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Gordon Parker
9 May 2023, 2:20 PM

What is Sleep Apnea?  

Man struggling to stay awake at work

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, which can lead to numerous health complications if left untreated. In this article, we will discuss what sleep apnea is, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. These interruptions can be brief and happen numerous times throughout the night, making it difficult for the person to get restful sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type of sleep apnea. It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, causing breathing to stop for brief periods of time. Central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Complex sleep apnea syndrome (CSAS) is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

Causes of Sleep Apnea

There are several risk factors that can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. These include:

  • Obesity: People who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea because the excess fat can lead to airway blockage.
  • Age: Sleep apnea is more common in older adults, as the muscles in the throat tend to weaken with age.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women.
  • Family history: Sleep apnea can run in families.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase inflammation in the airway, which can contribute to sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The most common symptom of sleep apnea is snoring, although not all people who snore have sleep apnea. Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Gasping for air or choking during sleep
  • Pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Morning headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime sweating
  • Dry mouth or sore throat upon waking

Man using a C-PAP machine

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

The treatment for sleep apnea depends on the severity of the condition. Mild cases of sleep apnea may be managed with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime, and sleeping on one’s side instead of on the back. More severe cases of sleep apnea may require the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers air pressure through a mask to keep the airway open during sleep. Other treatments include surgery to remove excess tissue from the throat, or the use of oral appliances to help keep the airway open.

In conclusion, sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that can have serious health consequences if left untreated. If you or a loved one experience symptoms of sleep apnea, it is important to seek medical attention to determine the best course of treatment. With the right treatment, people with sleep apnea can improve their quality of sleep and overall health.

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