Snoring is an old problem and in itself is considered to be more of an irritation than a major health risk. Sleep apnea, however, is completely different and may be a potentially dangerous condition that requires proper diagnosis and treatment.
It is considered that 90 percent of people suffering from sleep apnea are rarely aware of their condition and are only aware of a family member who has witnessed an event.
Sleep apnea is characterized by breaks or blockages of breathing during sleep. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and occurs when the muscles on the back of the throat collapse around the opening that blocks the airways. This deprives the oxygen for several seconds up to one minute or longer.
The brain then becomes aware of oxygen deficiency and sends out signals. This wakes the person awake and the respiration is usually resumed with a whining, gurgling or loud snare sound.
The person usually falls asleep almost immediately, unaware of what has happened and this gasification and breathing cycle can be repeated several times every hour throughout the night. As a result, the sufferers experience restless sleep and may awake uncomfortable and tired. Other symptoms may include:
Difficulty in concentration and memory disappears
Dry mouth upon awakening
Fatigue and irritability during the day, often associated with depression and mood swings
There are generally no symptoms that are visible during a doctor's visit and no blood tests to confirm sleep apnea. A diagnosis will originally be based on family history, sleep patterns, observations of family members and other predisposition conditions.
The most reliable basis for diagnosis is a polysomnogram performed in a sleep clinic. This is a scan that monitors the brain's activity, oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate and muscle activity during sleep. It is non-invasive and simply requires sensors to be attached to the scalp and legs during sleep.
The common cause of OSA is obesity and is more common among men than women. The elderly are more likely than younger individuals. High blood pressure and smoking also increase the risk of sleep apnea.
Difficulty varies greatly from person to person. At the mild end of the spectrum, respiratory disturbances can occur up to five times per hour, while in severe cases more than 30 interruptions per hour may occur. During each of these episodes oxygen levels in the blood drop result from elevated levels of stress hormones. This can lead to increased risk of hypertension and stroke.
There is no medicine for sleep apnea. However, there are several approaches to treatment, one of the most important is lifestyle changes. Weight loss leads to improvement of the symptoms. Avoiding alcohol or other sleep inducing drugs can help keep your muscles tight and reduce the symptoms.
Surgery may be considered depending on whether excess tissue, dilated tonsils and adenoids are considered to be the cause.
OSA is also often treated with a mouthpiece or oral device that is worn in the mouth during sleep and helps keep the airways open.
Another method is the use of a Constant Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) device. This means wearing a mask over the nose and mouth, in which air from a portable oxygen tank gently blows into the respiratory tract. This constant pressure helps keep the airways open.
More and more people choose alternative treatments for sleep apnea as opposed to the two above options. There are many things you can do right in your home that can take care of your sleep disorder without any special tools or without a surgical procedure. Something that is as simple as changing your pre-diet has proven to be a very effective sleep apnea remedy. It is usually a good idea to take a look at alternative treatments before even considering any of the above options.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have major long-term health effects. Because it only happens when a person is asleep, it can go untreated for a long time but once diagnosed, there are many options and treatment plans available for success.