Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
If left untreated it can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, cardiomyopathy, diabetes and heart attacks.
The main types of sleep apnea are:
Obstructive sleep apnea is more common of the two. It occurs as repetitive episodes of complete or partial upper airway blockage during sleep.
Breathing usually resumes with a loud gasp or body jerk. These episodes can interfere with sound sleep, reduce the flow of oxygen to vital organs and cause heart rhythm irregularities.
The most common signs and symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea include:
Tonsils / adenoids, which are commonly seen in kids.
Other medical conditions which can cause sleep apnea are blood pressure, diabetes, COPD, Bronchial asthma, Parkinson disease, PCOS and Congestive Cardiac Failure like conditions.
If not treated and diagnosed on time, sleep apnea could lead to several complications, like
Complications can include:
The doctor may start the treatment based on signs and symptoms of sleep disturbances that are provided from the close relative. He may suggest sleep studies to be done to monitor breathing and other body functions during sleep.
Types of sleep studies are :
Home sleep tests-
Home sleep tests use sensors which include a small probe, and mask which help in measuring heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns.
In this test, the patient is hooked up to the equipment that monitors heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels during sleep time.
In milder cases of sleep apnea, doctor may recommend only lifestyle changes, such as,
1 Losing or maintaining weight
2. Quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol consumption
3. To sleep in a lateral position.
If any patient has nasal allergies, doctor will recommend treatment for allergies.
In case of moderate to severe cases, patients are asked to use Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.
This machine delivers air pressure through a mask. The air pressure is greater than that of the surrounding air and is enough to keep the upper airway passages open, preventing apnea and snoring.
CPAP is the most common and reliable method of treating sleep apnea, some people find it uncomfortable, but with practice, most of them learn to adjust the tension of the straps on the mask and become comfortable with the passage of days.
With continuous practice and usage of CPAP machine patients have found significant improvement in the quality of sleep.
Patients having anatomical abnormalities or patients having obstructive air passage or those who do not respond, surgical option is considered. Such patients are offered UVULOPALATAL PHARYNGOPLASTY wherein along with tonsils and adenoids, additional surrounding tissue is removed to clear off the obstruction and open up the passage to breathe comfortably.
Self-care is the best way to deal with obstructive sleep apnea.
Losing excessive weight, doing exercise, avoiding alcohol and certain medications such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills will definitely help in reducing sleep apnea and avoiding any complications.
Having untreated sleep apnea is medically equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day in terms of what it does to your health.
- JEROME SIEGEL
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