What Is sleep apnea, risk factors and techniques to cope and treat it.
For some people, snoring could be more than just an annoying habit - it could be sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common respiratory disorder that affects over 22 million Americans characterized by recurrent upper airway collapse and inability to breathe during sleep. It's one of the debilitating sleep disorders that opens the door to a host of other life-threatening diseases.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder where breathing starts and stops intermittently while you sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep disorders that happens when throat muscles relax and block the air passages. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain fails to communicate effectively with muscles involved in breathing.
It's best to seek treatment from a healthcare provider to diagnose the type of sleep apnea you’re suffering from and determine the appropriate treatment.
Although the risk of getting sleep apnea increases with age, it can affect people of all ages including adults and overweight children. Obesity can expose you to lots of medical conditions including sleep apnea. However, not everyone with the condition is overweight.
What Are Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?
People with sleep apnea tend to snore loudly. But the most common symptom is gasping for air while you sleep (having apneic episodes). Other symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, abrupt awakenings, choking, and morning headaches. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a doctor for a comprehensive diagnosis.
Alternatively, you can invest in a home testing kit to measure your heart rate and oxygen levels. It also identifies any obstruction in your airflow and monitors the rise and fall of your chest.
Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Untreated sleep apnea is so dangerous as it puts enormous pressure on your body organs and impairs their ability to function normally, particularly your heart and lungs. Whenever you stop breathing, your oxygens levels drop significantly and start to affect every physiological function in your body.
For most people, it’s safe to hold your breath for a few minutes. But if you hold your breath for much longer, the low oxygen levels can cause an array of heath complications. Sleep apnea exposes your body to the following health risks:
1. High Blood Pressure
Sudden drops in oxygen levels during sleep apnea can increase the heart rate. These conditions put a strain on your cardiovascular system and increase the possibility of high blood pressure.
For healthy individuals, blood pressure dips at night when the brain slows down and induces sleep. People with sleep apnea experience a non-dipping blood pressure that puts them at risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.
OSA patients also experience a morning surge where the blood pressure rises significantly depending on the severity of the disease. Also, once OSA symptoms disrupt sleep, the body releases dopamine and epinephrine from the adrenal glands. High levels of these hormones can cause high blood pressure.
Snoring can cause discomfort for you and your bedmate. But if the problem is persistent, it might indicate obstructive sleep apnea. Whenever you wake up in the middle of the night, your body awakens the hormones and raises your blood pressure.
The best way to manage your blood pressure is to seek treatment from a licensed professional. Avoid buying drugs over the counter as they may worsen your condition.
Sleep apnea causes dizzy spells, sleep deprivation, and fainting due to heart arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems). Due to lack of enough oxygen, the heart is unable to coordinate the heartbeats properly, causing it to beat too slowly or too fast. Such lapses in heartbeat can cause fainting.
The symptoms of sleep fainting include dizziness, nausea, palpitations, and restlessness. Unless a patient falls from the bed, it’s impossible to tell whether someone fainted while sleeping. While most patients exhibit epileptic symptoms, further tests are necessary to identify the problem and propose the right remedy.
All forms of sleep apnea inhibit blood flow and elevate blood pressure in the brain. The disorder eventually reduces the brain’s ability to prevent damage to various body cells.
The brain regulates the blood flow to aid its metabolic function (cerebral autoregulation). However, the dips and spikes in blood pressure during numerous apneic episodes reduce the brains’ ability to perform these roles.
Once the ability to repair damaged body cells is compromised, people with sleep apnea start to suffer strokes and face the risk of dying in their sleep. An airway pressurization mask can normalize the breathing process to prevent blood pressure surges and normalize cerebral autoregulation.
4. Type 2 Diabetes
Obstructive sleep apnea impairs the liver, alters glucose metabolism, encourages insulin resistance, and promotes the development of type 2 diabetes. The inability to get enough sleep also increases the risk of developing obesity and lowering the immunity.
Glucose metabolism is one of the most critical bodily functions that keeps the sugar levels within the safe limits. Once the body is unable to regulate the blood sugar levels, contacting type 2 diabetes is inevitable.
Your body utilizes insulin while you sleep. So, failure to get enough sleep means that the body won’t regulate the blood sugar levels properly.
OSA increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in elderly and obese people. If diagnosed early, it’s easy to prevent sleep apnea from escalating to type 2 diabetes. Not only does the remedy reduce insulin resistance, but it also improves the glycemic control in type 2 diabetes patients.
5. Cardiovascular Problems
Because sleep apnea sufferers always wake up a gasping for air, they don’t get enough sleep. In addition to feeling exhausted throughout the day, they are at risk of cardiovascular diseases that include high blood pressure, heart rhythm abnormality, and heart failure. Over 55 percent of people with sleep apnea are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, people that don’t get enough sleep are likely to develop a variety of cardiovascular problems.
Having sleep deficiency means that your blood pressure stays higher for a longer duration and starts to affect your heart. The body’s inability to produce melatonin that induces sleep worsens the problem and starts to affect the circadian rhythm. To avoid sleep apnea from escalating to cardiovascular complications, its best to seek treatment immediately.
How To Treat Sleep Apnea
There are lots of medications and home remedies that can cure sleep apnea. In addition, lifestyle changes play a huge impact in suppressing the disorder. The following interventions can help to curb sleep apnea.
1.Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity increases the risks of air passage obstruction due to the accumulation of fat in the upper body. For that reason, doctors recommend that people with sleep apnea take the right steps to reduce weight. By losing weight, it’s possible to reduce the possibility of blocking the nasal passages and prevent breathing problems while sleeping. In some cases, weight loss can cure sleep apnea.
However, the condition can return if you regain weight. Obese people tend to have extra tissue around the throat. Cardio workouts are recommended if you’re looking to lose upper body fat. Combine your workouts with a healthy low-fat diet for the best results.
Yoga can increase the energy levels, strengthen the heart, and reduce sleep apnea. A narrowed airway is one of the risk factors that causes difficulties in breathing due to nasal congestion.
There are several yoga poses that expand the lungs and cleanse the toxins from bronchioles. Asana not only helps to improve concentration, but also treats various respiratory disorders to eliminate colds, flus, and sleep apnea.
It also treats all lung anomalies and makes it easier to breathe. In addition to strengthening the lungs, it activates various body parts and stimulates blood flow so that every organ can receive oxygen. As a result, yoga reduces the sleep interruptions significantly.
Combine yoga with aerobic activities such as jumping rope or jogging to give the lungs and heart the workout they require to function effectively. Lifting light weights can also help to improve posture and tone the breathing muscles.
Smoking is one of the most common sources of respiratory problems. Secondhand smoke causes as much harm as direct smoke and poses the risks of heart disease, lung cancer, and sleep apnea. Children may be at risk of developing asthma later in life if exposed to secondhand smoke.
Smoking during pregnancy may be associated with lung complications, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. People who smoke cigarettes are at a higher risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea compared to nonsmokers and former smokers. While quitting smoking doesn’t necessarily cure sleep apnea, it makes the treatments more effective.
Nicotine causes relaxation of the upper throat muscles and makes them more likely to sag.
It also leads to increased arousal and airway inflammation that might cause tonsils and other respiratory complications. After smoking, the lungs retain a significant amount of the smoke (tidal volume) that contains carcinogens and other toxins. These toxins are likely to cause inflammation and make the lungs more susceptible to respiratory diseases.
4.Use Oral Appliances and Change Your Sleeping Position
Oral appliances reposition your jaw and tongue to keep the air passage open and prevent blockages while you sleep. Both tongue stabilizing and mandibular movement devices control sleep apnea significantly. These devices move your tongue and lower jaw forward to reduce the obstruction in your throat. Ask your doctor to recommend a device that suits your needs and improves your sleep quality instead of buying one over the counter.
Wearing a CPAP mask at night can reduce the breathing problems and help people to sleep better. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is an effective remedy for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine utilizes a hose and mask to deliver steady air to the lungs under pressure.
A CPAP mask also helps you sleep better and prevent your airways from blockage. You need a prescription while buying a CPAP mask as it can pose some health risks. Such risks include leaks, skin irritation, difficulty tolerating forced air, wrong size or style, and dry mouth. Depending on your needs, the doctor will prescribe the number of hours you can use it safely every night.
It is essential to monitor the airway pressure during mechanical ventilation to avoid harming your lungs in the process. Some people require humidifiers to effectively use their CPAP machine while others find a basic option that works for them.
Your sleeping position also affects the sleep quality. Side sleeping is the ideal position for sleep apnea sufferers. Sleeping on the left reduces sleep apnea significantly. It reduces the number of apneic episodes you experience during the night and gives you better sleep experience.
Sleeping on the side also keeps the spine in its proper alignment. However, sleeping on the back allows gravity to pull the soft throat tissues downwards and cause blockages.
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5.Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty Surgery (UPPP)
A surgeon can trim down the uvula and soft palate, remove the tonsils, and reposition some throat muscles to keep the air passages clear. If home remedies and lifestyle changes don’t cure sleep apnea, surgery might be the only option.
While CPAP and oral appliances provide a temporary solution, the only way to rid yourself of the condition is either to lose weight or have surgery. Surgery could have dire side effects and that’s why it's viewed as a last resort.
One of the main challenges of surgery is that it requires anesthesia that can be risky for people with OSA as it slows down breathing. Sleep apnea could also make it quite difficult to regain consciousness after surgery.
If you’ve experienced any sleep disorder, you should seek help from a doctor immediately as these complications tend to worsen and become even more difficult to treat. The specialist will collect pertinent information about your sleep disorders and undertake a comprehensive sleep study. The study involves collecting data about your blood’s oxygen levels, breathing problems, and heart rate.
How a Doctor Can Help with Sleep Apnea
Any interruption of regular breathing through obstruction of the airway can pose serious problems and that’s why sleep apnea should be taken seriously. Fortunately, there are lots of treatments and remedies that include mouth appliances, and nerve stimulators, and surgeries to keep your nasal packages open. Your doctor will consider several options to determine the treatment that helps you recover without causing other complications.
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