Sleep Apnea is a condition where there is irregular breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep. In the most common form of Sleep Apnea- Obstructive Sleep Apnea- these stops in breathing are caused because of repetitive obstructions of the upper airway. In people suffering from sleep apnea, these interruptions in breathing can happen from 5 to 100 times in an hour.
Sleep apnea is caused when excess fat tissue in the neck leads to constriction of the airway or when a large tongue or relaxed throat muscles block the air passage. Enlarged adenoids and tonsils also lead to blockage of the airway, causing sleep apnea. Deformities of the jaw, teeth or the nasal passage are other factors that cause sleep apnea in certain cases.
Since sleep apnea leads to a reduction of oxygen in the blood during periods of irregular breathing, it causes light and disturbed sleep, which further leads to tiredness and fatigue during the daytime. Other factors related to poor sleep also come into play in the case of people suffering from sleep apnea. On a day to day basis, sleep apnea leads to fatigue, daytime sleepiness, poor sleep quality, irritability and headaches. But the condition can turn dangerous because in the long term sleep apnea can lead to:
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are sudden loud snorts and snoring during sleep. However, the sufferer who is asleep during these episodes of apnea is unaware of the problem till it is brought to notice by someone else.
Other less common symptoms are:
A diagnosis of sleep apnea can be confirmed on the basis of symptomatic observations combined with physical examination and family history. However, a health practitioner may use tests called the Polysomnogram (PSG—a test that records a person’s breathing at night) and the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT- a test that checks how quickly a person falls asleep in the daytime) to determine if a person is suffering from sleep apnea.
Light sleep apnea can be treated simply by bringing about lifestyle changes like losing weight or changing sleeping habits. In some cases, sleeping on the side can solve the problem. Giving up medications like sleeping pills or sedatives that may lead to relaxation of the muscles is also advised in some cases. However, more serious cases of sleep apnea often require surgical intervention or device usage.
Some of the common treatments for serious sleep apnea are: