Do you know someone that has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and you did not dare ask what it is exactly? Are you aware that a lot of people are unaware of being affected by this sleep disorder? Could you or someone close to you be suffering from this disorder? Let’s find out!
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects both the quality of sleep but also more importantly, the breathing process. While sleeping, the patient will stop breathing for periods of 10 seconds or longer which will wake him up as he is struggling to breathe. These absences of breathing are called apnea. Usually the patient is unaware of these struggling episodes.
Is there more than one kind of sleep apnea?
Did you know that there are two types of sleep apnea? The first is called OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) which is caused by relaxed soft tissue blocking the passage of air during sleep.
The second type of sleep apnea is called CSA (central sleep apnea) which is caused by irregular signals from the brain that affect the breathing process. In some cases, patients suffer from a combination of both types of sleep apnea.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
The symptoms of sleep apnea are: suffering from excessive sleepiness during the day, having headaches in the morning, feeling irritable, being affected by mood changes, suffering from anxiety, being affected by depression, becoming forgetful, snoring loud and gasp for air, having restless sleep, having trouble to concentrate and even falling asleep during the day. Please note that these symptoms vary from one person to the next. Also be aware that the severity of the symptoms and the combination of symptoms vary from one patient to the next.
A bit of history
Did you know that the first case of sleep apnea that was diagnosed happened only in 1965? This is a bit odd when you consider that so many people are affected by this sleep disorder. At first, only people suffering from certain health conditions such as congestive heart failure were diagnosed with sleep apnea. It was also noticed that problems related to sleep apnea happened following surgery particularly in people that are overweight, obese or had short necks. It was later on proven that while they were noticed in these particular cases, sleep apnea does not only affect people suffering from these conditions or displaying these specific characteristics.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
This type of sleep apnea seems more common in people that have a soft palate or other abnormalities such the ones related to the jaw, people who are obese or consume alcohol. Did you know that 2% of female and 4% of males diagnosed with a mild case of sleep apnea stop breathing at least ten times per hour?
To evaluate the severity of sleep apnea in a patient, the specialist will evaluate it by using the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI). If a patient has less than 5 apneas per hour, it is considered normal. If it is between 5 and 15 it is mild, if it is between 15 and 30 it is moderate and over 30 is considered severe.
Also, the approximate time for each apnea (breathing interruption) is usually about 10 seconds but in more severe cases, it can reach 60 seconds.
In certain cases, sleep apnea can be cause by an external situation such as an accident, family problems, heart problems and narcolepsy. It was also held responsible either partially or totally for SIDS also known as sudden infant death syndrome.
How can it be diagnosed?
Sleep apnea is evaluated in a sleep laboratory. The patient spends the night in this laboratory and is closely monitored by both a technician with visual instruments as well as various medical resources that will also verify the level of oxygen in the blood, the breathing pattern as well as the activity of the brain.
What are the available treatments?
Well, according to the severity of the sleep apnea, a single type of treatment may help while some cases may require a combination of treatments. The available treatments are: medication, avoid antidepressants or relaxants, avoid alcohol, change of diet, quit smoking, surgery to enlarge the airways, devices to keep the patient from sleeping on his back, special pillows, oral devices and the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which is a machine that uses a tube connected to a mask and sends continuous pressurized air to keep the airways open.
Can sleep apnea be fatal?
Sleep apnea can lead to death as it takes a huge toll on the body and affects other systems which can lead to fatal situations such as a heart attack, congestive heart failure, a stroke or the patient may fall asleep while driving for example and have a tragic accident.
It is important to know that while people between 65 and 100 years of age or that are overweigh are more susceptible to suffer from sleep apnea but it still can affect people that are not overweight, infants and children as well. That is why if you have any doubts concerning a close relative, a friend or even yourself, see a doctor as treated sleep apnea cannot only improve your quality of life but also give you the opportunity to live a long and happy life.
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