man with sleep apnea disorder using a CPAP machine

Sleep apnea is probably the fastest growing medical condition in the world. Maybe because the awareness of it and it’s implication to one’s health has become important to the estimated 18 million Americans who suffer from this sleep disorder. This means that 1 in every 15 Americans or 6.62% of the total population have some type or degree of sleep apnia.

What is sleep apnea?
Basically one does not breathe or has shallow breathing during sleep. These breathing pauses last for a few seconds but can last for minutes. They occur 5 to 30 times an hour but the more severe cases can occur up to 60 times (one a minute) an hour. Typically, the sufferer will often resume normal breathing after an apnea episode but not before a loud snort or choking sound is heard.

A sleep apnia diagnosis is not required for everybody who is suspected of having this sleep problem. If the patient does not show or is proven to not have serious health risk factors, then they will not need to have medical test.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea or OSA is the most common of the three types of apnea. The word obstructive is the key word to understand. Basically, oxygen is not able to make its way through the airway and this means that the patient for a moment is not breathing.

Central Sleep Apnea or CSA is much less common than Obstructive but much more dangerous. Central apnea is when breathing stops and starts repeatedly because of a lack of respiratory effort. The major difference is that in OSA you breathe normally but the air cannot get through but in Central Apnea you do not breathe because your brain gets lazy and does not tell the proper muscles to breathe.

The simplest way to explain mixed sleep apnea is it’s a sleep disorder that is marked by signs and symptoms of both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. More often than not this disorder begins as central sleep apnea and then develops into the form known as obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnia symptoms fall into two main categories. First are the symptoms that the patient experiences such as:

  • Intense sleepiness during the week
  • Falling asleep when you should not
  • After a nights sleep, having the feeling that you still need more sleep
  • Having trouble remembering normal activities
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Heartburn
  • Frequent trips to the washroom at night

And second are symptoms that your love ones experience such as:

  • Loud snoring
  • Constant tossing and turning
  • Choking or gasping episodes

Obesity is a cause of this sleep disorder. Actually obesity is probably the leading cause of people having OSA. Another cause is when people have small airways in their noses, throats, or mouths. This of course limits the amount of oxygen that one gets thus resulting in having Apneas.

Sleep apnea treatments can vary and will depend on several factors from patient factors to symptom factors. Of course the main goal of treatments is to restore normal breathing during sleep. Research is showing that treating this sleep disorder effectively also helps in other medical problems such as high blood pressure. Treating your apnea can also drastically reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Specific treatments such as lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, breathing devices, and/or surgery are discussed in greater detail here.

Sleep apnea surgery is an option that many sufferers of this sleep problem opt for. There are currently apnea surgery procedures for adults and for children. OSA surgery basically means that the surgeon will attempt to enlarge the dimensions of one’s airway in addition to trying to limit (or decrease) the collapsibility of the airway. In children the most common forms of surgery are Adenoidectomy and Tonsillectomy (Adenoids and Tonsils).

A sleep apnea pillow is often given to patients. These help in positioning the head so that the airway is kept opened more efficiently. The use of this special pillow has become very popular as it is a non-invasive treatment.

Apnea masks (also known as CPAP machines) have proven to be the best form of treatment. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is what is needed in order to control this sleep disorder. Although sleep apnea masks are not a cure, they are just about as perfect as a cure.

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