Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that occurs when the airway is temporarily obstructed during sleep. This causes disruptions in breathing that can last a few seconds at a time or more than a minute. They may occur between 5-30 times over the course of an hour. Breathing often resumes with loud snoring, choking, or gasping sounds, which can further interrupt sleep.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
In healthy individuals, air travels freely through the airway into the lungs. Muscles remain stiff and open enough to allow air to flow easily. In some individuals, those muscles may relax or be compressed by other tissues, causing temporary breath obstruction.
While obstructive sleep apnea may be caused by oversized tonsils or tongues, the most common cause of sleep apnea is excess weight or obesity. This causes the soft tissues surrounding the mouth and throat to become enlarged which then blocks the air passageway. It is important to be informed about sleep apnea during your weight loss program to avoid developing it.
Smoking, alcohol consumption, and certain sleep medications can also contribute to sleep apnea.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
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.
The primary indicator of sleep apnea is loud snoring, but most people with sleep apnea do not know they have it. Other common symptoms are:
- Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
- Sore throat or dry mouth in the morning
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty with concentration or memory
- Night sweats
A common treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP or Continuous Positive Air Pressure device. CPAP will gently force oxygen through the airways. If it is not used properly, patients won’t experience the benefits. Without the machine, most individuals will not see improvements in their sleep apnea.
If nasal congestion is contributing to sleep apnea, the 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 a significant weight loss may resolve it completely. Think about this when doing your weight loss program as it will keep you motivated to stay healthy.
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