Sleep Apnea is a condition where a person stops breathing for a span of approximately 10 to 20 seconds while asleep. This pattern continues several times throughout the night, usually without the person even knowing it. Adults suffer from this condition much more than children do, with males being more susceptible.
There are basically two types of sleep apnea. The most common type is 'obstructive sleep apnea' (OSA), and the less common type is 'central sleep apnea' (CSA). The third not so common type is 'mixed sleep apnea' which is basically a combination of OSA and CSA.
OSA is caused by the relaxation and collapsing of the soft tissue at the back of the throat which blocks the passage of air into the lungs.
CSA is a brain related condition and is caused when the brain sends irregular signals to the muscles that control breathing.
Sleep apnea symptoms will differ in adults and children. An adult or child suffering from this condition will not remember the apnea attacks on waking up in the morning.
Following are the symptoms in adults.
- Periods of not breathing (10 to 20 seconds at a stretch) throughout the night
- Loud interrupted snoring
- Waking up with an exhausted feeling
- Unexplained headache upon waking up
- Feeling sleepy throughout the day
- Lethargic feeling throughout the day
- Below average mental functioning
- Poor judgment
- High blood pressure
Following are the symptoms in children.
- Sleeping longer than normal
- Unexplained sudden behavioral change
- Unexplained headaches upon waking up
- Forceful breathing
- Hyperactive behavior
If you have any symptoms of sleep apnea your physician can get it diagnosed with an overnight sleep test known as polysomnogram.
Depending on the cause and severity of the obstruction, your physician will decide a course from the following treatments.
Weight loss for obese people
Weight loss is advised for those who have excess body fat. Excess fat in the neck could be the cause of narrowing the airway and causing obstructions. Mild cases of sleep apnea in such people can be reduced or cured by weight control.
Positional therapy recommends that patients do not sleep on their backs. Due to gravity it is much easier for the muscles to collapse and block the airway. Sleeping on the side is found to reduce sleep apnea.
Dental appliances treat the patient by keeping the mouth and airway open. If your physician recommends this option, make sure you go to a dentist who is experienced in treating these patients with dental appliances.
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure)
CPAP is pressurized air being constantly blown into the airway to keep it obstruction free. The pressure of air is adjusted according to the patients requirement. This method is widely used and is one of the most effective ways of curing obstructive sleep apnea.
A lifestyle change is advised to those who consume excess alcohol regularly, use tobacco in excess, and are on sedatives, antidepressants and muscle relaxants. All of these could be the reason, and just staying away from them could cure it.
Surgery is usually never advised because of the complications involved. Surgery is an option only when the case is serious and all the above methods have been tried and failed to improve the condition.
If you notice one or more of the symptoms of sleep apnea, visit your physician immediately. If diagnosed positively and the condition is mild, it can usually be treated effectively in a short span of time. If delayed, it will make the condition worse, and could possibly require surgery.