Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is one of the top causes of daytime sleepiness and fatigue. The condition is characterized by momentary pauses in breathing or by shallow breaths while sleeping. This, in turn, causes snoring and poor sleep quality. Many who suffer from the condition are unaware that they have sleep apnea, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Since it occurs while sleeping, a family member is often the first to notice these abnormal breathing patterns.

Two types of Sleep Apnea

According to the NHLBI, sleep apnea can be broken down into two categories: Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the airway becomes blocked or even collapses during sleep. This is the most common type of sleep apnea and often occurs in overweight individuals. However, even children with swollen tonsils can exhibit obstructive sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea is not as prevalent and occurs when the brain fails to send the correct signals to prompt breathing. Snoring is not a common symptom of central sleep apnea. The NHLBI reports that if left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a variety of heart conditions including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and arrhythmias. Additionally, it can cause obesity and diabetes, as well as daytime drowsiness.

Causes

Sleep apnea disrupts sleep quality and can contribute to a wide array of other health issues. But what causes it? According to the NHLBI, sleep apnea can be caused by:
  • The relaxing of throat and tongue muscles while sleeping, which makes the throat narrower
  • Being overweight, which can narrow the windpipe
  • Aging, which may impair the brain’s ability to send signals that keep throat muscles stiff while sleeping
  • Your body’s natural bone structure, which may cause a narrower airway
  • Enlarged tonsils

Treatment

Sleep apnea treatments aim to improve breathing and reduce symptoms associated with the disorder. Medicines are generally not used to treat sleep apnea. According to the NHLBI, the following treatment approaches are most common when it comes to treating sleep apnea:
  • Abstaining from alcohol or any medications that causes drowsiness
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Sleeping on your side
  • Using nasal sprays or allergy medications to keep nasal passages clear
  • Abstaining from smoking
  • Sleeping with a specialized mouthpiece, which helps keep the airway open
  • Sleeping with a breathing device like CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which comes in the form of a mask that keeps the airway open by blowing air into the throat * Undergoing surgery may be effective, especially in severe cases of sleep apnea

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