Sleep disorders come in various forms. Even though a large section of the global population suffers from sleep disorders, they are not of the same kind. While some people have difficulty falling asleep, others have difficulty staying asleep. The reason behind sleep disorders like sleep apnea also varies from one person to another. However, regardless of the type of sleep disorder a person suffers from, it is of utmost importance that the real cause behind the disorder be diagnosed and treated because sleep disorders can wreak havoc on the person’s physical and mental well being. When someone goes without sufficient sleep for days and weeks, it affects the health, memory, concentration, productivity, and immunity.
One of the biggest health conditions that contribute to sleep difficulties is sleep apnea. A large number of people anywhere in the world snore while sleeping and aren’t even aware of it. Waking up with a dry mouth and throat in the middle of the night is also because of the same disorder. Even though an astounding number of people suffer from it worldwide, most of them do not get diagnosed or treated for the same.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is one of the most serious sleep disorders. It is characterized by breathing getting interrupted during sleep throughout the night. Those with this particular sleep disorder repeatedly have their breathing interrupted while they sleep; sometimes hundreds of times throughout the night. This results in snoring, dry mouth and throat, fragmented sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Although few people seem to know about it, apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. In the US alone, over 22 million people suffer from sleep apnea, but almost 80% of them go undiagnosed. It is most common in adults between 20 and 70 years of age. Research shows a person suffering from sleep apnea can wake up almost 30 times in an hour. As a result, sleep quality suffers, memory and concentration are affected, and productivity is hampered by excessive sleepiness during the day. When this goes on for days and weeks and months, it can also lead to other health disorders.
Types of Sleep Apnea
The basic definition of this sleep disorder is a respiratory problem where the person is unable to get sufficient oxygen because of restricted breathing. But there is not one, but two types of sleep apnea and the courses are also quite different from one another. The two types of disorders are:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This is the more common form apnea caused by the air passageway being blocked by the throat muscles, causing restricted breathing. If someone suffers from this type of disease, the greeting may get interrupted or even stop briefly several times why the person is asleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea usually sleep with their mouth open because of the air passageway being blocked by the relaxed throat muscles. When we sleep up all the muscles of our bodies relax. But when the throat muscles relax so much that they block the upper airway, it causes obstructive sleep apnea. The most common symptom of obstructive this particular sleeping disorder is snoring.
Central Sleep Apnea: The other form of this sleep disorder is called central sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, here there is no problem with the respiratory organs. The airway is not obstructed, and there is nothing restricting normal breathing. The problem lies in the brain, which forgets to tell the muscles to breathe. Rather than respiratory disorder, this is a disorder of the part of the brain stem that controls breathing. Central sleep apnea is more common among adults older than 65 years of age and in infants. If not treated, central sleep apnea can also cause death because the breathing can remain stopped for several seconds to minutes.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common than central sleep apnea but both course the same kind of distress to the sufferer. The worst part is that the person is unaware of the disorder. Even if the person wakes up several times at night, they may not realize what is causing them to wake up. Therefore, in order to diagnose this sneaky sleep disorder, the signs and symptoms and statements from room and bed partners should be taken into consideration.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
As with any sleep disorder, apnea also has a number of reasons behind it. Usually, there are several causes that can cause sleep apnea. Some of the most common reasons for sleep apnea are:
Obesity: One of the most common factors contributing to sleep apnea is excess weight. More than half of all people who suffer from sleep apnea are either overweight or obese. Anyone with a body mass index of above 25 is considered overweight, and someone over 29 is called obese. In overweight or obese people the tissues and muscles are thicker and when they relax they have a higher chance of blocking the airway. Neck circumference of more than 15 centimeters is also a potential cause for obstructive sleep apnea. Obesity has all chances of causing obstructive sleep apnea, but sometimes it also works the other way around. Going without sleep for a long time at a stretch causes hormonal imbalances that can lead to obesity.
Endocrine Disorders: Some disorders of the endocrine system are sometimes linked to obstructive sleep apnea. Hypothyroidism is one of the most important endocrine disorders that can cause obstructive sleep apnea. Postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy are also at risk of developing sleep apnea. But the endocrine disorder usually resolves the sleep apnea.
Genetics: One of the most common reasons behind sleep apnea is a genetic predisposition. If people in your immediate family suffered from sleep apnea or had traits like a thick neck, round head or a dental overbite, you are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. That is the reason why people with a genetic predisposition for sleep apnea should maintain healthy body weight and take other necessary measures to lower the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
Large Tonsils: Enlarged tonsils or adenoids are often the most common reasons for obstructive sleep apnea in infants and children. The large tonsils or adenoids block the airway and obstruct breathing. Medicines are the most common treatment options for tonsil or adenoid related sleep apnea. In case the tonsils are too big and cannot be remedied by medications, surgery could be done. Removing the blockage from the airway usually resolves sleep apnea in children.
Unhealthy lifestyle: People with unhealthy lifestyles are at a greater risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea. Smoking and drinking alcohol make the tongue, and the muscles of the throat relax further and cause obstruction of the air passage. When an unhealthy lifestyle leads to obesity, it worsens obstructive sleep apnea.
Age: it is well known that the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age. Men over the age of 40 are more susceptible to obstructive sleep apnea. As a person ages, sleep difficulties such as insomnia, trouble staying asleep and shorter sleep duration become more common. Further, if the person is overweight, the risk for sleep apnea increases because of fatty deposits in the in head and neck region, lengthening of the soft palate, and change in the shape of the pharynx.
Neuromuscular Disorders: People with neuromuscular disorders like multiple sclerosis also likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea because the muscles do not function the way they should. Lung restrictions arising out of the disorder contribute significantly to obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep-related difficulties. When people with neuromuscular disorders developed obstructive sleep apnea, the only option is to provide invasive and noninvasive ventilation.
Heart or Kidney Disorders: Those with problems of the heart or the kidneys can also develop obstructive sleep apnea. If not treated in time the sleep apnea can worsen the heart and kidney health.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Even though there are many symptoms of sleep apnea, they are most noticeable only to people other than the sufferer. That is why when diagnosing sleep apnea the healthcare practitioner should take the input of the family member or bed partner of the patient.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea are:
Snoring: Almost everyone snores once in a while when they are in a deep sleep. But if the person is a habitual loud snorer, then there is some serious problem. Snoring is both a problem as well as an annoyance. But those who snore usually refuse to believe when they are told so by others. However, instead of refusing to believe, the person should seek the help of a doctor to rule out sleep apnea.
Shortness of Breath: Because sleep apnea involves interrupted breathing, it is not unusual for the person to wake up several times at night with shortness of breath. Waking up in the middle of the night with a start, feeling like you are unable to breathe is one of the biggest signs of sleep apnea. The person who shares the bed with you will also be able to confirm if they have noticed your breathing stopping and starting again suddenly many times throughout the night.
Sleepiness and Fatigue: Insufficient sleep at night naturally leads to excessive daytime sleepiness, resulting in poor concentration and productivity and foggy memory. Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to other health disorders such as improper appetite and weight gain.
Headaches and Dryness of Mouth: If you always wake up with a dry mouth and headache you could be suffering from sleep apnea. If there are no other reasons why you could have a dry mouth and throat or a headache every morning you wake up, it is most likely sleep apnea.
Low libido: Sleep apnea and chronic sleep deprivation rob the person of all energy, which leads to low libido. Although low libido also has other reasons sleep apnea is of the most important ones.
Treatment of Sleep Apnea
Usually, he is sleep apnea is caused by any other underlying medical condition such as heart or kidney problems or endocrine disorders; then the underlying medical cause should be remedied first. If hypothyroidism is causing the sleep apnea, then the hypothyroidism needs to be treated first to cure the sleep disorder. If an unhealthy lifestyle is a cause, then lifestyle changes are required to take care of the problem.
If the root cause is respiratory, then depending upon the severity of the condition, a number of treatment options are available. These include:
Breathing Devices: Because sleep apnea is basically a breathing problem, there are breathing devices that are used to correct the condition. The most popular among them is Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which involves wearing a pressurized mask over the mouth and nose while sleeping, to help keep the airway unblocked by forcing air through it.
Mouthpieces: Mouthguards or mouthpieces are dental devices fitted to the mouth for correcting the tongue, jaw, and soft palate position for clearing the airway. These devices move the jaw forward and prevent resistance in the upper airway. These devices are usually fitted by a dentist according to the shape and structure of the mouth.
Surgery: If non-invasive means aren’t successful, surgery needs to be done to cure sleep apnea. Sleep apnea surgery is called the process of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which is used to minimize the symptoms of the disorder. Although the surgery is successful at removing the tissue from the airway, it also has side effects like pain and bleeding. Laser surgery is also available, which involves shortening the soft palate with a laser beam.
Myofunctional Therapy: This is a facial therapy for the muscles of the tongue, throat, and face to reduce snoring and minimize the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. In more serious cases, this may not be too helpful.
The first step in treating sleep apnea is the right diagnosis. After that, several treatment options could be tried to find the best fit for the patient.
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