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Sleep Apnea - Facts, Symptoms, And Treatments

Updated on November 1, 2011

Sleep Apnea is a disorder, which causes breathing to stop and start, during sleep. The episodes which are called apneas, can occur many times during each night or only rarely. Sleep Apnea, which affects males more than females, can be extremely serious. As many as one in ten individuals suffers from some degree of Sleep Apnea. This includes men, woman, and even children.

People often do not realize they have Sleep Apnea. If an individual constantly feels tired during the day, in spite of sleeping through the night, Sleep Apnea may be suspected. Intermittent snoring, followed by periods of silence, may also be a clue.

There are three types of Sleep Apnea. The most common type is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. With Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the muscles of the throat periodically relax, causing the airway to close. As this interrupts breathing, the blood becomes short of oxygen. This shortage triggers the brain to respond by briefly awakening the sleeper, an awakening that may not even be remembered. If this occurs frequently during the night, daytime exhaustion will result..

Central Sleep Apnea occurs when the brain, due usually to heart attack or stroke, sends confusing or incorrect signals to the muscles which control breathing. Because you often awaken, when short of breath, you may have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. These waking episodes are usually remembered.

Mixed Sleep Apnea is a combination of Both Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Central Sleep Apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea vary from individual to individual. In addition to intermittent snoring and daytime drowsiness, those with Sleep Apnea may awaken with a sore throat, dry mouth, or headache. They may have trouble falling asleep, awaken suddenly and short of breath, or snore unusually loudly. If you have any of these symptoms, especially if you are chronically fatigued, and are concerned, consult your family physician.

Those at greatest risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea are males, those with family history of the condition, those with a neck circumference greater than seventeen inches, those who smoke, use alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers, and those who have a narrowed airway due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Those at greatest risk for Central Sleep Apnea are again males or those who have stroke, brain tumors, or heart conditions.

It is important to be assessed by a physician if you have or suspect you have Sleep Apnea. Untreated Sleep Apnea can lead to sudden drops of blood oxygen which raises blood pressure which can, in turn, lead to heart problems and stroke. Excessive drowsiness, due to lack of sound sleep, increases the risk of household and automobile accidents, as well as depression, mood swings, memory loss, and decreased mental acuity.

A Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea is made by several means. The physician will of course listen to all the patient's symptoms. The nasal passages and the throat will be examined for any blockages. The patient may need to be monitored, during sleep, to test heart lung, and brain activity, as well as oxygen levels in the blood. Body movements during sleep may also need to be observed.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea vary depending on the severity of the condition, contributing factors, and the individual.

For those with mild Sleep Apnea, a change in lifestyle may be enough. This would involve losing weight, getting regular exercise, and sleeping on the side, rather than on the back. A change would also involve stopping smoking, and avoiding the use of alcohol and sleeping pills. There are also oral appliances that may be used for mild and some moderate apnea. These devices position the jaw forward, which keeps the throat open and also helps lessen snoring.

For severe Sleep Apnea, continuous positive airway pressure is, at the present time, considered the best solution. This involves wearing a mask over the nose during sleep. A machine gently blows slightly pressurized air into the nose, keeping the air passages open and stopping snoring. Some individuals find adapting to this device is difficult in the beginning. Always discuss any problems with your physician. Another form of the device may be found that suits you better.

In severe cases of Sleep Apnea, that cannot be managed by continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, devices, surgery may be sought. Surgery may involve removing excess tissue in the throat or nasal passages, removing enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or correcting a deviated septum.

Sleep Apnea is a distressing and potentially dangerous condition, but with perseverance, it can be successfully managed.


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    • billips profile image

      billips 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks for your kind comments Sheilanewton - this is one condition that may be unpleasant initially, but fortunately, it can be dealt with satisfactorily - B.

    • sheilanewton profile image

      sheilanewton 5 years ago from North Shields, UK

      Brilliant hub. You sure did your research.

    • billips profile image

      billips 6 years ago from Central Texas

      Sleep apnea can be a frightening condition - I am so glad your husband was diagnosed, and got treatment - a friend of mine, who has it quite seriously, said the breathing machine gave him the first good sleep in years, and now his overall health has improved - thanks for taking the time to read and comment - B.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      My husband didn't realize that he had sleep apnea until it affected my health! His constant shifting, gulping for air, and loud snorting were disturbing my sleep to the point that I finally asked him to get help. He went through a sleep study and was diagnosed with sleep apnea and now uses a breathing machine. We both sleep much better!