What is Sleep Apnea?

sleep-apnea-diagramSnoring could be a possible symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition known as sleep apnea.  This medical disorder affects as many as 6% of adults, and twice as many males than females.  It is also more common in people aged 55 to 60 years old, although it can affect anyone at any age, even children.

This sleep disorder is defined as having one or more pauses in breathing while you sleep.  The pauses can dangerously last as long as a few seconds to even minutes throughout the night and it can happen as many as 30 times or more in an hour.  Snoring is usually the precursor to these pauses in breathing.

This is a chronic condition that effects the quality of your sleep as well.  It will prevent you from falling into a deep sleep, or moving out of a deep sleep and into a lighter stage of REM.  This causes poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and more seriously, various health hazards.

When should I see a doctor?

doctor-patientEveryone who snores is not a sufferer of sleep apnea; however, it is a sign.  If your partner has noticed the volume of your snoring has increased or that you are stopping your breathing during the night you should make an appointment with your physician to begin the process of the diagnosis.

Another symptom you can have is gasping for breath in the middle of the night.  If you have woken yourself up from sleeping gasping for breath, time to make an appointment.  This symptom you can judge on your own since you do not need a partner or someone else to monitor the volume of your snoring.

One more symptom could be being excessively drowsy during the day.  If you find yourself falling asleep during the day, not just being tired, you can book an appointment with a physician to find out if you suffer from this condition.

Types of Sleep ApneaWhat are the different types of sleep apnea?

It is commonly believed there are two types of this sleep disorder, but there are actually 3 types.  OSA (obstructive sleep apnea), CSA (central sleep apnea), and a combination of both OSA and CSA.

OSA occurs when your airway is physically completely or partially blocked and is the most common type of sleep apnea.  Symptoms include complete cessation of breathing or repetitive shallow breaths.  Having the airway blocked will cause the blood not to receive as much oxygen as necessary to perform its functions while sleeping.

Usually people with OSA also suffer from snoring.  Since the airway is blocked while sleeping, this will cause vibrations which in turn leads to snoring.  Many people are unaware they suffer from this sleep disorder for years or more since the only daytime condition that could be associated with it is drowsiness and fatigue.

CSA is the second type of sleep apnea and is a little less common.  It is a neurological problem and happens when the brain does not send the proper signals to regulate breathing.  The signs and symptoms are the same as OSA and it can occur for years before you are diagnosed with it just like OSA.

Treatment is similar to OSA; you are set up with a device to regulate your breathing throughout the night to make sure your body is receiving the oxygen that it needs.

Finally, a combination of both types is also possible with the same symptoms and same treatment as the two separately.

breathing-sleepWho is at risk for sleep apnea?

Many snorers suffer from this condition and might not even know it.  If you do not have a partner to tell you how loud you are snoring or if you stop breathing it will be difficult to come to this realization yourself.

Certain people are more at risk than others to suffer from OSA.  These include being male, being overweight, being over 40, having a large neck, having allergies or sinus problems, or having a small jaw bone.  Some of us reading this will tick all these boxes, myself included.

Risk factors for CSA are a little different since it is less of a physical issue.  Risk factors for CSA include middle aged or older, having congestive heart failure, using pain medications, and people who have had a stroke in the past.

ApneaApp-polysomnography-photoHow can I test myself for sleep apnea?

Symptoms can be enough to see your physician for further testing if you believe you suffer from this medical condition.  The most precise testing you can do is a formal sleep study which is done at a special sleeping center where you would need an appointment to spend the night.

The sleep center sleep apnea test is known as nocturnal polysomnography.  The physicians or nurses will hook you up to different equipment which will monitor your heart, brain and lung activity as well as your breathing patterns and oxygen levels.  If you have abnormal results, you will see your physician again and depending on his diagnosis you will begin using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine.

What can I do to treat my sleep apnea?

CpapanwenderAfter you are properly diagnosed you have a few options for treatment.  The most popular one is the use of a CPAP machine.  A CPAP machine is pressurized air being forced into the airway so you never fall below the necessary oxygen levels throughout the night.  This might sound like a serious thing to have to deal with every night, but it is not as uncomfortable or invasive as it sounds.  Millions of people use these machines, and it will actually improve your quality of sleep.

Other options for treatment include surgery, oral appliances, or medications.  Many times the nasal passage is blocked while sleeping, forcing you to breathe through your mouth.  If you can correct this blockage by straightening out the nasal passage, this can eliminate your medical disorder.  Other surgical options include removing tissue in the back of the throat.  This opens up the airway, but is considered by physicians to be less effective than a CPAP machine.

Oral appliances can be used for people who find CPAP machines too uncomfortable or claustrophobic.  These oral appliances are custom made by a dentist that extend the lower jaw to prevent obstruction of the airway.  When the lower jaw is extended this prevents the tongue from slipping back and blocking the airway.  When the airway is blocked, this lowers the oxygen level that enters the blood, it also causes vibrations which lead to snoring.

This is why snoring could be an underlying cause for a more serious condition like sleep apnea.

Medications can help relieve CSA.  This is still in a trial stage and you must not be at risk for other types of respiratory failures.

There are a few lifestyle changes you can do to improve your somnipathy as well.  These include exercise, ceasing alcohol or tobacco consumption, losing excess weight, and sleeping on your side.  Even losing a little bit off excess weight can improve the constrictiveness of your throat at night.  The last lifestyle change, sleeping on your side, prevents the tongue from slipping back due to gravity.

Health-Insurance-and-the-Health-Care-SystemHealth

Not having a proper night of sleep has a variety of health issues and can be incredibly damaging.  Lack of sufficient sleep causes physical issues, mental issues, and emotional issues.

When the body does not receive enough sleep the immune system weakens, slowing the healing of wounds and making it harder for your body to keep cancer under control.  The heart slows down while sleeping in a deep sleep and if it does not slow down to the point that it needs to this can increase the risk for other physical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

One of the most dangerous results of this condition is brain damage or possibly death.  When the blood does not receive the oxygen it needs for a long enough period brain damage or death could occur.

Other issues exist for people who do not receive a proper night of sleep such as type 2 diabetes, headaches, fibromyalgia, seizures, and the increased risk for obesity.

conclusion2Final Thoughts

This condition can be life threatening if gone untreated.  As my snoring increased and as I suffered more from daytime drowsiness, I was worried I had sleep apnea too.  However, after I went through all the proper testing and saw a few sleep specialists I was told I do not suffer from this medical disorder.  I was advised to lose weight (which I am still working on) and to use an anti-snoring device to prevent myself from snoring during the night.

If you believe you suffer from sleep apnea, like myself, it could only be a lifestyle issue and could be fixed with one of the changes listed above.  To help relieve snoring you can use an anti-snoring device.

I have noticed a considerable increase in my quality of life since I have done the sleep study and taken the proper steps to improve my sleep.  I fully recommend you do the same!