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What is Sleep Apnea?

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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a type of a sleep disorder that happens when someone has difficulty to breath during sleep. A person suffering from sleep apnea stops breathing during sleep. This interruption in the breathing process may become more acute if it is ignored or left untreated. This interrupted breathing may result in insufficient oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body.

sleep apnea

Types of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is of two types. The very common type is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), in which the airway is blocked as the soft tissue in the rare portion of throat collapses during sleep.  The other type is central sleep apnea, in which the airway is not blocked but the brain fails to send instructions to the muscles to breath because of the reason that the respiratory control centre of the brain is not stable.. Many people that suffer from sleep apnea are reported to have other sleep disorders as well such as sleep paralysis.

The Checklist: Are you at risk?  

  • Do you snore?
  • Do you feel stressed and tired during whole day?
  • Have your partner or someone informed you that you stop breathing during sleep?
  • Do you have obstructed breathing while sleeping?
  • Do you often have high blood pressure?
  • Are you over weight having BMI greater than 28?
  • Are you in your fifties?
  • Are you a chubby person with a larger neck size?
  • Are you a male?

If your answer is yes to most of these questions then you are at risk to be a victim of sleep apnea.

Other symptoms

  • Dry mouth or sore throat
  • Lack of concentration and forgetfulness
  • Frequent visits to toilet at nighttime
  • Headache in morning
  • Depression and unpredictable mood

How to avoid it?

A change in lifestyle or your habits may increase possibility of reducing sleep apnea. People with this disorder are usually overweight having extra tissue in their back throat that collapses and chokes the air passage and thus stops the air to flow into lungs during the sleep process.  A slight reduction in your weight may improve your condition. If you are a smoker then you should quit smoking, as smoking contributes to this disorder by intoxication of throat and airway. Use of hard drinks, sleeping pills and sedatives is another cause, as these things are muscle relaxants thus cause the relaxation of throat muscles as well. This results in interrupted breathing. Therefore, reducing the use of such stuff may decrease the chances of having sleep apnea.  Regular exercise can also help you in reducing the disorder, especially, exercises that involve breath release and control.

Staying away from heavy food and caffeine within two hours before sleep can also reduce the chances of having it. A change in your sleeping posture may also help you. Avoid sleeping on your back and sleep on your side. By sleeping on your side, you can prevent airway being choked by your tongue and soft tissues. You may use some pillow to raise your head up at least 4 inches from the bed level. This tip is also useful in avoiding the disorder. Use of saline spray or some other method to dilate the nasal passage may also be helpful.

Exercises for sleep apnea

Here are few exercises to reduce mild sleep apnea symptoms:

  1. Inflating a balloon is a good exercise to strength throat muscles. Pick a balloon and keep your lips well placed around its opening. Inhale through your nose and then try to inflate the balloon as much as you can and then breathe in. Repeat the exercise five times without removing the balloon from your mouth.
  2. Stick the tongue at the roof of your mouth cavity. Try to stick the most portion of your tongue. Holding the tongue at the place, inhale slowly and then exhale. This tongue holding exercise will boost your breathing capability at night time during sleep.
  3. Perform this exercise every morning. With arms hanging, stand and bend forward at the waist. Your knees should be slightly bended so that you can maintain balance. Now move your back up slowly and try to inhale in a slow manner. Control your breath for 3 minutes while standing and then exhale to move to the starting position. Repeat the process two or three times.

Treatment and gadgets

Person wearing a CPAP device while sleeping

Mild sleep apnea can be avoided by a slight change in lifestyle, however, for acute conditions; one should consult a sleep specialist. Various treatment options and gadgets are available nowadays for both obstructive and central type. CPAP (Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure) device is one of the most common options that are employed to treat obstructive type in moderate and severe conditions.  CPAP is a mask like gadget that covers the nose and mouth of a person. It provides a smooth flow of air that comes from CPAP machine thus keeps the breathing passage open. New CPAP gadgets are available in the market with much improved technology as compared to the older ones that are bit noisy.  With improved technology, newer versions of CPAP equipment are available that are soundless with no vibrations and humming effects, and with more smooth air flow.

EPAP device for snoring and sleep apnea

EPAP (Expiratory Positive Airway Pressure) devices are also available in the market for single-use. As compared to CPAP devices that are provided with an external machine to maintain airflow, EPAP devices rely on the pressure created during exhaling process in order to stabilize the upper way, hence, driven by your own breath. However, EPAP devices are suitable only for mild and moderate sleep apnea. EPAP devices are also used for treatment of snoring. BPAP (Bi-level Positive Airway Pressure) devices are also available in the market to treat central type disorder as well as for the patients that have difficulty with CPAP devices.

BPAP Device

BPAP gadget automatically maintains the pressure when a patient is sleeping by providing more pressure during the inhaling process and less pressure during the exhaling process. BPAP device is very helpful in boosting the weak breathing pattern of patients suffering from central type disorder. Smarter BPAP devices have capability to detect discontinuity in breathing of a person thus provide additional breathing whenever it is required.  ASV (Adaptive Servo-ventilation) devices are more smart in a sense that they keep track of the normal breathing pattern of a person or we can say that these devices are adapted to the normal breathing pattern of a person by storing the breath related information, thus maintains the breathing pattern of a person while sleeping.

Man wearing a TSD (Tongue Stabilization Device)

Dental gadgets are also available in the market for treatment of mild-to-moderate type disorder. These gadgets are made of acrylic and can fit inside your mouth cavity. TRD (Tongue Retaining Device) is commonly available in the market. This device is also named as TSD (Tongue Stabilization Device) as it stabilizes the position of tongue inside the cavity to prevent it from being collapsed into the air passage while a person is asleep.

MRD (Mandibular Repositioning Device)

MRD (Mandibular Repositioning Device) is another solution for obstructive type disorder. An MRD increases airway by forcing the jaw and tongue forward to enhance the airflow and to reduce the possibility of tongue being collapsed into the airway during sleep.    However, these devices are suitable only for mild to moderate conditions. Other devices are externally fitted around the head and chin to adjust the lower jaw position. Make sure that these devices fitted and monitored by a dentist as the reported side effects of using these gadgets include excessive saliva, nausea, permanent distortion in jaw and cavity structure, etc.

Surgery is another option to treat patients suffering from acute disorder in order to enlarge the air passage. Surgery involves removal of tonsils, excess tissue in the nose or at the back of the throat, etc. It may also involve jaw surgery for upper way enlargement. However, surgery has its own risk such as infection or complications that may worsen the condition of patient. Implants are also available in the market to treat this problem. This involves insertion of a pacemaker that provokes muscles to keep airway open during sleep.

Do children suffer from this disorder?

Cant sleep little boy laying in bed

Yes, children do suffer as obstructive type is very common in children. If your child snorts during sleep, having night terrors, sleepiness in daytime or having strange sleep postures then there is a possibility that he may be a victim. In such a case, parents should immediately consult a pediatrician to start treatment.

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