What You Should Know About Sleep Apnea: A Guide to the Basics

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • Sleep Apnea - What is it?

    Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the victim stops breathing from a few seconds to a minute or more and resumes with a gasp or a snort. Apnea (also spelled apnoea) means the cessation of breathing.

    There are primarily three types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused when there is some obstruction of the airways including fatty tissue, enlarged tonsils or an enlarged tongue. Central sleep apnea is a central nervous system disorder. The message to tell the body to breathe is delayed. The third type, mixed sleep apnea, is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

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    Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

    Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring (although there are cases
    where this does not occur,) and the cessation of breathing during the
    night. Another symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness. The victim may fall asleep while reading, watching TV or driving. In fact, sleep apnea has been the cause of numerous automobile accidents. A person suffering from the excessive daytime sleepiness caused by sleep apnea may even fall asleep in the middle of a sentence, only to awaken a few seconds later and resume talking as though nothing has happened.

    Causes of Sleep Apnea

    One of the main causes of obstructive sleep apnea is obesity. This
    causes excess fatty tissue in the throat area that can cut off air
    supply when the throat is relaxed during sleep. Other causes of sleep
    apnea are a deviated septum, enlarged tongue and a deformed palette
    (roof of the mouth.)
    Sleep apnea tends to be hereditary, although no such gene has been
    detected. Rather, it seems to be the "apnea body type" that's inherited
    - the tendency to obesity, the thick neck. Although often thought of as a disorder of middle-aged or older men, sleep apnea can strike anyone. Sleep apnea is more prevalent in women who have gone through menopause, possibly because of the decrease in the hormones
    estrogen and progesterone.
    Diagnosing Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea is often first detected by the victim and those who share
    his life. As mentioned above, loud snoring, cessation of breathing while
    asleep and excessive daytime sleepiness are easily detected symptoms.
    If sleep apnea is suspected, the patient is sent to a sleep lab for a
    sleep study or polysomnogram. This measures body functions including
    brain activity and oxygen/carbon dioxide levels in the body.  Snoring and body movement will also be monitored.  Occasionally a sleep latency test may be required.  This measures the how long it takes the patient to fall asleep, given opportunities to nap during the day.

    Treatment for Sleep Apnea

    The treatment of choice for sleep apnea is the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. CPAP consists of an air pump and a mask that is worn while sleeping. The pressure of the air assures that the airways will remain open.
    More drastic measures are available if CPAP doesn't work. Surgery, from
    the removal of enlarged tonsils and adenoids to reshaping deformed areas of the mouth sometimes is beneficial. Laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP) uses lasers to remove the soft tissue from the back of the throat and from the palate (the roof of the mouth separating the mouth from the nasal cavity).  LAUP is primarily only useful for the treatment of snoring, not sleep apnea.

  • Lifestyle changes can also prove beneficial. Practice good sleep hygiene

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    by keeping regular hours and get the amount of sleep necessary. And, if
    you are overweight or obese, try to reduce. Even a few pounds can make a difference.

    Sleep Apnea Prognosis

    Untreated sleep apnea can be deadly. It puts a strain on the entire
    body. It causes sleep deprivation because of the continuous lapses in
    sleep during the night. Excessive daytime sleepiness causes, not only a
    reduction in the quality of life, but also dangerous loss of
    concentration that can lead to injuries or even fatalities.
    Added to the lapses in breathing is the lack of oxygen to the brain.
    This puts even more strain on the body. Sleep apnea can lead to high
    blood pressure, heart disease and attack and stroke.

Published On: April 07, 2007