesthesia and complications from the surgery itself.
If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea or know anyone who does, then it is important that you seek qualified medical advice as soon as possible. Continuing your life without recourse to treatment leaves you open to much higher risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and even sudden death.