Sleep apnea is a condition in which you stop breathing for brief periods repeatedly while sleeping. People who have sleep apnea do not get enough oxygen. This causes them to gasp and frequently awaken. They are frequently unaware that they have stopped breathing and believe that their sleep cycle is normal. Snoring is also a common symptom of sleep apnea.

It is a very common disease in India, registering more than 1 million cases per year in India. This disease can be very harmful but can be treated with just a few conscious lifestyle changes or some breathing devices.

There are two main types of sleep apnea, which are:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA
  • Central Sleep Apnea or CSA

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea happens when there is a problem with the mechanics of your breathing. In adults, the most common cause of this problem is excessive weight. This is associated with the soft tissue present in the throat and mouth. In obese people, the throat and mouth muscles or tissues tend to be more relaxed. This causes the soft tissue to block the airway passage. More than half the people who suffer from OSA are overweight or have a higher BMI than the normal BMI for their age. Other factors or causes that might cause OSA are:

  • A narrow throat
  • A round head
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Excess growth due to hormones (acromegaly)
  • Allergies
  • Deviated septum (problem with nose structure)
  • Medical conditions that congest upper airways
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Children can also suffer from sleep apnea if they have enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Rare cases also include tumors or Down syndrome, which could cause sleep apnea. If this disorder is left untreated, it can cause many issues like cardiovascular diseases or even lead to premature death. Patients, who begin showing any kind of symptoms of sleep apnea, must get medical attention as soon as possible.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

In most cases, doctors have still not been able to pinpoint the actual cause of central sleep apnea. Doctors call it primary or idiopathic CSA. However, sometimes CSA may also be linked to another illness, a medication, or your surroundings:

  • CSA with a distinct Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern can be caused by a stroke, heart failure, or kidney failure. Doctors refer to this as CSB-CSA.
  • Non-CSB CSA can also be caused by heart conditions, kidney problems, and other illnesses.
  • You’re more likely to experience high-altitude CSA while sleeping (above 15,000 feet). When you return to lower altitudes, it usually goes away.
  • Some medications and drugs, particularly opiates, can result in CSA. Your doctor may be able to assist you in modifying your medication. Speak to a doctor or therapist if you suspect you are abusing medications, particularly opiates.

CSA can also occur in children. There could be numerous reasons for your child’s brain signals to get affected. These could affect their breathing mechanisms. These things could lead to OSA:

  • Premature birth
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Brain tumor
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Head injury
  • Problems at the base of the skull or brain stem

Besides OSA and CSA, there’s another category under this disorder known as complex sleep apnea syndrome (treatment-emergent central sleep apnea). This condition happens when a person has both OSA and CSA. 

Sleep Apnea: Diagnosis

To determine if you have sleep apnea, the doctor might conduct certain tests and evaluations. This can also help them understand the type of sleep apnea you have. The tests are:

  • Nocturnal Polysomnography: in this test, the doctor links you up with a machine that monitors your heartbeat, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, and oxygen levels while you sleep.
  • Home Sleep Tests: These are simplified home tests that are similar to the above-mentioned test in terms of function. They can be conducted in the comfort of your home. This test also monitors oxygen levels, heart, lung, and brain activity while you sleep.

If the patient suffers from OSA, the doctor might recommend them to an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) specialist. An ENT could better analyze your throat muscles and help you with your OSA. People who suffer from OSA tend to snore a lot.

Sleep Apnea Solutions

Few solutions for snoring could be:

  • Reducing weight
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Nasal drips
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Changing sleeping position
  • Allergies 

The treatments and sleep apnea solutions might vary according to the severity of your case. Here are a few sleep apnea solutions:

  • For mild cases of sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend some lifestyle changes such as weight loss or quitting smoking. 
  • If you suffer from mild to severe sleep apnea, the doctor might prescribe you a machine that delivers air pressure to you while you sleep. This form of therapy is known as Continuous Process Airway Pressure (CPAP). This is one of the most common forms of treatment for sleep apnea. This method can be a bit uncomfortable, but patients tend to adjust to the tension over time.
  • If CPAP proves to be too uncomfortable for you, you can also avail other pressure devices. There are Bilevel positive airflow pressure devices that supply more air when you inhale and less air when you exhale.
  • Few oral appliances can also be helpful. These appliances help keep your throat open by bringing your jaw forward, which can relieve snoring and help with obstructive sleep apnea.
  • If you have central sleep apnea, using supplemental oxygen might be more effective. Many devices provide various forms of oxygen to your lungs.
  • Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV) is a newly approved airflow device that learns your normal breathing pattern and stores it in a built-in computer. After you fall asleep, the machine uses pressure to normalize your breathing pattern and prevent breathing pauses.

These are some of the sleep apnea solutions that your doctor might suggest. It is a very common disease and is easily treatable if the symptoms are identified early and treated. Sleep apnea is an ailment that can be cured with lifestyle changes and a few treatment methods. It becomes a dangerous disease only if left untreated for a long time.

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