Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes abnormal breathing during sleep. It is one of the most common sleep disorders, affecting almost 22 million people in the country. While sleep apnea might sound like a normal disorder, it can be life-threatening, as the relaxed muscles in the throat can cause the breathing to stop suddenly. Here are some causes, symptoms, and treatment options for the condition.
Sleep apnea can be caused due to both physical and mental conditions. Obesity, however, is one of the most common causes of sleep apnea. The increased fat deposits in the neck can block the upper airways, thereby disrupting your breathing. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea. Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, acromegaly, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also increase your risk of suffering from sleep apnea. Acromegaly specifically causes swelling in the throat and tongue, which can obstruct the airways.
In some cases, interference in the brain signals that travel to the chest and airways can also cause sleep apnea. This is called central sleep apnea. Apart from this, sleep apnea is also linked to kidney disease and heart failure.
Following are some of the most common signs of sleep apnea:
- Daytime fatigue
Excessive daytime sleepiness and tiredness is a common sign of sleep apnea. Because you are unable to sleep properly at night, you may experience drowsiness, irritability, and low energy during the day.
- Loud snoring
This is the most common and primary sign of obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructed airflow may lead to loud noises as you breathe. Sleeping on your back may increase the loudness of your snores.
Sleep apnea leads to the air passage being blocked, making it difficult to breathe. As a result, there is less oxygen being supplied to the lungs. The sudden drop in oxygen levels can increase your risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases. This can lead to high blood pressure in the long run. The reduced intake of air can also lead to abrupt awakening, choking, and gasping.
- Nighttime sweating
This is yet another prevalent symptom of sleep apnea, which is typically seen in children and toddlers. It has been observed that sleep apnea can lead to a rise in cortisol levels in the body. This increased stress, in turn, can lead to nighttime sweating.
The primary aim of treating sleep apnea is to maintain an open airway while sleeping. The type of treatment for the same depends on the severity of the disorder. Some treatment options are mentioned below:
- Breathing devices
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is a breathing device that is commonly used for sleep apnea. It consists of a mask that covers the nose and mouth, and a tube that is connected to a motor. The motor blows air inside the mask through the tube, keeping your upper airways open and avoiding abnormal breathing.
If you have chronic sleep apnea, then you might be advised to get implants. A minor surgery is performed to implant a device inside the body. The implant senses irregularities in breathing and delivers mild stimulation to the muscles to open up your airways when you’re sleeping.
Custom-fit mouthpieces are also used for treating sleep apnea. They keep the airways open in two different ways. Mandibular advancement devices (MAD) cover the upper and lower jaws and move it forward, thereby preventing them from blocking the upper airways. Tongue-retaining devices (TRD) hold the tongue in place, preventing it from falling back inside the mouth cavity and blocking the upper airway. Mouthpieces are prescribed for milder symptoms of sleep apnea.
If none of the treatment options mentioned above provide relief from sleep apnea, then surgery might be required. Tonsillectomy, a surgery to remove the tonsils, might be performed to open up the upper airways. Maxillomandibular advancement surgery (MMA), which involves the repositioning of the upper and lower jaws to open up the airways, can also provide relief from the symptoms of sleep apnea. In rare cases, doctors might also create an incision in the trachea and place a tube to assist in breathing.