Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder where a person experiences repeated pauses in breathing while asleep. These pauses, also called as apnea, can last for ten seconds or longer and may be repeated several times during one sleep cycle. People with sleep apnea may usually not realize that they have the disorder or may not notice it at all.

Causes of sleep apnea

There are two types of sleep apnea. One is obstructive sleep apnea which occurs when the muscles located at the back of the throat begin to relax. When these muscles relax, they constricts or narrow the airways as a person breathes in which can momentarily stop a person from breathing. This is considered the most common and recognizable form of sleep apnea.

Another form of this sleep disorder is called central sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, this is caused by a malfunction in the brain in sending signals to the muscles required to breath. This disorder is usually due to the instability in the brain’s respiratory control center especially during sleep.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

People suffering from sleep apnea may experience several general symptoms. One of them is waking up with a very sore throat.

Since people with sleep apnea often experience sleep disturbances, sleepiness during the day also becomes a common symptom.

Some people may experience mild headaches predominantly because of lack of sleep. Some may experience mood changes as well as bouts of forgetfulness.

How sleep apnea is diagnosed?

The most common means to diagnose sleep apnea in people is through a sleep study. Also called a polysomnogram, a sleep study is composed of a multi-component test that records a person’s specific physical activities while asleep.

The recordings are the evaluated and analyzed by a sleep specialist to determine if a person is suffering from sleep apnea.

How to prevent sleep apnea?

Probably the most common means of prevention that a person can practice to avoid developing sleep apnea is by trying to avoid health conditions that are known to contribute to it.

Obesity and high blood pressure are known to contribute to sleep apnea. Avoiding alcohol, smoking and muscle relaxants like sedatives and tranquilizers can also help prevent the condition in a way.

How to treat sleep apnea?

Treatment for sleep apnea will depend on the severity of the condition. For mild ones, certain lifestyle changes such as losing weight and avoiding alcohol and smoking would be enough.

But for more severe cases, treatment for sleep apnea can range from using devices such as the CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure device to surgery to widen the airways.