Getting a good night’s sleep when suffering from sleep apnea is always a challenge. In short, sleep apnea is a disorder where the person’s breathing pauses periodically or turns very shallow. Pauses can last as short as 2 seconds or as long as nearly a minute. It is often followed by loud snoring. On some occasions even choking can occur which disrupts sleep, making the person feel tired the following day, lack of energy and difficulty in carrying everyday tasks.
Types of Sleep apnea
Most common forms of sleep apnea are obstructive, central and a combination of both which is simply called Mixed, however the obstructive is by far the most common. Obesity, family history or certain allergies increase the risk of introducing obstructive sleep apnea. Since the airflow is blocked, breathing becomes interrupted in Obstructive, whereas in Central there is simply lack of effort to breathe. People having the disorder usually aren’t aware of it and most of the time a family member is the one to inform them that they aren’t sleeping as they should be.
Symptoms can include, in addition to the ones mentioned above, vision problems, mood swings, belligerence and attention deficit. One very serious symptom is sleep paralysis or night terrors which can quickly lead to a lot of mental disorders, most commonly depression. Since the person is lacking energy and concentration, sleep apnea can be the cause for driving or work related accidents. If not properly and timely treated, it can also increase the risk for diabetes and in some cases, due to the lack of oxygen – death.
Sleep apnea can affect people of any age, sex or race but males of excessive weight and age above 40 are a group of particularly higher risk. Early and proper diagnosis is crucial and the best way is to go through a formal sleep study. Oxymetry can also be performed, but it is somewhat less accurate and reliable method compared to a sleep study.
What can help?
Once diagnosed, treatments can be started by changing the lifestyle. Alcohol and sleeping medications should be avoided, as well as other sedatives which can relax muscles, including those in the throat causing them to collapse and block airflow. Sleeping on the side can be helpful in some cases. CPAP systems have been successful in reducing sleep apnea’s effect by opening the airway channels with pressurized air. This system is often worn as a mask covering only the nose.
Weight loss can further help to manage sleep apnea symptoms. If all else fails, sleep apnea can be treated surgically but it is generally considered as a last resort. Since every person is different, the surgical procedure needs to be individualized. Surgical procedures include correction of nasal passages, shrinking or stiffening excess tissue in the mouth and throat or by far the most effective, multilevel surgery which cures sleep apnea in nearly 95% of the patients.
There are some alternative treatments such as diaphragm pacing which sends series of electrical pulses to the diaphragm, correcting and stimulating its movement. Some medications such as acetazolamide can help with the symptoms but only if the patient doesn’t suffer from risk to respiratory depression. There is an oral appliance which consists of a custom made mouthpiece that moves the lower jaw forward and opens the mouth, therefore allowing for air to freely pass. These have to be fabricated by a dentist and can help with mild or severe sleep apnea.
Life with sleep apnea can become difficult eventually, so finding a way to manage or cure it as soon as possible is a chance that shouldn’t be missed. The risks are far too great to be ignored and each day with reduced quality of life is a day wasted.