Sleep Apnea

Sleep ApneaSleep apnea is a serious medical condition that occurs when the airway is temporarily obstructed during sleep, causing disruptions in breathing. These interruptions can last a few seconds at a time or more than a minute, and may occur between 5-30 times over the course of an hour. Breathing often resumes with loud snoring choking or gasping sound, which can further interrupt sleep.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

While muscles generally relax during sleep, in healthy individuals, the airway muscles remain stiff and open enough to allow air to flow easily. However, in some individuals, those muscles may relax or be compressed by other tissues, causing temporary breath obstruction, or sleep apnea. While obstructive sleep apnea may be caused by oversized tonsils or tongue, the most common cause of sleep apnea is excess weight or obesity, which affects the soft tissues surrounding the mouth and throat.

Smoking, alcohol consumption and certain sleep medications may also contribute to sleep apnea.

Normal Airway Without Sleep Apnea

In a healthy individual, air travels freely through the airway into the lungs.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, enlarged tissue blocks the air passageway, disrupting breathing patterns.

What are the Dangers?

Sleep apnea may lower oxygen levels during sleep, reducing oxygen flow to vital organs. This can lead to daytime fatigue and increase the risk of irregular heart rhythms and stroke.

What are the Symptoms?

The primary indicator of sleep apnea is loud snoring, but most people with sleep apnea do not know they have it, since they are asleep. Other common symptoms of apnea are:

  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty with concentration or memory
  • Night sweats

What are the Treatments?

One common treatment for sleep apnea is use of a CPAP, or Continuous Positive Air Pressure device, which will gently force oxygen through the airways. However, many people don’t like to use the machine, and if not used properly, patients won’t experience the benefits. Additionally, without the machine, most individuals will not see improvements with their sleep apnea.

If nasal congestion is contributing to sleep apnea, use of nasal sprays may be helpful. In certain circumstances, surgery may be recommended.

Weight loss is the primary treatment of sleep apnea. Even a 10% weight reduction may reduce occurrences of sleep apnea, and significant weight loss may resolve sleep apnea completely.

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