Sleep apnea, if left untreated, can cause a person to stop breathing hundreds of times in a single night. Lack of breathing can lead to oxygen deprivation, which is bad for both your body and brain.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea happens when a person stops breathing when they sleep. This condition will cause repeated stops in a person’s breathing, starving the brain of the vital oxygen it needs at night. When talking about sleep apnea, there are two main types that might be discussed:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The most common form of sleep apnea. OSA occurs when there’s a blockage in a person’s airways.
- Central sleep apnea. A less common form of this condition. Central sleep apnea develops when the brain stops sending your body the signal to breathe.
We’ll talk more about these two causes in the next section of this article.
In either case, sleep apnea is characterized as a sleep disorder that involves a person’s breathing being interrupted when they sleep.
The breathing of a person pauses from seconds to minutes in severe cases. Sometimes, a person will have 30 pauses or more per hour. Snoring or a choking sound often indicates that the person has started breathing properly again.
Sleep quality is greatly impacted when a person suffers from sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Causes
Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form of this condition, is associated with soft tissue. The soft tissue, found in the mouth and throat, blocks the airways. This occurs when the tongue muscles begin to relax as a person sleeps.
But the causes for this form of sleep apnea are vast.
The most common causes include:
- Family history
Sometimes, overcoming sleep apnea is as simple as losing weight. The weight loss will relieve the sleep apnea, allowing the soft tissue to remain in place when you sleep. If you’re overweight, you’ll need to lose weight to find relief from sleep apnea.
Additional causes include:
- Enlarged adenoids
- Enlarged tonsils
- Down syndrome
- Birth defects
- Deviated septum
- Sinus issues
- Nasal obstruction
Men are at a higher risk of sleep apnea. If you’re over the age of 40, you may also be at a greater risk of sleep apnea. Large tongues or tonsils have also been linked to a higher risk of suffering from sleep apnea.
In all forms of sleep apnea, you face serious health issues if you don’t seek treatment. The risks associated with prolonged sleep apnea, include:
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
You’ll also suffer from immediate health or lifestyle issues, including poor performance in your daily activities. A person with sleep apnea will suffer with fatigue and being overly tired. If you have an important work meeting or test in school, this can have an impact on your performance.
Symptoms associated with sleep apnea, include:
- Sore throat
- Dry throat
- Loud snoring
- Lack of energy
- Morning headaches
- Choking sensation when waking up
Your doctor will determine the cause of your sleep apnea before offering any form of treatment.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Treatment requires a proper diagnosis, and you may be involved in a sleep apnea test. This test, called a “polysomnogram” can be done at home or at a center that studies sleep disorders. The test will monitor many of your physical activities when you sleep and determine if you have sleep apnea and/or additional sleep disorders.
Treatment for sleep apnea can come in many forms.
A few of the easiest ways to treat your sleep disorder, include:
- Losing weight. Maintaining a proper weight will often alleviate sleep apnea, allowing you to breathe properly at night with little-to-no obstruction occurring in the process.
- Change sleep positions. Sometimes, it’s all about the position that you sleep in that is causing your problems. Try adjusting your sleeping position and always avoid sleeping on your back.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol is known to relax your tongue muscles and lead to further issues breathing. Since sleep apnea involves the overrelaxation of the tongue, you should avoid anything that leads to further relaxation, including alcohol and sleeping pills.
These are the simple and easy treatments that you can try at home. You can also buy pillows that can help you maintain a proper position to alleviate sleep apnea.
Professional treatment options often include a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This machine allows you to breathe properly at night, but it’s not a cure for sleep apnea. If you stop using the machine, your breathing will still stop in the middle of the night.
This form of treatment involves a mask that’s worn over your mouth and/or nose.
The machine will force oxygen into your airways via the mask to allow you to receive the oxygen your body would otherwise be deprived of when sleeping. While this machine seems simple, it’s one of the best and most common forms of treatment for sleep apnea.
You may also be recommended a BPAP machine, which is a bi-level positive airway pressure machine.
But you may also need to turn to other methods of treating sleep apnea besides a machine. Surgery is an option for treating sleep apnea, and this will involve:
- Surgery to remove the soft tissue blocking the airway
Dental applications may also be used to treat this condition. The application may be used to re-position the tongue and lower jaw. If a person has central sleep apnea, they may need to have nerve stimulators implanted that will control the person’s tongue movement by utilizing a breathing sensor.
The FDA has approved over 100 appliances that are designed to correct sleep apnea and severe snoring conditions. Most of these solutions are worn in the mouth while you sleep much like a mouth guard. These mouth guards are inexpensive and can often result in a quick solution.
Appliances work to keep the lower jaw far enough forward to promote an open airway.
Oral appliance therapy, OAT, is the recommended course of treatment for a person with mild to moderate OSA. A person who is unable to sleep with a CPAP machine is often recommended to use OAT.
Allie has worked in care facilities for the last 15 years providing mobility and health care to seniors of all skill levels. She is passionate about senior advocacy and is and loves to spend her free time in the outdoors.