Sleep Apnea: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by repeated episodes of stopping and starting a person's breath while asleep. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a good sleep, you may have sleep apnea. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to many health problems, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart muscle tissue), congestive heart failure and diabetes.
What happens when you stop breathing?
When you stop breathing, your heart reduces the supply of oxygen. Then your unconscious reflex will wake you up and the episode of shortness of breath will end. When this happens, your heart rate tends to increase rapidly along with blood pressure.
Types of Sleep Apnea
The main types of sleep apnea are:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):OSA occurs when the airways in the throat are physically blocked. This defect causes a temporary pause in breathing. OSA affects more men than women. It can occur in people of any age but is more common in older ones.
- Central Sleep Apnea(CSA):CSA occurs when there is a problem with the brain system that controls the muscles involved in breathing, resulting in slower and shallower breathing. CSA has been found to affect approximately 0.9% of adults over the age of 40 years. It is more common in men than women. CSA affects breathing differently than OSA. Instead of the obstruction causing breathing to stop, the problem arises in the way the brain communicates with the muscles responsible for breathing.
- Mixed Sleep Apnea (MSA):When a person has both OSA and CSA, it is referred to as mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Common signs and symptoms of obstructive and central sleep apnea are:
- Heavy snoring.
- Intervals in which you stop breathing during sleep that will be reported by another person.
- Inhaling air while sleeping.
- Waking up with a dry mouth.
- Headache in the morning.
- Difficulty in sleeping (insomnia).
- Difficulty in paying attention when awake.
- Night sweats.
- Frequent urination at night.
- Sexual dysfunction.
Causes of Sleep Apnea
Multiple causes have been identified that increases the risk of blockage and Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
- ObesityObesity is a major cause of OSA and can be a major risk factor in up to 60% of cases.
- Use of sedativesUse of sedative drugs, including alcohol, can cause the tissues in the throat to relax, facilitating airway blockage.
- Family historyPeople who have close relatives suffering from OSA are more likely to develop OSA.
- Nasal congestionThose who breathe through their nose due to congestion are more likely to develop OSA.
- Sleeping on your backThis sleeping position facilitates contraction of the tissues around the airways, thereby causing blockage.
- SmokingIt has been found that people who smoke, especially heavy smokers, have a higher rate of OSA than non-smokers.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Lifestyle changes are essential to normalize breathing and are important in treatment. These include
- Taking a heart healthy diet.
- Developing healthy sleeping habits.
- Limiting alcohol consumption.
- Quitting smoking.
- Doing exercise.
- Sleeping on the side.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy
This is the main treatment for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine is a device that uses a tube and a nose cover or an airtight mask to constantly circulate air while you sleep. Air pressure helps keep the airways open by preventing pauses in breathing.
- HumidifierA humidifier adds moisture to the air. It is ideal for anyone with sleep apnea because dry air can irritate the respiratory tract and body.
- SurgerySurgery can harden or shrink the tissue causing the obstruction, or remove excess tissue or enlarged tonsils.
- Mandibular repositioning device(MRD)This is a special oral device suitable for people with mild or moderate OSA. The mouthpiece keeps the jaw in a forward position during sleep to expand the space behind the tongue. This helps keep the upper airway open by preventing apnea and snoring.
- MedicationSome medications can help with CSA but should only be used after consulting a sleep specialist. Examples include
However, it can have serious side effects and may not be suitable for everyone.
Home Remedies for Sleep Apnea
- HoneyHoney has anti-inflammatory properties due to its high content of phenolic compounds that can act as antioxidants. Patients with sleep apnea appreciate its beneficial effects on the throat.
- Before going to bed, drink a glass of warm water or tea and add a teaspoon of raw honey.
- Lavender has a soothing scent that reduces anxiety and provides better sleep.
- Apply a few drops of lavender essential oil to the towel. Then place the towel under your pillow or on your pillowcase.
- You can also add lavender to hot water and inhale the steam, or use an oil diffuser to scent your bedroom.
When to see a doctor?
Heavy snoring can indicate a potentially serious problem, but not everyone who has sleep apnea, snores. Consult your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea. Ask your doctor about sleep problems that make you tired, sleepy, and irritable.