Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat are too relaxed to facilitate regular breathing. When this happens, the airway will narrow or close when inhaling and this may cause insufficient breathing for at least 10 seconds. This causes the level of oxygen in the blood to drop and also lead to carbon dioxide buildup.
The brain will sense the problem and cause the sufferer to wake up briefly in order to reopen the airway. This may happen so briefly that the sufferer will not even remember it. This may occur between 5 to 30 times, or in some cases, even more per hour throughout the night. Sometimes, they may make gasping, choking, or snorting sounds while the shortness of breath hastily corrects itself.
Many apnea sufferers may not know that their sleep has been disrupted and may even be under the false impression that they have slept well through the night.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea symptoms may include:
- Loud snoring
- Nighttime sweating
- Excessive daytime tiredness
- Headache in the morning
- Problems concentrating throughout the day
- Mood swings including irritability or depression
- High blood pressure
- Stopped breathing in the middle of sleep
- Suddenly waking up while choking or gasping
- Reduced sex drive
What Should be Done?
If such symptoms are observed, it is important to consult a doctor who may make a diagnosis or refer you to a specialist. An evaluation would include 2 types of tests namely the nocturnal polysomnography where your heart, brain and lung activity, arm and leg movements, breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels are observed as you sleep, as well as the home sleep tests where simplified tests can conducted at home measuring your breathing patterns, airflow, heart rate and blood oxygen levels.
For less serious cases, you may be recommended to make some changes to your lifestyle such as losing weight. Medication may be given for nasal allergies. However, for more serious cases, you may be recommended the following treatment:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) – a machine that applies pressure into the airway to help a person breathe easily.
- Oral appliances – designed to keep the throat open.
- Supplemental oxygen – for people with central sleep apnea to supply oxygen to their lungs.
- Treatment for related medical problems – some causes of sleep apnea may stem from other kinds of disorder and treating these conditions first may be effective.
- Adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) – a gadget that monitors the regular breathing pattern and regulates your breathing during sleep using pressure.
- Removal of tissue – the doctor may remove the tissues from the back of the mouth and top of the throat, possibly including the tonsils.
- Implants – polyester or plastic soft rods may be implanted into the soft palate.
- Jaw repositioning – the jaw would be positioned forward to lessen obstruction from breathing.
- Shrinkage of tissue – typically for milder cases of sleep apnea.
You may start off with doing some work on your own if you think you might have sleep apnea. Trying to avoid alcohol and medications such as sleeping pills or tranquilizers, stop smoking, exercising, and losing excess weight are some ways that may help you deal with sleep apnea. However, if your condition does not seem to improve, it is always best to consult with a doctor.