Are you facing a sleeping problem in which you repeatedly stop breathing for short periods of time? If yes, then don’t take it lightly as it can be a serious disorder, commonly known as ‘Sleep Apnea’. When looking at some of the stats related to sleep apnea, about 22 million Americans are suffering from sleep apnea. Apart from adults, at least 2-3% of children suffer from this unusual condition. The breathing pauses caused by this disorder can occur 30 times or more per hour. If not treated on time, this disorder can lead to heart problems (People suffering from sleep apnea are 4 times likely to have a stroke) and other complications.
Types of Sleep Apnea
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA is one of the most common forms of sleep apnea. This condition occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses completely or partially during sleep, leading to blockage of the airway. This results in fragmented, non-restorative sleep. About 80% of people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) go undiagnosed and the untreated OSA cases cost the US healthcare system around $3.4 billion a year. Some of the common symptoms of OSA include loud, disruptive snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, and witnessed apneas during sleep. Around 20% of adults experience at least mild symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and muscle cramps are most common in these people. In all, OSA can greatly affect a person’s cardiovascular health, mental health, and quality of life.
- Central Sleep Apnea: Central Sleep Apnea is another common type of sleep apnea. In this condition, the airway is not blocked as in the case of OSA. However, the brain fails to pass on signals to the breathing muscles because of unsteadiness in the respiratory control center. Some of the common symptoms of central sleep apnea include awakening with shortness of breath, difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome is also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea. This condition occurs when someone suffers from both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea
So, how do you know if you are suffering from sleep apnea? Well, some of the major warning signs of sleep apnea include:
- Loud and Persistent Snoring- Not all the people who snores necessarily have sleep apnea. But if you are dealing with chronic snoring that is loud and persistent enough to wake your bed partner, it can be a warning that you are suffering from sleep apnea and need to consult a doctor.
- Choking Episodes During Sleep- Choking episodes or waking up to breathe during sleep is another important key warning sign of sleep apnea. People with this disorder frequently wake up for a few seconds to gasp for air and this can happen hundreds of times a night in people with severe sleep apnea conditions.
- Sleepiness During The Day, Accompanied By A Morning Headache- A continuous disturbance in sleep at night will lead to morning headaches or extreme sleepiness throughout the day. This is another clear warning sign of sleep apnea.
Extreme Sleep Apnea Symptoms
People suffering from sleep apnea usually experience excessive tiredness even after having a full night’s sleep. Though it is difficult to determine the type of sleep apnea a person is suffering from as the signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apneas have common characteristics. The most common signs or symptoms leading to sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Out of breath for air during sleep
- Stop breathing during sleep in some intervals- witnessed by another person
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty in concentrating while awake
- Depression and Memory Loss- Depression and memory loss from sleep apnea have affected more than 936 million people worldwide.
- Difficulty in staying asleep- also known as insomnia
- Too much daytime sleepiness- known as hypersomnia
- Bad temper or Irritation
Risk Factors Associated With Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can affect everyone, regardless of age and gender. Certain factors that might increase the risk of developing sleep apnea include:
- Increased Body Mass Index: Obesity is one of the key risk factors associated with sleep apnea. The fat that gets deposited around the neck area can interrupt breathing and put extra pressure on the airways. People with thicker necks having narrower airways and circumference of more than 48 centimeters are also at a higher risk. Moreover, people with certain characteristics and abnormalities such as deformities of the nose, enlarged tonsils, thickening or lengthening of the soft palate, etc. that narrow the airways and make breathing harder may also lead to sleep apnea.
- Gender and Age: As compared to women, males are at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. Furthermore, sleep apnea gets more common as people get older (being over 60).
- Consumption of Alcohol and Certain Drugs: People who drink alcohol or take drugs (seductive or tranquilizers) before going to bed are also at a greater risk of developing sleep apnea. The reason is, consumption of these substances can increase the chances of having breathing problems as these substances relax the muscles in the throat and make them floppy.
- Smoking: Smokers are 3 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than non-smokers. Smoking increases the amount of phlegm and fluids in the lungs and airways and makes breathing more difficult.
- Family history: Due to the anatomical characteristics that run in the family, it is possible that a person may suffer from sleep apnea if anybody in the family has this problem.
It is important to note that the causes of sleep apnea in adults can vary significantly from the causes of sleep apnea in children. Adults usually suffer from this disorder due to factors like neck circumference, weight, and age. On the other hand, the main cause of this disorder in children is enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids. Snoring, mouth breathing, breathing pauses during sleep, daytime sleepiness, difficulty with concentration, poor attention span, behavioral issues, poor performance at school, and bedwetting are the most common sleep apnea child symptoms that you must be aware of.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and oral appliances are some of the most common treatment options for sleep apnea disorder. These processes help to maintain the oxygen flow into the lungs while sleeping. Additionally, losing some weight can also help to improve the symptoms of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that creates multiple sleep interruptions, preventing a person from sleeping well and makes him or her feeling extra tired throughout the day. Tiredness is not only what sleep apnea leads to; the other conditions caused by sleep apnea include heart diseases, brain damage, high blood pressure, liver problems, diabetes, and various other long-term health risks. In case you suspect that you might have sleep apnea, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible. Since sleep apnea has been linked to various serious conditions, you must discuss all your sleep-related problems with your doctor in detail so that he can investigate and treat the root cause of this disorder.