Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is caused by the repeated interruption of breathing during sleep. In people with this condition, the breathing is seen to stop and restart repeatedly, resulting in loud snoring and disturbed sleep for the patient and their partner.
Types and Causes of Sleep Apnea
This sleep disorder is characterized by the difficulty in breathing, snoring and a feeling of fatigue even after a full night’s sleep.
Sleep apnea is categorized as:
One of the most common types, obstructive sleep apnea seems to affect many people and is caused by a serious obstruction of the airway passage, leading to disrupted breathing during sleep.
Central sleep apnea
This type is related to a dysfunction in the brain that causes a malfunction in the activation of the muscles involved in breathing.
Mixed sleep apnea
This is caused by a combination of an obstruction in the airway and a failure of the muscles involved in breathing.
The causes of sleep apnea vary depending on the type:
Obstructive sleep apnea
This condition is caused by the relaxation of the muscles surrounding the pharynx and throat. These muscles support the soft palate, but when they relax, they narrow the airway passage making it difficult to breathe. This results in oxygen deprivation for all the organs.
Central sleep apnea
This condition is caused by the failure of the brain to activate the muscles involved in breathing during sleep. Snoring and fatigue are the common characteristics of this type of sleep apnea.
Symptoms and Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Though there are different types of sleep apnea, the symptoms associated with the conditions are similar and may overlap, making it difficult to make the right diagnosis. The common symptoms include:
- Loud snoring
- Interrupted breathing
- Daytime sleepiness
- Fatigue and tiredness in the morning
- Dry mouth and sore throat
- Attention-deficit disorders (rare)
- Headache and dizziness (especially after sleep)
- Reduced libido
- Lack of energy to carry out daily tasks
- Recurrent insomnia (rare)
Mild cases of sleep apnea are often managed without medications and therapies, with doctors recommending weight management, a healthy diet and lifestyle, trying different sleep patterns like avoiding sleeping on the back and regulating the use of stimulants like alcohol and cigarettes.
Various therapies and devices used in more severe cases of sleep apnea include:
Airway pressure monitoring
This device adjusts the airway pressure to reduce any obstruction and balance the amount of air inhaled.
These devices help keep the throat open to ensure optimal entry of air into the pharynx and lungs. The narrowing of airway passage in obstructive sleep apnea may be better addressed with this device.
Therapies and devices may not provide the required relief in chronic cases and a surgery may be required to ease the airways. Surgeries that are usually undertaken for this include:
- Nasal surgery:
Performed to adjust the septum to balance the location of muscles involved in respiration. The surgery may be effective in alleviating throat obstruction.
- Mandibular maxillary surgery:
This surgery is recommended for patients with severe throat and upper-respiratory tract obstructions.
- Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP):
This procedure involves the surgical removal of soft tissue from the palate and throat. This provides an obstruction-free air passage, enabling patients to breathe better.
- Nasal surgery:
Acupuncture has been found effective in improving the interrupted breathing associated with sleep apnea.
Complications Associated with Sleep Apnea
Although sleep apnea is a “manageable” sleep disorder, experts say that if left untreated, it can lead to serious disorders like:
- Respiratory issues and lung disorders
- Hypertension and heart failure
- Low libido
- Attention deficit disorders
While most people associate sleep apnea only with its most common symptom, loud snoring, it is a more serious condition that may require medical attention. But when diagnosed and treated correctly, the symptoms of sleep apnea can be brought under control.
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