Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Many people have the disorder but do not realize it. Sleep apnea has been linked to a number of other health maladies including obesity, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome. Understanding this disorder and how to it affects sufferers is the first step in getting the right treatment for sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for short bursts of time throughout the night. These pauses, or apneas, usually last for a few seconds to a minute. During an apnea, you snore heavily, then suddenly stop breathing, only to resume breathing again several seconds later, often with a heavy snort or sound of choking. The sufferer does not normally notice these instances. They occur quickly and may happen up to hundreds of times per night. One of the most common signs of sleep apnea is heavy snoring. This noise occurs when the body is trying to force air out through the nose and mouth to aid in breathing.
An eerie, deadly silence follows the snoring, during which time the body wakes itself from deep sleep and transitions into a lighter sleep in order to kickstart breathing again. Though the sufferer remains asleep, the deep restful sleep is disrupted, causing the person to wake up tired and remain fatigued throughout the day.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is caused by blocked or obstructed airways in the windpipe. When the person is asleep, the airway becomes blocked, and the sufferer cannot exhale and inhale normally. The body reacts by waking the person in order to restore breathing. In many cases, sleep apnea is linked to overweight and obesity. It can also occur when there is a genetic condition that causes the sufferer to have a more narrow than normal airway. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, is due to the narrowed airway. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send the right signal to the lungs to expel carbon dioxide and inhale air during sleep. There is often no snoring during a central sleep apnea episode.
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
There are several factors that make it more likely that you will develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- Muscles in the tongue and throat that relax more than normal
If your muscles are unusually relaxed in the throat and tongue, it can make it easy for your airway to collapse, causing an apnea. This is usually genetic and can be treated with surgery.
Added fat in the windpipe narrows the passageway, making it harder for air to pass through. This can cause breathing difficulties that lead to sleep apnea.
- Normal Aging
As we age, the throat muscles relax and do not remain as stiff as they have in the past. This can make a windpipe collapse more likely and lead to incidences of sleep apnea.
- Smaller head and airway
Sometimes the shape of the head and airway make apnea more likely. This condition can be treated with surgery to widen the airway.
Complications of Sleep Apnea
Complications of sleep apnea range from mild to life-threatening. Fatigue is the most common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. Sufferers find themselves tired throughout the day and are at a greater risk for motor accidents and on the job injuries. There have been several fatal incidents that have been blamed on sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is also connected to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea usually depends on the severity of the disorder. For many mild cases, doctors recommend lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, exercising regularly and weight loss. If your sleep apnea is caused by allergies, your doctor may change or increase your medication. For moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe a CPAP machine. A CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine delivers air through the airways through a mask placed over the mouth and nose. The air pressure forces the airway open, making it possible for you to breathe throughout the night.
Some doctors recommend an oral device that adjusts the position of the jaw, forcing the airway open while you sleep. Many people who don’t like to wear the sleep masks opt for oral devices to control their sleep apnea. Your dentist can recommend a device that works for your sleep style and lifestyle.
Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP)
EPAP are small devices that fit each nostril each night. These devices allow air to pass through freely, while at the same time creating a small space through which air escapes. By creating a smaller space for the output of air, the EPAP forces the airway open, stopping the instances of apnea.
In some cases, severe sleep apnea is treated by surgery. The most common sleep apnea surgery is called uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, and surgeons remove the tissues at the back of the throat and mouth. They also remove the adenoids and tonsils. This surgery is most effective for people who don’t like the CPAP machine or who don’t want to use oral devices. This surgery is considered generally less effective than devices and most doctors recommend it only as a last resort.
Some people opt for jaw surgery to correct sleep apnea. During this surgery, called maxillomandibular advancement, doctors reposition the jaw to allow for freer movement of air throughout the throat. In the most severe cases of sleep apnea, doctors cut an opening in the throat and insert a plastic tube that allows you to breathe freely. The opening is covered during the day, but opened at night to allow for air to flow through the passageway.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that affects millions of people every day. Most cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed, and many people will die from the disorder each year. Understanding sleep apnea and its causes is the first step in curing the disease.
If you suffer from any symptoms of sleep apnea, you should seek medical attention. Ensure your doctor is qualified and certified to avoid problems from faulty work. An outstanding physician in the field is Dr. Jamali, a maxillofacial surgeon who has the relevant board certifications. He has almost ten years’ experience in cosmetic dentistry. Dr. Jamali is based in New York, and his physical address is 42 Broadway, New York, NY 10004, USA. You can contact Dr. Jamali through 212-480-2777.