Sleep apnea is a chronic condition characterized by pauses in breathing that occur repeatedly throughout the night. They may last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, and occur in conjunction with loud snoring. People with sleep apnea often feel tired during the day, since the quality of sleep they do receive is poor.
Often, a person suffering from sleep apnea will be oblivious to the fact that they’ve got a sleep disorder. They rarely awaken during interruptions in breathing, and may only become aware of the fact that there’s a problem when a bed partner alerts them.
Often, a person suffering from sleep apnea will be oblivious to the fact that they’ve got a sleep disorder.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
The most common form of the disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when the soft tissues in the back of the throat relax and obstruct the airway, interfering with breathing and causing the noisy vibrations associated with snoring. The result is daytime drowsiness and fatigue and symptoms that include a sore throat, dry mouth, and headache. Snoring may disturb the sleep of your partner, resulting in tension and stress. Your productivity at work may suffer, and you might experience periods of confusion and memory loss. Irritability and depression may occur.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Causes of sleep apnea include overly relaxed throat tissues and tongue; a large tongue, tonsils, uvula, or soft palate; and an abnormally small airway. Natural aging can limit your brain’s ability to keep your throat muscles stiff while you sleep, causing the airway to narrow or collapse. Those most at risk are male, over the age of 40, and overweight. Those who smoke tobacco, suffer from allergies or sinus infections, and have a family history of sleep apnea also have an increased risk.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can cause a host of health problems if left untreated. When you quit breathing, your blood oxygen level drops; this raises your heart rate and increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. You’re also more prone to obesity and diabetes.
Preventing and Treating Sleep Apnea
Lifestyle changes can be effective in treating mild cases of sleep apnea. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes, lose extra weight, sleep on your side instead of your back to help keep your airway passages open, and try nasal sprays, medicines, or nasal strips to assist with breathing. You might want to consider an oral appliance like a mouthpiece, which can be helpful in repositioning the lower jaw and tongue during sleep.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the preferred treatment method for those with moderate to severe sleep apnea. You’ll wear a mask over your mouth or nose attached to a machine that delivers steady bursts of air pressure into your throat, keeping your airway passages open while you sleep.
Surgery may benefit some people with sleep apnea. It is used to widen breathing passages or shrink excess tissue. Sometimes, removing enlarged tonsils is an effective solution for children.