Sleep apnea is a chronic, potentially serious disorder where your sleep is disrupted by breathing pauses or when you experience shallow breathing during sleep. Breathing pauses can occur for a few seconds to several minutes, with a frequency of around 30 times or more in one hour. When you pause breathing, the level of oxygen delivered to the brain is below normal. The brain then responds to this by disrupting your sleep so you jumpstart your breathing. A loud choking or gasping sound accompanies this. Often times, this causes you to move out of deep sleep into a lighter sleep, or you may be awakened.
What are the types of sleep apnea?
- Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. Snoring ensues because the soft tissues at the back of the throat relax during sleep and block the airway. Moreover, allergies or other medical conditions that result to nasal congestion and blockage may contribute to obstructive sleep apnea. In this condition, you may not be aware of your awakenings.
- Central sleep apnea involves the central nervous system and is not as common as obstructive sleep apnea. It occurs when the brain fails to activate the muscles that control your breathing. People with this condition seldom snore and are often aware of their sleep being disrupted by apnea.
- Complex sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep combined.
Who can have sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea can affect male, female, the young or the old. However, there are particular risk factors associated with each type.
You are at risk for obstructive sleep apnea if you are:
- 65 years old or above
- Has a family member suffering from sleep apnea
- Hispanic, Pacific Islander, or Black
Other factors may include the following physical attributes:
- Thick neck
- Enlarged tonsils or adenoids (common in children)
- Deviated septum
- Receding chin
You are at risk for central sleep apnea if you are:
- 65 years old or above
- suffering from a serious medical condition (such as stroke, heart disease, neurological problems, or brainstem or spinal injury)
What are the signs and symptoms?
Sleep apnea may root from a serious disorder; therefore, it is necessary to consult your doctor. However, sleep apnea is often undiagnosed because the prominent symptoms can manifest while you are sleeping. You may need the help of a sleep partner to observe your sleeping habits. You may also set up an audio or video recording of yourself during sleep. Snoring may indicate
sleep apnea, as well as the following:
- shallow breathing
- breathing pauses
- gasping for air or choking
- awakenings, feeling confused
- Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking up
- Morning headaches
- Extreme sleepiness
- Feeling of poor sleep quality
- Poor concentration, attention or memory
- Mood swings
- Recent weight gain
Is it sleep apnea or just snoring?
Snoring may indicate sleep apnea, but not all those who have sleep apnea snore. Furthermore, snoring does not automatically mean one has sleep apnea. The major difference lies on the fact that snoring does not likely affect the quality of sleep, thus, daytime symptoms may not be present.
What are the causes of snoring?
The way you snore indicates the cause of snoring. By correctly determining how you snore, you are closer to knowing the appropriate cure for your condition.
- Snoring while the mouth is closed indicate tongue problem
- Snoring while the mouth is open may be linked to tissues at the back of your throat.
- Snoring while sleeping on your back is a milder problem and may indicate the need for a change in positioning, improvement in sleep habits and lifestyle changes
- Snoring in all sleep positions is more severe and may necessitate a more comprehensive management.
What can treat sleep apnea and snoring?
The objective of treating sleep apnea is to be able to re-establish a regular breathing pattern during sleep and to alleviate symptoms such as snoring and symptoms of poor sleep quality . Obstructive sleep apnea and snoring can be treated by making changes in your bedtime habits and lifestyle, as well as performing throat exercises. Clinical treatments may also be considered, which may include the use of dental appliance, breathing devices and even surgery. Medications are only used to treat daytime sleepiness associated with sleep apnea, but does not cure the apnea itself . In cases of central apnea, treating the underlying medical condition, such as neuromuscular or heart disorder, is necessary.