Snoring is a common, involuntary physical activity during sleep, but did you know that many cases of severe snoring are actually classified as sleep apnea? Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which an individual has shallow or interrupted breathing while asleep, affecting the circulation of oxygen through the body. Although the lack of oxygen isn’t bad enough to kill a person, it can still cause various illnesses, particularly as a result of fatigue and inadequate sleep.
The Different Types of Sleep Apnea
There are four types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by a blockage in the throat during sleep. Some of the reasons why the throat gets blocked are low muscle tone, enlarged tonsils, excessive fat in the body, alcohol intake, nasal congestion and old age.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) is caused by the inability of the brain to send signals to the body to breathe. This affects the involuntary breathing action that the body normally does while asleep. It is a rare form of sleep apnea.
- Mixed sleep apnea is a combination of OSA and CSA. The causes are still unclear, but some chronic OSA patients develop CSA throughout their lifetime.
- Complex sleep apnea is also a form of mixed sleep apnea, but in this case, even with a respiration machine, the patient still experiences breathing problems.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of OSA is snoring. The blockage of the throat makes it difficult for air to pass through, which creates the snoring sound. If you know anyone who snores very loudly and sometimes wakes up, choking and coughing as a result, they are likely suffering from OSA. However, some cases of CSA also exhibit snoring as a symptom.
Other symptoms for both OSA and CSA include:[custom_list style=”list-1″]
- Fatigue and exhaustion even right after waking up
- Sleepiness during the day
- Lack of concentration
- Choking or coughing during sleep
- Waking up to a feeling of strangulation
- Dryness in the mouth
- High blood pressure
To diagnose sleep apnea, the patient undergoes a clinical test called a sleep study. The patient will be required to sleep in the laboratory while his vitals are observed and monitored. This test is also used to diagnose other sleep disorders.
How to Treat Sleep Apnea
After a diagnosis is made, the patient will need to undergo treatment, which may be one of the following:
- Lifestyle changes. If you suffer from OSA, you may benefit from one or more of these lifestyle adjustments:
a. Minimize alcohol consumption;
b. Reduce stress and physical exhaustion by getting more sleep and engaging in other stress-relieving activities;
c. Weight loss to diminish throat obstruction;
d. Stop smoking;
e. Sleep on your side to keep the nasal passages open;
f. Exercise regularly.
- Medications. Nasal steroid sprays and allergy medicines may help reduce the occurrence of OSA.
- Dental appliances. These are similar to the mouthpieces used by athletes, called mouthguards. These will help keep your passageway open during sleep by adjusting your tongue and lower jaw. Dental appliances need to be custom fit by Dr. Ben to ensure that the patient will be comfortable in wearing it all through the night.
- Breathing devices. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines are similar to ventilators but are only used while asleep. These machines blow air through the mouth and nose to keep the circulation of air in the body stable. The air pressure can be adjusted to the patient’s comfort level while still applying enough pressure to open the passageways. There are also other forms of breathing devices such as APAP (automatic positive airway pressure) machines, VPAP (variable positive airway pressure) and EPAP (expiratory positive airway pressure).
- Surgery. In cases where throat blockage is the main cause of sleep apnea, patients can undergo a surgical procedure. The options for treating severe OSA include UPPP (uvulopalatopharyngoplasty) or removal of throat tissue, MMA (maxillomandibular advancement) or jaw adjustment, tonsillectomy or removal of tonsils, and palatal implants where small plastic rods are implanted in the soft palate to prevent the tissues from collapsing.
If you suspect that you or someone close to you is suffering from sleep apnea, visit Dr. Ben Kacos for a clinical examination. He will help you identify the best solution for your breathing problems. Call us at (318) 869-2593 and schedule an appointment today.