Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recognizing Sleep Apnea

Recognizing Sleep Apnea
What Is Sleep Apnea?
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. 

What Causes Sleep Apnea?
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.

What Are The Effects Of Sleep Apnea?
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: 
  • Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attacks and strokes
  • Obesity
  • Heart failure
  • Work or driving related accidents caused due to long term sleep deprivation
  • Loss of memory and concentration
  • Moodiness
  • Depression and other psychological issues
  • Change in personality
  • Reduced libido

What Are The Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea?
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:
  • Poor sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Waking up with a dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating during sleep
  • Heartburn
  • Weight gain
  • Confusion on waking up

How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
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.

How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
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:
  • Oral Devices: The use of oral devices worn in/on the mouth that may help to keep the tongue from falling back, elevate the soft palate or bring the jaw forward.
  • PAP: Positive Airway Pressure machines are used to maintain a regular air flow through the use of a mask and a machine that blows air into the nose, thus keeping the air passage open and unobstructed throughout sleep.
  • Uvulopatatopharyngoplasty (UPPP): A surgery that involves the removal of the adenoids, the tonsils, and some tissue from the soft palate, uvula, and the back of the throat is used for a permanent treatment of sleep apnea.

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