Do you frequently wake up tired even after a full night’s sleep? Do you experience morning headaches? Has anybody ever told you that you snore loudly? You probably have a condition called sleep apnea. What is sleep apnea? It is a sleep disorder wherein breathing stops briefly during sleep. It is estimated that a person with sleep apnea temporarily stops breathing for about 30 times an hour, which means you may not be aware that you stopped breathing for over a hundred of times during your entire sleep.
There are three types of sleep apnea. The most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In OSA, the breathing is interrupted due to problems in anatomical structure or function. It could be due to relaxed throat muscles, fat in the neck, large tonsils, or tongue. The second type is central sleep apnea (CSA). CSA happens when your brain does not send signals to your muscles to breathe. In other words, there is a problem in your breathing control center, and in a sense, your body forgets to breathe. The third type is complex sleep apnea syndrome. It is a combination of OSA and CSA.
Who are at risk? First in the list are those who are overweight. As mentioned, fat in the neck can obstruct the airway, making it difficult to breathe. Next, according to studies, males are more prone to experience sleep apnea compared to women. Of course, this does not mean that women are exempted from this condition. If a woman is overweight, then she is still at risk. Having a large tongue or large tonsils are also risk factors since these can obstruct the airway. Smoking can cause throat inflammation. Lastly, family history is a predisposing factor to sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition because irregular breathing leads to less oxygen distribution to your brain and other vital organs, including the heart. Conversely, it means an increased amount of carbon dioxide in your brain and organs. When that happens, you begin to feel the symptoms of sleep apnea like snoring loudly, waking up tired even after enough hours of sleep, and experiencing morning headaches. Also, a person with sleep apnea can experience irritability, feel sleepy at daytime, and usually has trouble concentrating. However, it doesn’t end there. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to complications in blood pressure and development of heart problems (even a stroke).
How can we prevent sleep apnea? The most important prevention is to have a healthy diet and lifestyle. Exercise regularly to avoid becoming overweight. Avoid smoking.
What if a person already has sleep apnea? What could be done? Treatments include using airway pressure devices such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This device ensures constant airflow and keeps air passageways open. The CPAP device has a mask that is worn by the patient while sleeping. Some patients find this inconvenient thus they resort to oral devices that are designed to keep air passageways open by bringing the jaw forward. If these methods did not work, surgery would be the last option.
Now that we have learned that sleep apnea is a medical condition that we should never ignore, we must not underestimate or take it lightly. If you have experienced any of the symptoms, or if you think you are at risk, visit your doctor. Remember that in any medical condition, early intervention is always the key to a better prognosis and treatment.