Sleep apnea is most common in overweight people and affects men more than women. It can occur at any age but frequently in the elderly.
People with enlarged tonsils or a deviated nasal septum, those with abnormalities of the upper airways, smokers, people taking certain medications, and those who drink large amounts of alcohol are most prone to developing sleep apnea.
You wake up drained of energy even after sleeping for eight hours. You’re moody the entire morning and find it hard to focus on your work tasks. You pour yourself another cup of coffee, hoping it will solve the problem, and manage to cross off everything on your to-do list. Finally, you reach home feeling exhausted with a terrible headache and unable to think of anything that requires attention.
“A quick nap should do it,” you tell yourself, but just when you’re about to fall asleep, your breathing stops for a few seconds. You change your position and finally manage to fall asleep but wake up with chest pain and feeling dizzy.
Sleep apnea disrupts sleep and manifests through breathing pauses, snoring, a choking sensation while sleeping, restless sleep, insomnia, and shallow breathing while resting. It’s one of the most common chronic conditions affecting U.S. adults and the most undiagnosed sleep disorder in our country.
The condition is also typically evidenced by excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches during the day, irritability, mood changes, depression, and poor memory, focus and attention.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of sleep apnea aren’t specific and there’s no visible manifestation that tells people that they’re suffering from this condition, so the ailment often passes unrecognized. People can suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) for years without knowing it, as there’s no blood test to diagnose this health problem and the condition can’t be detected during routine check-ups.
THEN HOW DO I GET DIAGNOSED, YOU MIGHT ASK.
Usually a family member or partner notices that the sufferer is snoring and stops breathing during sleep, with breathing pauses lasting up to a few minutes. After such pauses, there is a loud snort or choking sound and normal breathing starts again. This tends to reoccur frequently throughout sleep.
Sufferers may or may not wake up, but the condition usually disrupts their normal sleep pattern and makes it difficult to have a restful sleep. People with sleep apnea wake up tired, with the poor quality of sleep causing the already mentioned symptoms. Other manifestations of sleep apnea include confusion, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction, while potential complications include:
o High blood pressure
o Irregular heartbeats
o A higher risk of heart disease, heart failure, and stroke
o A higher risk of accidents while driving
o Daytime sleepiness that affects thinking patterns, making it difficult to remember things and to concentrate
o A higher risk of pulmonary hypertension
The condition, which affects more than 20 million adults in the U.S., is diagnosed based on personal or family history, physical examination, and through polysomnography. This sleep study monitors activity while sleeping (or trying to sleep) and analyzes the sleeping pattern by recording a series of parameters, among which are blood oxygen levels, body position, brain waves, and electrical activity of muscles.
CAN SLEEP APNEA BE TREATED?
Several treatments—both invasive and noninvasive—are available for this condition, so if your energy levels are lower than usual, you feel moody and tired during the day, find it difficult to focus and perform any task that requires thinking and analyzing, and your partner complains about snoring, it may be a good idea to ask for help.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles and soft tissues inside the throat relax too much and collapse, causing the obstruction of the airways and preventing air from passing through the passages.
To treat the condition one can use dental appliances or mouthpieces that blow air into the airways during the night (called CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure devices). Losing weight for those who are overweight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption can also help. In severe cases, more complex treatments, including surgery, may be recommended.
By Andreea Macoveiciuc