Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that, if left untreated, can result in significant health issues like high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Even with a whole night’s sleep, untreated sleep apnea causes regular breathing to stop while you sleep, which results in loud snoring and daytime fatigue. Anyone can develop sleep apnea, but studies demonstrate that overweight and older individuals are more likely to do so.
Sleep apnea: What is it?
When a person’s breathing is disrupted while asleep, they develop a severe sleep disorder known as sleep apnea. Individuals with this disorder continuously stop breathing while they sleep, sometimes even hundreds of times per night.
Many health issues, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart’s muscular tissue), heart failure, diabetes, and heart attacks, may result if left untreated. This can also lead to impairment on the job, work-related accidents, auto accidents, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.
There are two types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): Of the two, OSA is more prevalent. Repetitive episodes of full or partial upper airway obstruction while you sleep cause obstructive sleep apnea. As the pressure rises, the diaphragm and chest muscles put more effort into opening the airway during an apneic episode. Breathing frequently comes up again with a loud gasp or jolt of the body. These episodes can disrupt quality sleep, lower the amount of oxygen reaching essential organs, and lead to abnormal heart rhythms.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA): This condition causes a repetitive start/stop breathing pattern due to wrong signals sent via the brain. Unlike OSA, there is nothing physically wrong with your airways. The brain improperly sends the signal to breathe in less air, which causes the muscles in the airways to function incorrectly. The nervous system (brain) is essential in causing Central Sleep Apnea.
Who is susceptible to this condition?
Almost 10% of women and 25% of men suffer from sleep apnea. Individuals, particularly infants and young children, as well as those over 50 and obese, are susceptible to this condition.
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea frequently share particular physical and clinical characteristics. These include unusually high necks, excessive weight, and structural flaws that narrow the upper airway, such as nasal obstructions, low-hanging soft palates, or big tonsils.
What signs and symptoms indicate sleep apnea?
In many cases, the bed partner is the one to notice the first symptoms of OSA. Many of those affected don’t have sleep issues. Among OSA’s most typical warning signs and symptoms are:
- Weariness or sleepiness during the day.
- Sleep disturbances and frequent midnight awakenings
- A feeling of choking or gasping accompanied by sudden awakenings.
- Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth.
- Cognitive dysfunction, such as selective attention difficulties, forgetfulness, or impatience.
- Disturbances in mood (depression or anxiety).
- Sweats during the night
- Frequent urinating at night.
Although they may also feel like choking or gasping when they wake, those with central sleep apnea more frequently report frequent awakenings or sleeplessness.
Children’s symptoms, which may not be as visible in adults, include:
- Mediocre academic performance.
- In the classroom, sluggishness or tiredness is sometimes mistaken for laziness.
- Difficulties in eating and breathing during the day.
- When inhaling, the ribcage moves inward.
- Unusual sleeping positions, such as resting on one’s hands and knees or stretching one’s neck too far,
- Excessive nighttime sweat
- Behavioural and learning difficulties (hyperactivity, attention deficits).
What are the options for treating sleep apnea?
Conservative therapy may be sufficient in mild cases of obstructive sleep apnea.
Losing weight can be advantageous for overweight people. Most patients can reduce apneic episodes by even 10% with weight loss.
Alcohol and other sleeping drugs increase the likelihood that the airway will collapse while you’re asleep and lengthen the apneic episodes. Therefore, those with obstructive sleep apnea should stay away from them.
Some moderate obstructive sleep apnea sufferers only experience breathing pauses while lying on their backs. In these circumstances, utilising a wedge pillow or other tools that allow them to sleep on their side may be beneficial.
Those with sinus issues or nasal congestion should use nasal sprays or breathing strips to lessen snoring and increase airflow for more comfortable breathing at night. All patients with sleep problems must avoid sleep deprivation.
For the majority of those with obstructive sleep apnea, positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is the preferred initial treatment. Patients who receive PAP therapy cover their mouth or nose with a mask. Air is gently blown via the mouth or nose using an air blower. While being administered, PAP therapy prevents airway closure, but apnea episodes recur when interrupted or misused. Different types of PAP therapy:
- The most popular PAP device is CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). The machine has only one pressure setting.
- When using Bi-Level PAP, you breathe in at one pressure and out at a lesser pressure (breathing out).
- Auto CPAP or Auto Bi-Level PAP uses a range of pressures that self-regulate based on the pressure needs the machine detects.
- For patients with central sleep apnea, adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) is a sort of non-invasive ventilation that works to maintain the airway open and give the required breath when necessary.
Mandibular advancement devices
Devices for patients with mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea include mandibular advancement devices. It is possible to create dental or oral mandibular advancement equipment to help keep the tongue from obstructing the throat and moving the lower jaw forward. A sleep specialist and dentist should decide collectively if this course of treatment is right for you.
Those who snore but do not have obstructive sleep apnea may benefit from surgical procedures. A deviated nasal septum, noticeably enlarged tonsils, a short lower jaw with an overbite that causes the throat to be abnormally narrow, or excessive or deformed tissue blocking airflow via the nose or throat may all require surgery. These treatments are typically carried out when conservative therapies and a CPAP trial have failed to control this disorder.
What negative impacts might sleep apnea have?
A range of health issues, such as hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart’s muscular tissue), heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and heart attacks, can develop if left untreated.
The condition can lead to possible arrhythmias and heart failure in individuals who typically suffer from this condition and have increased blood pressure. Around 50% of people with heart failure or atrial fibrillation also have this sleep disorder.
A Message from the Heartscope Specialist Group
People frequently experience sleep apnea, which causes their breathing to halt while asleep. It may be a symptom of an underlying disease and cause drowsiness and difficulties concentrating.
A person with sleep apnea frequently is unaware of it, but a companion will know.
Anyone who feels sleepy during the day should see a sleep or respiratory physician who can help them determine the cause and the best course of action to follow to address it – Heartscope also offers services tailored for conditions like this.