Spontaneous stopping and starting of breathing during sleep is a dangerous disorder known as sleep apnea. The first symptom of sleep apnea that people notice is often loud, excessive snoring. But not all snoring is proof of sleep apnea so speak with a doctor if you have questions. Some snoring can be harmless and is sometimes caused by being overweight, sleeping on the back, or alcohol consumption.
But for sleep apnea patients, in addition to snoring and daytime fatigue, sleep apnea can lead to more grave health issues like high blood pressure and heart ailments. To help spot the difference between simple snoring and sleep apnea-induced snoring, listen for unusually loud snoring combined with pauses of several seconds between breaths and gasps or shallow breaths.
In this article, we discuss the sleep apnea symptoms and some useful treatments including some you can do on your own.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a possibly grave disorder in which breathing slows or stops during sleep. These pauses can last for several seconds or for minutes in some cases and happen many times per night. The most common form of sleep apnea (discussed below) produces loud snoring that precedes each pause in breathing. Upon resumption of breathing, an audible gasp or choking sound can also be heard.
3 Classifications of Sleep Apnea Your Doctor May Diagnose
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most prevalent form, affecting more than 18 million Americans. It is estimated the one in fifteen people experience obstructive sleep apnea at least intermittently, and that most of those are undiagnosed.
This occurs when your airways become blocked – partly or wholly – during sleep. The condition is caused by a narrowing of the soft tissues in the back of your throat (either because of being overweight or due to the way your body and neck are positioned during sleep).
This classification forces your lungs to work harder to push air in and out, thereby fatiguing the diaphragm and risking insufficient oxygen in the blood to oxygenate the body during sleep.
2. Central Sleep Apnea
Central sleep apnea is so called because it relates to your central nervous system. Central sleep apnea is the condition in which the brain fails to signal the right muscles to keep taking those breaths. This condition is most common in patients with other neuromuscular disorders like ALS or who have suffered a stroke.
3. Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome
This third classification is simply patients who suffer both of the above two conditions – obstructive and central sleep apnea – simultaneously. This combination can be life-threatening and is considered urgent by physicians.
How to Prevent Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea treatment depends on the root cause as well as your overall health. Discuss your condition with a doctor who might make recommendations on lifestyle first before resorting to medical treatment.
For example, overweight sufferers of sleep apnea should lose weight first before deciding to resort to a CPAP (breathing machine). Or if you happen to be a smoker, that one factor may undermine any other sleep apnea treatments a doctor would recommend. So smokers should also consider making this important lifestyle change concurrent with seeking medical treatment.
For the severest cases, lifestyle changes may not be sufficient to provide relief. In these cases, the primary defense against sleep apnea is a machine known as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) machine. This device consists of a motor attached to a tube with a nose/mouth mask at the other end the user wears while sleeping.
For less severe cases, sometimes your dentist can devise an oral appliance that helps to keep your throat open during sleep. These devices do not affect airflow or air pressure, but are more comfortable to wear so are preferred by those patients for whom they are sufficient.
There is a lot to think about – we understand. If you have questions about sleep apnea or any of the conditions discussed here, connecting with a doctor in a discrete setting has never been easier.
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