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Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous disease that causes the sufferer to stop breathing in their sleep. It affects 100 million people worldwide, approximately 25% of the general population. It is common in both developed and developing world and prevalence is not much different across various regions of the world. It occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airways. People who snore often suffer from this type of sleep apnea. Some people do not know they are suffering and fail to seek treatment. Once diagnosed, there are ways to treat this problem.  

Causes and Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea causes the muscles in the throat to relax and makes breathing during sleeping difficult. When the brain becomes aware of the lack of oxygen, it causes the body to wake up the throat muscles, and the breathing can return to normal. This can reoccur during the night and cause serious sleep disruption. There are certain risk factors that make someone more prone to sleep apnea. They include:

  • Obesitystrongest risk factor
  • Gender: It is common in males as compared to females.
    Mild OSA : Males 1 out of every 4 , Females 1 out of every 10
    Moderate OSA:  Males 1 out of every 10 , Females 1 out of every 20
  • Narrow airway
  • Nasal congestion
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Genetics

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea are not always easy to notice. Since many of them occur while the sufferer is asleep, it is often a spouse or partner who notices the symptoms. The classic symptoms include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Fatigue or Daytime Sleepiness
  • Periods during sleep without breathing

Other symptoms or associated diseases may include

  • High blood pressure
  • Dry mouth after sleeping
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Trouble concentrating and Irritability
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased sex drive

Screening and Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea

Diagnosis is first based on symptoms. If a doctor determines that a patient may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, he or she may order a sleep study and refer the patient to a sleep specialist. During a sleep study, the patient stays at the clinic or hospital all night and is hooked up to monitors. The monitors track heart rate, lung patterns, breathing patterns, and sleeping patterns. If sleep apnea is an obvious problem that the specialists can diagnose early in the sleep study, they may administer treatment and then monitor the patient's reaction to determine the severity of the obstructive sleep apnea.  

Treatment

There are ways to treat sleep apnea, and in most cases, the causes of the disease determine the treatment. The most common ways obstructive sleep apnea is treated are:

  • Lifestyle Changes
    • Weight loss
    • Diet changes
    • Quit smoking
    • Nasal decongestant
    • Allergy medication
    • Change in sleeping positions
    • Drinking less alcohol
  • CPAP Machines – CPAP machines put positive pressure on the airways and help keep them open during the night. They must be worn by the sufferer every night and should not be stopped without talking to a doctor.
  • Surgeries
    • Surgical Removal of Tissue – Doctors can remove the skin in the throat and mouth to prevent it from blocking the airways when it is relaxed.
    • Airways Stimulator – A device is planted under the skin that monitors breathing patterns and stimulates the nerves in the tongue when the oxygen levels drop.
    • Jaw Surgery – Jaw surgery can help make the space between the palate and the tongue larger so that the tongue does not block the airway.
    • Surgical Opening in the Neck – This type of surgery is usually only used if the sleep apnea is severe and life-threatening. The surgeon performs a tracheostomy, which involves inserting a tube in the neck, so the patient can breathe even when the airways are blocked.
    • Implants – Doctors can place small strips in the palate that help hold the airways open, so they do not become blocked.

Prognosis

Obstructive sleep apnea can be dangerous if left untreated, but treatments give sufferers a good prognosis. In most cases, the sufferer will need to continue treatment throughout their lives to manage the disease. Calculate your risk by

If you've been having trouble sleeping, be sure to also read our article on how melatonin can help

Resources:

Sleep Apnea, Sleep study, ENT, Pulmonary Disease


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