Sleep Apnea

10 min read
10 min read

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can be troublesome and keep you awake at night. With the constant interference in breathing, having quality sleep can be difficult for those suffering from it. You don’t want to get caught up with the side effects of sleep apnea. Did you know, nearly 30 million adults in the US have sleep apnea? 

If you have trouble breathing at night, you must read on to know the risk factors for sleep apnea and how sleep apnea is treated.

How Common Is Sleep Apnea and Who Can Get It?

Did you know that sleep-disordered breathing occurs in almost 24% of children and affects people differently? The risk of sleep apnea also increases with age. It also affects nearly 10% of women and 25% of men. Certain factors or physical traits can also result in sleep apnea. If you are overweight or have a deviated septum or any other nasal obstruction, you are most at risk for sleep apnea.  

If you have a large neck or small jaw with an overbite, that too can become the cause of sleep apnea. Research also shows that over 3% of normal people could have sleep apnea without any major body issues. If you think you might have OSA, then a sleep apnea test might make it clear for you.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Although difficulty breathing at night might mean sleep apnea, you might have a certain type. These have three different categories, and they vary from person to person. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) happens when the upper airway is blocked. This blocks the back of the throat, causing a temporary relapse in the breath. The chest and diaphragm muscles work hard to open the blocked airways. 

You might also see a loud jerk or snoring; as a result, to clear the nasal path. It is because of these attempts, the oxygen flow decreases and causes heart issues.

Central Sleep Apnea

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) happens when the brain fails to send the signals to the respiration muscles. This causes the breathing to slow down and which eventually leads to sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea treatments can be easily implemented with the help of modern science and expert medical attention. 

Complex Sleep Apnea

Complex sleep apnea is when a person has both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. 

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is caused when the airways are blocked. This could happen for a couple of reasons, some genetic, some lifestyle. Let’s explore some causes of sleep apnea. 

Obesity – Being overweight can increase your risk of developing health issues. Did you know, if you are overweight by only 10%, it increases your chances of having sleep apnea six times

Deviated septum – Believe it or not, having a deviated septum can be the reason for people to develop sleep apnea as the airways are already blocked. 

Family history – People who have sleep apnea running in the family are more likely to develop it as they grow. 

Cigarettes – People who smoke have a higher rate of developing OSA than those people who do not smoke at all. 

Alcohol consumption – Excess alcohol consumption could make your muscles relax thereby, blocking the airways easily. 

Hormonal abnormalities – Hormonal issues such as hyperthyroidism and acromegaly increase OSA risk by swelling the tissues near the throat. 

Sleeping on the back – Sleeping on the back makes it easier for the throat muscles to relax and might be the reason you skip breaths during sleeping. 

Unusual body traits – Some people might have a small jaw, large tonsils or any abnormalities with the tongue, jaw, tonsils, etc., that can affect the airways directly when they sleep. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

You might not notice the early symptoms of sleep apnea, but the partner can easily identify them as they sleep next to you. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the symptoms and signs of sleep apnea. 

  • Poor sleep 
  • Snoring 
  • Daytime fatigue 
  • Sudden waking up at night 
  • The feeling of choking at nights 
  • Heavy breathing 
  • Sore throat upon waking 
  • Frequent headaches
  • Mood swings 
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness 

So, if you notice these signs, you know these can be obstructive sleep apnea symptoms, and you should get in touch with a physician. 

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

If your doctor has a hunch that you might have sleep apnea, then you might have to get your sleep evaluation done. Sleep apnea diagnosis leads to an overnight study with a sleep specialist. A test called a polysomnogram (PSG) is conducted that checks the vitals of the body. 

These include eye movement, brain activity, muscle movements, airflow, breathing patterns, body temperature, blood pressure etc., during sleep. During the test, the number of times your sleep was disturbed determines the seriousness of sleep apnea. 

Another way of diagnosing sleep apnea would be a home sleep test (HST) for adults. This test requires less information than PSG. You could check up on symptoms like snoring, monitoring airflow, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. 

HST might not be that accurate, and it is advised that if you notice anything unusual in your sleeping regime, then you should get a deeper evaluation done. 

Risks of Sleep Apnea

Although sleep apnea’s main effect is disturbed sleep, it can tie up to different health issues in the body with time or severity. Let’s dig a bit deeper and understand how sleep apnea troubles the body. 

Lower oxygen levels

When you skip breathing, the oxygen in the body gradually decreases, which also affects the heart rate. The oxygen in the blood also lowers, and it can reduce the smooth functions of all the other parts of the body.

Increased heart rate

Breathing difficulties result in increased heart rate. How? When your heart rates are high, your body startles to push your nasal passages to regulate the BP levels, aggravating your heart rates and even result in arrhythmias or heart failure.

Obesity

You are more likely to get obese if you have sleep apnea; this leads to fat deposition around your neck, worsening it further. This happens because of poor sleep, and we know sleep is important to break the sugars in the body, to heal and develop new cells. 

Health issues

Obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea causes various health issues like type 2 diabetes, heart issues, etc. At the same time, other diseases like polycystic ovaries, hormonal disorders, and chronic lung disease increase the risk of any type of sleep apnea. 

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

How to treat sleep apnea majorly depends on why you have it. It can be easily managed if it’s because of lifestyle changes, but other options are tried. 

Conservative Therapy

These solutions tend to solve breathing problems at night by giving you the easiest solutions. These have no side effects and can probably find a natural sleep apnea cure.

Losing weight

Losing weight is a common sleep apnea treatment for those who have developed it because of lifestyle habits. If you lose weight then, it might be helpful to reduce the pressure on the throat muscles while sleeping. 

Other lifestyle changes can be sleeping sideways, following a healthy diet, reducing sedatives or alcohol, cigarettes, etc. 

Mechanical Therapy

These solutions for treating sleep apnea are very different from the ones mentioned above. Here, the use of devices is encouraged as they give the necessary oxygen required by the body. Let’s take a look at these options. 

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is a form of airway pressure ventilation that supplies constant air pressure to the patient as they cannot regulate the air pressure themselves. It is used to treat obstructive sleep apnea and is applied to the upper respiratory tract. It might be a comfortable way to treat sleep apnea, as 8% of people do not use it after the 1st night. 

Bi-Level PAP

Bi-Level PAP machine is a similar pressurized machine that delivers air into alternate levels. It is helpful in treating obstructive sleep apnea, and the patients have to use a face mask for this. It is effective in treating central sleep apnea. It is also used to treat severe obstructive sleep apnea.

Auto CPAP or Auto Bi-Level PAP

It is Automatic titrating continuous positive airway pressure (Auto CPAP). It delivers high and low pressures to the airways. The machine has a sensitive algorithm that senses how many breaths you need and adjusts it accordingly. It is a smarter option to treat sleep apnea. 

ASV (Adaptive Servo Ventilation)

ASV is a device to treat sleep apnea by helping you to breathe in study patterns during the night. It is more advanced than other devices, as it has elite settings such as timing, length, the volume of breaths and more. It is more comfortable than others and will not disrupt your sleep or disturb you during it. 

Mandibular Advancement Devices

If you do not wish to go for facial surgery for sleep apnea, then you can use these mandibular advancement devices. These devices are useful for treating sleep apnea and snoring issues. These can be mouthpieces or bone adjusting devices where they help to align the bones that can help you breathe properly. 

Hypoglossal Nerve Stimulator

People who do not benefit from continuous positive airway pressure can use hypoglossal nerve stimulators. It is an advanced way of treating OSA and works very well. It electrically stimulates the hypoglossal nerve, hence the name, and regulates the tongue movement. This simulator allows people to sleep well without any devices.  

Surgery

Certain surgical procedures can widen the airways, thereby resolving the issues of sleep apnea completely. If you are not looking for temporary options or cannot bear these devices every night, you can always get sleep apnea surgery to get a permanent solution. Let’s have a look at the different types of surgical procedures you can do. 

  • Somnoplasty

Somnoplasty is a surgical procedure in which the upper airway tissues are the shrunk base of the tongue or uvulva. It is usually done for snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. In this procedure, low levels of radiofrequency heat energy are used to shrink the upper tissues. It is a safe and effective procedure that lasts for 30-45 mins. 

  • Tonsillectomy

Tonsillectomy is the procedure of removing tonsils. It is done to treat sleep apnea and is very safe and effective. Some patients have enlarged tonsils, and hence they require to reduce or remove them. It is a common surgical procedure mostly performed on children; your doctor can recommend you if needed. 

  • Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP)

Reducing the severity of obstructive sleep apnea, Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is performed to remove the excess tissues from the throat. This type of sleep surgery helps remodel the throat tissue, thereby widening the airway for better breathing. 

  • Mandibular/maxillary advancement surgery

Mandibular advancement surgery is effective for obstructive sleep apnea, in which the upper and lower jawbones are realigned. It opens the airways, thereby giving you relief from sleep apnea. This could be a better way when searching for an answer for how to cure sleep apnea. 

  • Nasal Surgery

Nasal inflammation of the sinus cavity can also lead to blocking the airways. Endoscopic nasal surgery is performed to treat sleep apnea. During the surgery, an endoscope is inserted into the nose to view the sinus and nasal cavity. 

Effects of Sleep Apnea

You might think that sleep apnea only affects the sleep cycles and quality, but that’s not all. These multiple sleep interruptions can gradually affect your body’s ability to heal, rest, grow and function properly. 

As you know by now, oxygen levels also decrease, which means all the organs receive less amount of oxygen than they should. This could trigger health issues and make your body suffer even more. Let’s have a look at when sleep is left untreated, how it affects the body. 

Some of the common health issues elevated by sleep apnea are: 

  • Depression – People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop depression.
  • Acid reflux – Acid refluxes are commonly aggravated by sleep apnea.
  • Memory loss – Sleep helps construct memories. Lack of sleep can result in memory loss.
  • Mental confusion – Your brain becomes foggy over time when you don’t get enough sleep. 
  • Adult asthma – Sleep apnea increases the risk of asthma and creates complications.
  • Weak immunity – Lack of sleep makes your immune system weak over time. 
  • Breathing issues – Sleep apnea happens because of abnormal breathing; these could become worse over time.
  • Heart issues – The heart rates are increased with sleep apnea and it can aggravate hypertension.
  • Liver problem – Sleep apnea is linked to fatty liver problems in the near future. 
  • Fatigue – Improper sleep patterns can easily lead to body fatigue.
  • Low oxygen levels – When the breathing stops for a while, the body gets deprived of oxygen.
  • High blood sugar levels – Sleep is when your body breaks down sugars and processes it. Disturbed sleep could easily mess with your blood sugar levels.

When to Contact a Doctor

Ideally, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to treat sleep apnea. You literally stop breathing while sleeping. It can cause serious health issues. As things worsen, you should get yourself checked. Health issues such as depression, mood swings, daytime sleepiness, increased heart rate can be triggered by sleep apnea. 

The link between sleep apnea and deteriorating health might not be clear, but if you notice them, then you should seek a doctor’s help. 

Now that you know everything about sleep apnea, its types, causes and severity, how to get rid of sleep apnea would be easy for you. Don’t think of it as just a sleep disorder. It worsens with age and can lead to severe health issues. The best way would be to find a proper solution for it.

For finding how sleep apnea is treated, you must know the factors causing it. Like mentioned earlier, sleep apnea affects people differently. Finding those factors would help you find the right solution. Just remember, whenever in doubt, always consult a doctor for best results.

 

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Meet Our Review Board

Each week our team researches, writes and collaborates with industry leaders to bring you simple easy-to-read sleep information.

David Bridge

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Siddhesh Tiwatne

Sleep Coach

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Authored by healh experts and journalists

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Meet Our Review Board

Each week our team researches, writes and collaborates with industry leaders to bring you simple easy-to-read sleep information.

David Bridge

Sleep Coach

Siddhesh Tiwatne

Sleep Coach

Authored by health experts and journalists

Fact checked and science-backed

Medically reviewed by physicians

Meet Our Review Board

Each week our team researches, writes and collaborates with industry leaders to bring you simple easy-to-read sleep information.

David Bridge

Sleep Coach

Siddhesh Tiwatne

Sleep Coach

Authored by health experts and journalists

Fact checked and science-backed

Medically reviewed by physicians

Meet Our Review Board

Each week our team researches, writes and collaborates with industry leaders to bring you simple easy-to-read sleep information.

David Bridge

Sleep Coach

Siddhesh Tiwatne

Sleep Coach

Authored by health experts and journalists

Fact checked and science-backed

Medically reviewed by physicians

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