If you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, even after you have slept for several hours, or your partner has informed you that your snoring is keeping them awake at night, you could be suffering from sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea involves brief periods when you stop breathing while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type.
With OSA, breathing is disrupted by an obstruction in the airway of the throat, mouth or nose. Central sleep apnea is less common.
With central sleep apnea, the brain does not alert your breathing muscles to begin moving. People who suffer from both types are diagnosed with mixed sleep apnea.
How Sleep Apnea Affects the Body
Sleep apnea will make it hard for you to breathe while you’re sleeping.
The drop in your blood oxygen level will trigger the brain to disrupt your sleep so that you can breathe, but not enough that you will completely wake up.
This means that you may not even be aware of these sleep interruptions.
Depending on the severity of your condition, these interruptions can happen two to a hundred times an hour.
Most people are alerted to their snoring or breathing episodes by their bed partner.
Two of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea include daytime sleepiness and snoring. Other symptoms can include headaches, urinating at night, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, dry throat, mood swings, depression and irritability.
More than twelve million Americans suffer from a form of sleep apnea. This condition is more prevalent in men over the age of sixty-five.
While sleep apnea becomes more common as a person ages, it can occur at any time, including childhood.
Many cases of apnea will go undiagnosed because a physician is unable to detect apnea during a routine exam.
The only way to get an accurate diagnosis is to participate in a sleep study.
During a sleep study you will be hooked up to a machine that will record your eye movements, breathing pattern and brain activity while you sleep.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk for apnea.
These include a large neck and recessed chin, family history of sleep apnea, smoking, alcohol use and abnormalities of the airway.
Also, certain groups of people are more susceptible to this condition.
Males are more likely to develop sleep apnea, as are certain ethnicities.
Many sleep experts believe the main cause of apnea to be obesity.
Central sleep apnea is typically seen in people who have an underlying medical condition that affects the brain stem, such as Parkinson’s disease.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Treatment for Sleep Apnea
The treatment known as continuous positive airway pressure consists of a mask that fits over the nose and mouth.
A tube will connect a mask to the generator, which will deliver a constant pressure of air.
The CPAP machine is described as an air splint because it works by keeping the airway open.
CPAP therapy machines increase air pressure in the throat so that the airway does not collapse when a person inhales during sleep.
When you use this machine, your bed partner will sleep better as well.
CPAP machines come with a mask designed to cover the mouth and nose, a mask that covers the nose only, which is referred to as a NCPAP mask, and prongs that fit into the nose.
It can take several weeks for a person to become comfortable with CPAP therapy.
If a patient is unable to adjust to it they can speak with their sleep specialist in order to explore alternative treatments.
CPAP therapy is considered the most effective nonsurgical treatment for OSA.
Typically, it’s the first treatment of choice and it’s the most widely used.
CPAP Therapy Side Effects and Alternative Treatment Options
Issues you might experience when using this treatment can include sore throat, dry nose, nasal congestion, irritation of the skin and eyes, abdominal bloating, leaks around the mask and runny nose.
You should expect mild discomfort in the morning, during the first month of use.
If you experience congestion or a runny nose, speak with your doctor regarding nasal sprays or decongestants.
A humidifier can also help to relieve nasal congestion.
Your physician may need to adjust the CPAP machine in order to eliminate or reduce problems.
Be sure that the mask you’re using works properly. Air should not leak around the mask.
If you’re unable to adjust to using the CPAP machine, your physician may recommend a BIPAP machine.
The BIPAP machine will use a different setting of air pressure when you breathe in and another lower pressure when you breathe out.
BIPAP may feel more comfortable than the CPAP machines because you will be exhaling against a lower air pressure.
Both CPAP and BIPAP machines are expensive, although CPAP machines are usually covered by health insurance while BIPAP is not.
Another alternative is to rent one of these machines from a medical supply store.
The most common issue with CPAP therapy is that patients do not use their machines consistently.
Or the patient will take off the mask during the night because it can become uncomfortable.
Even one or two nights of not using the machine can make you feel exhausted during the week.
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