Sleep Apnea: What It Is, Symptoms & Treatments

There are many different sleep disorders about including narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs, sleep deprivation and sleep apnea. This article goes over what sleep apnea is and symptoms of the disorder.

There are 2 types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and central sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is categorized by episodes of upper airway blockage during sleep. These episodes are repetitive and associated with reduced blood oxygen saturation. There are many things that can block the upper airways including large tonsils, excess tissue in the airway, a large tongue, airway muscles relaxing and collapsing during sleep. The nose and the structure of the jaw can also contribute to sleep apnea.

Central Sleep Apnea is also characterized by episodes of upper airway blockage and lack of effort in breathing during sleep. Central sleep apnea is rare in comparison to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome and is also much more difficult to diagnose. Neuromuscular problems are usually involved in this type of apnea.

Generally the symptoms of this sleep disorder are that one stops breathing during sleep but unfortunately is unaware and one is very sleepy during the day.

Some effects of obstructive sleep apnea can be:

  • Morning headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Loud snoring
  • Excess weight
  • Dry mouth upon awakening
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentration
  • Heartburn
  • Excessive sweating during sleep
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Restless sleep
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced libido

Sleep apnea can be life threatening and needs medical attention as soon as possible. If it goes undiagnosed it can cause heart attacks, strokes, an irregular heartbeat and impotence to name a few things.

If you feel like you may have it or a sleep disorder please see a Doctor. A doctor will determine where you have apnea by giving you a sleep test called a polysomnography. There are two types of polysomnograms. One polysomnogram is taken overnight and involves monitoring muscle tension, brain waves, eye movement, respiration and oxygen levels in the blood. The other type of polysomnogram is a home test. You are hooked up to electrodes by a sleep technologist who will tell you how to record your sleep.

If you are found to have a mild case, then this can usually be treated by lifestyle or behavioural changes. Things like losing weight or sleeping on your side will be recommended to you. You may be given an oral device to help reduce snoring and prevent the problem. Even if you do have a mild case you should be aware that this could lead to a moderate or severe case. Sleep apnea is progressive and as you age it can get worse, so trying to overcome it as soon as you can is key.

Moderate to severe cases are usually treated with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (C-PAP). More severe cases may involve a Bi-level machine that blows two different air pressures i.e. when the person inhales the pressure is higher than when exhaling.

If treatments do not help, there are surgery options but these are only an option when nothings helps the issue.

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