Understanding Sleep Apnea

Chances are, you know someone who snores. Often, that individual becomes the butt of many jokes, as bedmates recall the sound of a runaway locomotive keeping them awake at night. But snoring can be a sign of a very serious medical condition known as sleep apnea, which is no laughing matter.

There are three types of Apnea, a Greek word meaning, without breath. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), caused by a blockage of the patient's airway. Nearly 14 million American suffer from OSA. During sleep, the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes, resulting in a blockage that prevents normal breathing patterns. OSA is almost as common as adult diabetes.

While OSA usually affects men between the ages of 30 and 50, anyone can suffer from the disorder and people who smoke, drink alcohol or are obese are at a higher risk.

Central sleep apnea, in which the part of the brain that regulates breathing fails to function normally, and mixed apnea, a combination of the two, are much less common.

In all cases, people with untreated sleep apnea face serious health risks that extend far beyond a sleepless night.

While snoring may be the first sign of sleep apnea, there are a number of other symptoms caused by the disorder, including restlessness, disrupted breathing, gasping or gagging during sleep, poor memory and concentration, daytime headaches and sleepiness, sore throat, dry mouth, rapid weight gain and depression. Although a sleep apnea victim can awake more than 100 times in one night, they rarely remember such episodes, so it is important to recognize the daytime symptoms and rely on bed partners to monitor sleeping habits.

Sleep apnea is a dangerous progressive disorder. Because it causes sleep deprivation it can affect overall health, with serious life-threatening results. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause motor vehicle accidents, impotency, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

The majority of sleep apnea cases remain undiagnosed. If you suspect that you or someone you know suffers from sleep apnea, consult a physician immediately.

If a patient is thought to suffer from sleep apnea, the physician will recommend a sleep study, in which the patient's sleep is monitored in a closed setting at an overnight sleep clinic. If diagnosed, a number of treatment options are available.

A doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes to the sleep apnea patient. A reduction in smoking, alcohol intake, and weight loss can improve the condition dramatically, as can one's sleep position. It is recommended that sleep apnea patients sleep with their body elevated from the waist up, helping to open the airway.

A doctor may suggest that the patient use an oral or dental appliance during sleep. Such appliances treat apnea by keeping the airway open by pushing the lower jaw forward, by preventing the tongue from falling back over the airway, or both. This method is considered more effective for people with only mild sleep apnea and non-obese patients.

For more severe forms of sleep apnea, surgery is an option. There are several different procedures for sleep apnea but, with surgery, there is always a risk that it may worsen the patient's condition.

The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP machine works by blowing pressurized air through the patient's airway, keeping the throat open throughout sleep. Although CPAP machines are often uncomfortable and cumbersome, patients eventually get used to the device, which is usually similar to an oxygen mask, although there are new, more comfortable devices available every day.

With so many easy treatments available, there is no reason ignore this serious medical condition. At the very least, treating the condition can improve the patient's quality of life dramatically and for apnea sufferers, there is nothing more gratifying than a good night's sleep.hehh

author: Damon Peter Rallis

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