Sleep Apnea – What is it and can it be cured?

Sleep Apnea is a disorder in which a person repeatedly stops breathing, which interrupts the sleeping cycle, and is potentially dangerous due to the body not receiving enough oxygen during the episode. Left untreated sleep apnea can cause death. There are two types of sleep apnea, Central and Obstructive. They can occur to anyone, including children.

Having sleep apnea is much more than possessing uncontrollable snoring. Apnea can cause a host of other health issues in a person. Those suffering from sleep apnea are at risk for the following if apnea is left untreated:

High Blood Pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is a condition where the blood pushes too forcefully against the walls of arteries. Having HBP increases the chances for heart disease and stroke.

Stroke: A stroke is caused by blocked blood vessels or brain bleeds, and results in trouble walking, speaking, numbness and paralysis.

Heart Problems: Heart failure can stem from any number of issues including irregular heart beats, heart attacks, or high blood pressure.

Diabetes: Diabetes is a disease that results from having too much sugar in the blood and not being able to properly process insulin.

Depression: Depression is the culmination of a number of symptoms that results in low mood or apathy lasting for an extended period of time. It affects a person’s regular standard of living and daily activities.

ADHD: Attention hyperactivity disorder causes an inability to manage time effectively, organization, and goal setting as a result of being inattentive and impulsive.

Headaches: There are a wide range of symptoms and types of headaches. Generally speaking, a headache can occur in any part of the head and be caused by diet, illness, tension, a result in sensitivity to lights, and nausea.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The two types of apnea, Central and Obstructive, can overlap in their symptoms. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Snoring loudly
  • Remaining tired after a full nights sleep (hypersomnia)
  • A stop in breathing while asleep
  • Gasping for air
  • Being awakened by dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulties paying attention
  • Irritability

Regular occurrences of sleep apnea will affect even the basics of everyday living; driving, performing poorly at work or school, and this can have far reaching consequences.

In order to determine if you have sleep apnea, take into account any symptoms you have have to put forth to your doctor. They will in turn ask about your history and family history, and refer you for further testing. This could be an overnight stay at a sleep clinic for evaluation. At home tests can also be performed, and can include being hooked up to a machine that will monitor your nightly sleep patterns, which in turn will be assessed by a physician.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Not everyone who snores loudly has sleep apnea, yet people who have sleep apnea snore loudly. What distinguishes one from the other? Engaging a doctor can help determine if you have other symptoms of sleep apnea and require treatment. Though sleep apnea can happen to anyone, there are factors that are more prevalent and people that are more susceptible and at risk than others. These factors include:

  • Being older also greatly affects the chances of sleep apnea. The older we get, the higher for the chances of getting apnea. Those in middle age have higher chances of susceptibility.
  • Being male. Men are more likely to have sleep apnea than women. A woman will increase her chances for apnea if she is overweight and after going through menopause.
  • Being overweight, as an excess of weight on the airway will affect breathing.
  • Having an overly large neck, tonsils, or tongue can cause narrow airways. Enlarged tonsils are a danger in children. Some of these traits are inherited, and nothing short of surgery can fix them.
  • A family history of sleep apnea.
  • Being affected by Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), a digestive disease more commonly known as acid reflux, where the acid in the stomach irritates the lining.
  • Nasal obstructions such as sinus issues, deviated septum, or allergies.
  • Smokers have more of a chance having apnea than non smokers. Smoking increases inflammation and fluid retention in an airway.

Central Sleep Apnea

In Central sleep apnea, the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to being unstable. The airway is not blocked during this time despite no effort to breathe. This form of apnea is less common than Obstructive. In addition to the causes and symptoms listed above, Central sleep apnea can occur in people with heart disorders such as congestive heart failure, those using narcotic pain medications such as methadone, and anyone who has suffered from a stroke.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common form in which the airway is blocked when the soft tissue of the throat collapses. As we sleep, the muscles relax, and the airway narrows as we breathe in. Not being able to get enough air lowers the oxygen level in the blood. The brain can sense the inability to breathe, and can cause an awakening that may be so brief a person will not recall it even happening. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause snorting, choking, and gasping repeatedly during the night, resulting in a restless sleep.

How to Prevent Sleep Apnea

There are a variety of treatments for sleep apnea, ranging from medical interventions to simple lifestyle changes. Incorporating healthy eating habits, in addition to cutting back (or cutting out all together) smoking and drinking alcohol, are effective in curtailing apnea. Another simple remedy can be changing sleep positions, as lying on one’s stomach opens up the airways more than laying on your back. Incorporating yoga or other exercises, and using a humidifier can reduce apnea symptoms as well.

Specially designed sleep apnea pillows are one alternative treatment for sleep apnea. These pillows are wedge shaped, and can be used with or without a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. Another alternative is a sleep apnea mouthpiece, similar to a mouthguard. This kind of device can be purchased over the counter or fitted to your specifications.

Medical interventions for sleep apnea include utilizing a CPAP, APAP or BiPAP machine, which incorporates a mask that is to be worn over the nose and mouth while sleeping. The mask is connected via a hose to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nose, keeping the airway open. Another medical intervention is a dental device that is designed by dentists whose specialty is treating apnea.

A major decision, and possibly a last resort for some sufferers, is opting for sleep apnea surgery. These surgeries include nasal surgery to repair a deviated septum, a procedure to remove the soft tissue to increase the width of the airway, or a surgery to correct facial problems or obstructions.

FAQ

How many people have sleep apnea?
According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 200,000 new cases of sleep apnea occur per year in the United States alone, and the disorder affects more than 18 million Americans.

Is sleep apnea hereditary?
Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by inherited anatomical traits such as narrow throats, thick necks, and small heads.

Can sleep apnea be cured?
Sleep apnea can be treated, if not outright cured. Medical interventions such as breathing devices or surgery can help, along with health and lifestyle changes.

Can CPAP cure sleep apnea?
A CPAP machine is not a cure for sleep apnea. It does take a strong commitment to utilize the machine however, as it can be cumbersome depending on the model, it is noisy, and wearing it regularly will take a lot of getting used to.

Is sleep apnea dangerous or even lead to death?
When left untreated, sleep apnea, at its most extreme, can be deadly. The inability to breathe regularly while asleep can also lead to stroke, high blood pressure, and a host of other health issues.

Can sleep apnea go away on its own?
In general, sleep apnea can be treated or subside, but ultimately it is a chronic condition that never goes away completely. The hereditary causes of apnea can not be changed unless someone opts for surgical interventions for tonsil removal, repairing a deviated septum, or removing tissue in the throat.

Can stress and anxiety cause sleep apnea?
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, whether one suffers from apnea or not. Stress and anxiety can cause undue sleep disruptions, thus preventing restful sleep to the detriment of everyday living. It is unlikely that stress and anxiety alone will cause sleep apnea, though having them cannot help the condition, and can only aid in its negative effects.

Can depression be linked to sleep apnea?
Restless sleep is a side effect of depression. The CDC reports that when sleep apnea is treated properly, depression symptoms decrease.

Can sleep apnea go away if you lose weight?
Being obese can cause a slew of health related issues, including sleep apnea, and losing weight can alleviate these issues. Apnea never fully disappears; regardless, losing weight is a fully beneficial route to undertake in the grand scheme of your life.

How many apneas per hour is normal?
The word apnea refers to the complete loss of breath for 10 seconds. For a normal sleep, less than 5 apneas per hour is acceptable. Mild apnea sufferers have 5 to 14 events per hour, and moderate sufferers have 15 to 29. Severe sleep apnea occurs when there are 30 or more times per hour when a person stops breathing.

Is sleep apnea related to heart problems?
Sleep apnea can contribute to a number of heart problems including heart attacks, high blood pressure, and irregular heart beats, all caused by the drop in oxygen levels that occur, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system.