What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea


Sleep apnea affects more than 100 million people across the world, and almost 80% cases remain undiagnosed. Being a potentially serious sleep disorder, it is important to know whether you have sleep apnea and have it treated. Since males have larger circumference of neck and lengthier pharyngeal airway, they are more at risk of sleep apnea than females.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder where the breathing pauses or becomes very shallow during sleep. The pause in breathing could last for a few seconds or it could extend to few minutes. Typically, such pauses can occur thirty times or even more during an hour of sleep. After the pause, normal breathing will start again, usually with a choking sound or a loud snort.

These pauses cause disruptions in the normal sleeping patterns of an individual. When the breath pauses or becomes shallow, the person will move into a lighter sleep from deep sleep. Due to this, the quality of sleep will suffer, and the person is most likely to feel tired and sleepy during the day.

Sleep Apnea Can Remain Undiagnosed

Sleep apnea mostly remains undiagnosed because the person experiences it during sleep and it cannot be detected by a doctor during routine visits. Only a bed partner or family member of the person might be able to pick up signs of sleep apnea. Additionally, if you are feeling sleepy and tired during the day for no apparent reason, or you snore loudly, then you should consult a doctor specifically for diagnosing if you have sleep apnea.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea. One is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which is the most common, the other is called Central Sleep Apnea, and the third one is complex sleep apnea, which is a combination of the first two.

In obstructive type, the airway becomes blocked by a soft tissue at the back of the throat, which relaxes during sleep. The second type is much more serious but less common. In this, the pause in breathing happens because the brain fails to relay the required signals to the muscles that control breathing. People who suffer from central sleep apnea will rarely snore, making it even more difficult to detect the condition.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

The doctor is able to diagnose sleep apnea by evaluating clinical symptoms like daytime tiredness and sleepiness, and also conducting formal sleep study-polysomnography. The sleep study is mainly undertaken to precisely detect and measure the apnoeic events occurring during an hour of sleep. The RDI (Respiratory Disturbance Index), or AHI (Apnea Hypopnea Index) will be considered to evaluate the severity of the sleep apnea.

Instead of a formal sleep study, Oximetry is also quite effective in detecting sleep apnea. In oximetry the oxygen saturation of the person is continuously monitored by placing a sensor on the lobe or fingertip of the person. Other than that, the simplest things you could do is keep a sleep diary where you write down the hours you have slept, the disturbances you encountered and the things your sleep partner noticed when you were asleep. You could also take an audio and video recording of yourself sleeping, which will provide important information.

Who is more at Risk from Sleep Apnea?

Overweight people
Pregnant women
People over the age of 65
Being related to someone having sleep apnea

Complications caused by Sleep Apnea

If sleep apnea is not treated, it can lead to serious health issues, and therefore this condition should be diagnosed early and treated as soon as possible. Here are some of the main complications you can expect with untreated sleep apnea.

The person is more at risk from diabetes, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and become obese

There is increased risk of heart failure, especially in people who are suffering from heart problems

The person is more likely to develop irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias

Since the person will be sleepy and tired during daytime, it increases the risk of accident while driving or while performing work.

Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder and treatment is usually for a long term. In most people, sleep apnea has been successfully treated with breathing devices, mouthpieces, surgery, and even simple lifestyle changes. Hence, sleep apnea is treatable or manageable and the person can live a good quality of life.

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