Feeling tired after a full night’s rest? Hearing your significant other gasp for breath or snore unusually loud in the middle of the night? These can all be warning signs of a deadly disorder if left untreated; sleep apnea.
About 18 million U.S. adults suffer from sleep apnea, with that majority being men. The condition is a potential silent killer as it is typically undiagnosed. Sufferers are not aware of the occurrence as it happens while sleeping.
This condition is the result of a relaxation of the muscles in your airway that temporarily obstructs or limits the passage of oxygen. Occurrences can happen up to 30 times within one hour. In severe cases, it can result in death.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. They can occur individually, or they can coexist. Each type has differing signs and symptoms.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. It is the collapse or blockage of the airway resulting in shallow breathing or breathing pauses.
The lack of oxygen to the body temporarily wakes the sleeper resulting in tiredness. Each pause can last about ten seconds.
Signs and Symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
The most common sign of obstructive sleep apnea is loud snoring and drowsiness during daylight hours. Sufferers may also experience insomnia, awakening at night from gasping for air, waking with dry mouth or a sore throat, morning headaches, depression or high irritability, decreased libido, high blood pressure, and nighttime sweating.
What is central sleep apnea?
Central sleep apnea, like obstructive sleep apnea, is when shallow breathing or complete failure to breathe occurs while sleeping. However, rather than being a mechanical condition like OSA, central sleep apnea is the deprivation of a signal from the brain telling the body to breathe.
It is most common in individuals who suffer from prior neurological conditions, who have suffered brain trauma, or those who take certain medicines.
Signs and Symptoms of Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea carries the same symptoms as OSA such as moodiness, insomnia, hypersomnia, morning headaches, and snoring. Though there are a few variations to distinguish the two. CSA symptoms may also include shortness of breath only relieved by sitting up, abrupt awakenings, irregular breathing periods where the sleeper fails to breathe, as well as chest pains at night.
Depending on the type of sleep apnea that is occurring, treatment options can vary. The options available can range from home remedies such as lifestyle changes to medical devices, or surgery in more severe cases.
Treating Obstructive Sleep Apnea
When suffering from mild obstructive sleep apnea lifestyle changes can have a very positive effect on the symptoms of this condition. These changes include, weight loss, quitting smoking and/or drinking, and even changing sleep position from lying on your back to your side.
Other simple, less invasive treatments are available as well. The use of nasal aspirators or custom made mouthpieces can also relieve symptoms.
Medical devices such as CPAP, continuous positive airway pressure, can also be worn. The devices are masks that cover your mouth and nose, or nose alone and push air through your passageways. The pressure of the forced air allows your throat canal to remain open.
Treating Central Sleep Apnea
Because central sleep apnea is a failure of the brain to signal the body to inhale, this form is much more difficult to treat in other ways other than the use of an assisted breathing apparatus. As such, CPAP machines are also effective in treating CSA.
Another option involves surgery in severe cases. The type of surgery performed will also vary depending on the cause of the condition. This could mean the removal of excess tissue in the throat such as tonsils, placement of stiff plastics to stiffen tissue causing the blockage, or readjusting the lower jaw.
Sleep apnea left untreated, as it is in many cases, is a silent killer. Those who suffer from the condition are more likely to suffer other serious health issues such as heart disease and stroke. Each year there are on average 38,000 cardiac distress deaths directly related to sleep apnea. If you suspect that you or your bed partner have any of the symptoms seek medical advice. The condition is treatable with proper diagnosis.