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WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?

WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. The term apnea can be translated to “without breath” and refers to a breathing pause that lasts as short as 10 seconds to over a minute. This involuntary pause can result either from a blocked airway or a signaling problem in the brain. Either way, the brain and rest of the body may not be getting the oxygen they require. Once the airway is ope again or the brain receives the required breathing signal, the person will exhibit disruptive sleep patterns. These patterns include snorting, deep breathing, or waking up completely.

The most common types of apnea are:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA)

OBSTRUCTIVE VS. CENTRAL SLEEP APNEA

Though there are several types of the disorder , the two prominent types are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. It is important to understand the key differences between these sleeping disorders to know how to properly treat each one.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form. Basically, it is a blockage in your upper airway while you sleep. This blockage is generally due to the muscles and soft tissue in the back of the throat collapsing during sleep, thus narrowing your airway as you breathe in. When you can’t get enough air, your chest muscles and diaphragm work harder to open the blocked airway and draw air into the lungs. The brain senses this obstruction and will rouse you from your sleep as an attempt to open up your airways. This awakening is typically so brief that many people do not even remember it happening.
  • Central sleep apnea is less common but slightly more severe. In this form of apnea, the brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles as you are sleeping. Because of this instability in the respiratory control center, you will unknowingly make no effort to breathe for short periods of time. Unlike OSA, this problem is not caused by a blockage of the airway, but rather a blockage in communication between the brain and muscles that control breathing. CSA is commonly associated with underlying illnesses that affect the lower brain stem (the part of your central nervous system that controls breathing patterns.)

WHAT CAUSES SLEEP APNEA?

A number of factors contribute to sleep apnea, although the most common risks associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being over the age of 40
  • Having large tonsils
  • A large neck size (17 in. or greater for men, 16 in. or greater for women)
  • Having a large tongue
  • Having a small jawbone
  • Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, excess allergies, or severe sinus problems)
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Menopause or post menopause
  • Smoking and alcohol use
  • Ethnicity (more common in African-Americans, Pacific-Islanders, and Hispanics)

HOW COMMON IS IT?

Sleep apnea is very common, affecting more than 18 million Americans according to the National Sleep Foundation. Studies have found that 1 in 5 adults have mild symptoms of OSA, while 1 in 15 display moderate-to-severe symptoms. It occurs in all age groups and sexes, but it is most commonly seen in overweight males over the age of 40. That said, recent studies conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology have found that by the age of menopause, 20% or more of women will develop sleep apnea due to reductions in estrogen levels. Though all of these conclusions can give us a ball park idea of how common it is, a lack of awareness by the public and many health care professionals have resulted in the vast majority of patients remaining undiagnosed, and therefore untreated despite the seriousness of the disorder.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE IT?

Out of 18 million Americas affected by apnea, it is believed that only 20% of people have been diagnosed and treated. However, in most cases, the person suffering from sleep apnea is unaware of any breath stoppages because their type of disorder does not trigger a full awakening. Some signs that may indicate that you are suffering from sleep apnea include:

  • Waking up with a sore or dry throat
  • Waking up with a sensation of gasping, smothering, or choking
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Drowsy driving
  • Brain fog
  • Unexplained mood changes
  • Persistent fatigue during the day
  • Restless sleep
  • Recurrent awakenings or insomnia

Though these are good indications someone is suffering from sleep apnea, there will not always be symptoms present. If you think you may have a sleeping disorder, contact Sleep Dynamics in NJ for a consultation with one of our highly qualified sleep physicians.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

Treatment ranges from lifestyle changes to surgery. Some simple behaviors you can incorporate into your life to help treat mild cases include losing weight, avoiding drugs (such as alcohol, tobacco, and sleeping pills), and changing your sleeping positions (avoid sleeping on back). Though lifestyle changes may mitigate symptoms, it is best to get a professional’s opinion on the treatment option that is right for you. The most common treatment methods used include:

  • Airway Pressure (CPAP) – CPAP is a treatment in which a mask is worn over the nose and mouth while sleeping. This therapy keeps your airways open using mild air pressure. This treatment ensures your airways will not collapse while you sleep. It is a highly recommended option for those suffering from sleep apnea.
  • Dental sleep medicine – Dental sleep medicine is a specialized area that focuses on treating sleep-disordered breathing through custom-fit oral appliance therapy. Worn only during sleep, an oral appliance fits like a sports mouth guard or an orthodontic retainer. It supports the jaw in a forward position to help maintain an open upper airway. Research shows oral appliance therapy is an effective treatment option for snoring and obstructive apnea. 

CAN YOU CURE SLEEP APNEA WITH A CPAP MACHINE?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, CPAP is the leading therapy for sleep apnea. The majority of people who use CPAP find immediate symptom relief and find they are able to control their apnea. CPAP has fully resolved sleep apnea in some cases, but only when it is properly and regularly used. 

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF SLEEP APNEA?

Because apnea is a serious medical condition, when left untreated it can cause serious health complications over time. These effects include:

  • Extreme daytime fatigue
  • High blood pressure or heart problems
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Complications with medications or surgery
  • Liver problems
  • Sleep-deprivation in sleeping partners

CAN YOU DIE FROM SLEEP APNEA?

Untreated apnea can increase your risk of multiple diseases that can lead to death. Additionally, moderate-to-severe apnea may also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen can lead to abnormal heartbeats and sudden death.

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