Sleep Apnea Explained: What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a common disorder that causes interruptions in breathing during sleep, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain. Sufferers wake hundreds of times per night, each time normal breathing is interrupted and the brain is depleted of oxygen. As a result, they never feel rested and experience excessive daytime grogginess. It is not a disease but increases risks of contracting other diseases and conditions. There are three types: obstructive, central and complex, which is a combination of the first two.
Central Sleep Apnea is caused when the brain fails to properly signal the muscles to breath. It is very uncommon and snoring is generally not a symptom.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, with some estimates at 1 in 7 people in the U.S being afflicted with some form of OSA. In OSA, the muscles around the throat and airway relax, causing the airway to collapse. Sometimes the tongue falls back and obstructs the airway. The brain can no longer receive oxygen and sends a signal to the muscles to open, often causing the person to wake up with a gasp or a snort. Most of the time, sufferers do not recall waking up during these episodes.
WHO GETS OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA?
Anyone can develop it, regardless of gender or age, and even children can be afflicted. The most common risk factors include:
- Excess weight, especially obesity – about half of all OSA sufferers are overweight
- Male, although recent research has indicated that women’s risk increases to about the same level as men once they reach post-menopausal age
- Over the age of 60
- Enlarged tonsils and adenoids, one of the most common factors for children with OSA, particularly overweight children
- Having certain anatomical features such as a thick neck, narrowed airway, deviated spectrum or a receding chin
- Using alcohol, sedatives and tranquilizers, all of which relax the muscles in the airway
- Having asthma, in adults and children, particularly if they are overweight
- Race and ethnicity can play a part as well – some studies have indicated African Americans, Hispanics and other races have a slightly higher risk
- Allergies and chronic nasal congestion
IS OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA DANGEROUS?
Yes. The majority of people with OSA don’t even know they have it because it mimics symptoms of so many other disorders. It is particularly overlooked in women and children, whose symptoms may differ slightly from men. Untreated, OSA can contribute or exacerbate a wide variety of illnesses and disorders, including but not limited to:
- Brain damage
- Cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, stroke, heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), myocardial ischemia (decreased blood flow to the heart) and pulmonary arterial hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)
- Cognitive Impairments such as dementia, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and other cognition / behavioral problems
- Certain types of cancer
- Depression and anxiety
- Higher risk of injury or death from car and other accidents
IS OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA TREATABLE?
Yes. It is very treatable, often with a combination of things, including lifestyle changes, oral appliance therapy, breathing assistance devices such as continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP), upper airway stimulation therapies and surgery. Click to read more about treatment options. Often, people with obstructive sleep apnea suffer from underlying medical conditions, so once those are treated, some OSA symptoms subside.
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA?
Only a doctor or sleep specialist can confirm if you or a loved one is suffering from OSA. At Renew Sleep Solutions, we can evaluate you and send you home with a simple at-home sleep test that measures airflow, heart rate and oxygen saturation.
If you or your loved one experience more than one or two of the symptoms below, you should seek help to either diagnose or rule out OSA.
OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA SYMPTOMS
- Loud, frequent snoring
- Uneven breathing – periods of silence followed by gasps or snorts
- Frequent waking, sometimes with chest pain
- Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning
- Mood problems such as depression and irritability
- Excessive daytime sleepiness that interferes with normal activities such as driving
- Chronic exhaustion even after a full-night’s sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Been diagnosed with ADHD (in children and adults) – sometimes OSA is misdiagnosed as ADHD
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