Sleep Apnea – Insight into the Disorder, Symptoms, Treatments

What is Sleep apnea?

Plaguing a large number of people worldwide, sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder. This disorder causes an obstruction of air to the lungs hence causing a disruption in the flow of oxygen to the brain due to excess of carbon dioxide in the body. Sleep apnea is basically characterized by infrequent breath as well as shallow breathing while a person sleeps. When a person is in a state of sleep apnea, the lack of oxygen to the brain causes them to wake up hence, swallowing in large amounts of air. The air acts as a carrier of oxygen and hence restores the oxygen levels in their body.

Signs and Symptoms – How do you know if you suffer from sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea just like any other disorder has clear signs and indications. However, people fail to take this condition seriously and hence run the risk of serious health damage. Let’s take a closer look at the signs and symptoms of this disorder. Knowing about them may not only prove to be useful for you but could be helpful for your loved ones too. Whether or not a person is suffering from sleep apnea is determined by a clinical evaluation of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive Sleepiness: Excessive sleepiness during the day can be a clear indication of sleep apnea. This is caused mainly due to the fact that the patient is unable to get a good night’s worth of sleep. Due to the constant waking up during the night, their body’s sleep requirement is not fulfilled hence causing them to feel sleepy the following morning.
  • Concentration Difficulties: Due to disrupted sleep, some patients might face difficulties concentrating on even the most simplest of their daily tasks. This could be a clear indication of the fact that they are suffering from sleep apnea during the night.
  • Headaches: Some patients even complain of constant headaches when suffering from sleep apnea.
  • Irritability and Anxiety: Irritability and Anxiety are some of the most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. Both of these result out of lack of a proper sleep during the night.

Other symptoms which indicate a possibility of this disorder are memory problems, day time fatigue and in some cases insomnia.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are basically three types of sleep apnea which a person may suffer from.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is mainly caused due to some kind of obstruction in a person’s airway. This could be due to soft tissue of the airway, obesity, damage to the airway because of smoking or alcoholism. A person suffering from this type is prone to snoring mainly due to the lack of oxygen to their lungs. Carbon dioxide levels rise when the passageway of air is met with obstruction and causes the patient to suffer from breathlessness.

Central Sleep Apnea: This type of sleep apnea is a little more complicated than Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The cause of this is mainly rooted in the fact that the patient’s brain has an imbalanced respiratory control system. This means that there is not effective monitoring in their brain of the lack of oxygen and excess of carbon dioxide.

Mixed/Complex Sleep Apnea: This type of sleep apnea is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It occurs when despite being treated for obstructive sleep apnea a person suffers from central sleep apnea. A combination treatment is then introduced to help the patient cope with this.

Dangers and Repercussions – Can sleep apnea be fatal?

Yes. Sleep apnea can prove to be increasingly damaging to a person’s health and in some cases can even be fatal. The disorder causes certain changes in the patient’s body over a period of time which can prove to be fatal in the long run. These changes include coronary diseases, hypertension, stroke risk as well as heart failure. Sudden death due to breathlessness while sleeping is one of the most common repercussions of sleep apnea. If not diagnosed properly this disorder can be extremely harmful for the patient which is why proper and effective treatment is imperative.

Treatment: Can Sleep Apnea be Treated?

Yes. This disorder is certainly curable as well as treatable. There are various treatments for this disorder which include behavioral as well as surgical methods. Let’s take a closer look at the various treatment methods for sleep apnea and their viability.

Behavioral Therapy: One of the very first steps to help patients cope with this disorder is behavioral therapy. Patients are often prescribed to make certain changes to their lifestyle which might help their condition. Use of alcohol and chain smoking is often to be restricted. Sedatives and sleeping pills are to be avoided. If a patient is obese they are advised to work towards a more healthy diet and steps to ensure weight loss are prescribed. Obese patients are also advised to regularly exercise and make it a part of their daily routine.These changes all contribute helpfully to preventing airway collapse while sleeping. Sleeping position is also sometimes directly related to sleep apnea. In such cases patients are told to sleep on their side rather than in a supine position. Elevation of the head while sleeping is also a tip that works for most patients. Opening up one’s nasal passage through saline spray or drops, breathing strips is also prescribed.

These behavioral and lifestyle changes have been found to be quite effective for patients worldwide depending upon the severity of their condition.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, commonly known as CPAP is deemed as one of the most effective treatments of sleep apnea. It is widely prescribed to patients all over the world who do not seem to be cured with behavioral therapy. The procedure consists of a device which includes a CPAP mask which fits over the nose and regulates a constant flow of air to the patient. It also ensures a constant air pressure to be provided to the patient without any obstruction and hence ensures him/her a good night’s sleep.

Just like other methods, CPAP has its own pros and cons. The method has been known to be quite effective for most people. However, many find it to be extremely uncomfortable. This is mostly due to the fact that they cannot get accustomed to fitting the mask over their face for the whole night. It gives them a sense of having their chest congested which is extremely unpleasant. Other patients have often complained of irritation in their noses and skins. Some of the most common side effects of this therapy include dryness in the nasal and buccal cavity (nose and mouth), sore gums, sore lips as well as frequent nosebleeds.

Dental Devices: Dental devices such as tongue retainers and mandibular repositioning devices are often used to help patients with mild sleep apnea cope with the condition.

These devices are quite effective for patients with mild sleep apnea as it helps them achieve a clear air passageway. However, they are not effective for those patients who suffer from severe sleep apnea.

Surgical Methods: In the cases when behavioral therapy and CPAP does not work for a patient, they can discuss surgical options with their doctor. There are various surgeries which can help ease the patient’s condition. Nasal passages often need to be corrected or reconstructed in which case septoplasty and tubinate surgery proves to be quite effective. In case of pharyngeal obstruction patients are referred to undergo tonsillectomy or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. These surgeries ensure a clearer pharyngeal passageway of air to be accessible to the patient’s body. If a person is suffering from obstructions at the base of their tongue or in the hypopharyngeal passageway, they can opt for reconstructive surgeries on these parts. These procedures can stiffen the tissues which are in excess and proving to be a hindrance. They can also be shrunk in order to ensure a more unobstructed passageway of air.

These surgical methods are quite effective for those severe cases which are not treated by behavioral therapy or CPAP. However, there are certain things which patients need to be aware of and discuss with their doctor before the procedures. Just like other surgical procedures, anesthetic drugs used in these procedures are bound to be residual in the body even hours after the procedure. The body is likely to be a carrier of these agents for many hours and sometimes even days. These residual agents often cause dangerous breathing irregularities. Another side effect of these surgeries is that like any other surgical procedure they can cause swelling of the operated are. In the case that a patient has opted for a nasal or pharyngeal surgery, they might suffer from swallowing of the same area for quite a few days which is why extreme care needs to be taken while recuperating.

Sleep Apnea – Not to be Taken Lightly!

Sleep apnea in no case is supposed to be taken lightly. It is a serious condition which can prove to be quite dangerous if it is not treated effectively and in time. It is highly recommended to consult your physician as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.