Sleep Apnea is a medical condition where you repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. There are several types of sleep apnea, but by-far the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This type of apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax to the point of collapse and block your airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring.
Sleep apnea occurs in about 3% of normal weight individuals but affects over 20 % of obese people. In general, sleep apnea affects men more than women. However, sleep apnea rates increase sharply in women after menopause.
Sleep apnea can cause short-term sleep deprivation, which can affect mood as well as your safety at work and while driving. It’s also strongly linked to life-threatening chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke,Type 2 diabetes, and depression. Undiagnosed sleep apnea is often linked to heart disease and metabolic issues like diabetes. Therefore, it is important to treat sleep apnea.
Treatments for obstructive sleep apnea are available. The most common treatment involves using a device (CPAP) that uses positive pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep. Another option is a mouthpiece to thrust your lower jaw forward during sleep. In some cases, surgery may be an option.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a medical condition where you repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep. Note: If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might have sleep apnea. The number of times someone with sleep apnea may stop breathing can range widely, varying from about five times an hour to as many as 100 or more times an hour, for up to a minute at a time. Whenever a person stops breathing, even momentarily, the brain is awakened slightly to a lighter stage of sleep, preventing the deepest, most restful sleep. These micro awakenings disrupt a person’s sleep pattern, generating much lower quality of sleep and leaving them feeling tired the next day, despite seemingly having a full night’s sleep. Repeated, untreated sleep apnea ends up seriously damaging a person’s brain and body by interrupting normal sleep and depriving the person of oxygen while they sleep.
What are the most common types of sleep apnea?
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed.
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the most common, is caused by a blockage of the airway during sleep. In obstructive sleep apnea, throat muscles relax and a person’s tongue and soft palate collapse against the back of the throat during sleep, closing the airway.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA), which is much rarer, is caused by the brain failing to send the right signals to the muscles that control breathing during sleep. There is no airway blockage in CSA.
- Mixed sleep apnea (AKA Complex sleep apnea syndrome), as the name implies, is a combination of both OSA and CSA.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can be a severe sleep disorder if your breathing stops and restarts more than 30 times an hour while you sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can have serious long-term effects on your health, such as:
There are secondary effects as well, such as automobile accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel.
How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
1. Talk To Your Doctor: Proper diagnosis of sleep apnea requires a visit to a doctor if someone is exhibiting symptoms of the condition. If you think you might have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor right away about which option is right for you. Talk to your health insurance company as well, as some companies require a home test first before they will cover a full sleep study.
2. Get A Sleep Study: The only way to truly determine if someone has sleep apnea is to obtain a proper evaluation called a sleep study, typically performed overnight during regular sleeping hours, which can be conducted either in the sleep clinic or at home.
a. In an In-Clinic sleep study, you spend one night at a sleep clinic. Medical staff will connect you to machines that monitor your breathing, blood oxygen levels, brain-wave activity, and leg movements. These indicators help them determine if you have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, and how severe it is.
b. Home Sleep Studies: You will still need a doctor’s prescription to get one. The home study, providing patients with equipment that measures heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns, became much more common due to the pandemic. Based on the results of your home test, your doctor may still recommend a full in-hospital sleep study or recommend you start sleep apnea treatment.
What Are The Available Treatments For Sleep Apnea?
1. CPAP Therapy: The most common and most successful treatment for moderate and severe sleep apnea is the nightly use of a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine. These machines sit beside your bed and a plastic hose connects the machine to a mask you wear on your face. The machine pushes pressurized air into your airway while you sleep, preventing the airway from closing.
While some people find it hard to sleep with a CPAP machine, other people adapt quite easily. If your doctor recommends CPAP treatment, they can work with you to find a mask, machine, and pressure setting that is comfortable for you.
NOTE: If you experience discomfort or need help with setting up or adapting your CPAP machine settings or mask please contact ASAA at 888-293-3650
2. Dental Applicance: Another device-based treatment involves a dental appliance that people wear while they sleep that brings the lower jaw up and forward, helping to keep the airway open.
3. Lifestyle & Behavioral Changes:
· Weight loss
· Sleeping on your side instead of your back
· Surgery to remove the tonsils and/or adenoids
· Surgery that alters the structure of the mouth and nose
· Surgery that interacts & stimulates the nerve that goes to their tongue, producing a push-forward of the tongue. These surgeries, when successful, can actually get rid of the sleep apnea
· Technological advances are adding monitoring capability to the devices used to treat sleep apnea. Sensors can be embedded into equipment and used to gather data while patients are asleep at home. That information can be uploaded automatically and transmitted directly to a doctor, giving her a clear picture of exactly how the patient is doing, continuously and almost in real-time..
What Are The Main Complications Of Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is considered a serious medical condition. Complications may include:
· Daytime fatigue and sleepiness. The repeated awakenings associated with obstructive sleep apnea make normal, healthy sleep impossible.
People with obstructive sleep apnea often experience severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability. They may have difficulty concentrating and find themselves falling asleep at work, while watching TV or even when driving. They may also be at higher risk of work-related accidents.
Children and young people with obstructive sleep apnea may do poorly in school and commonly have attention deficit issues and/or behavior problems.
· Cardiovascular problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during obstructive sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Many people with obstructive sleep apnea develop high blood pressure (hypertension), which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These abnormal rhythms can lower blood pressure. If there’s underlying heart disease, these repeated multiple episodes of arrhythmias could lead to sudden death.
The more severe the obstructive sleep apnea, the greater the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
· Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea also is a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. These medications, such as sedatives, narcotic analgesics and general anesthetics, relax your upper airway and may worsen your obstructive sleep apnea.