Common Questions about Sleep Apnea

Common Questions about Sleep Apnea

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1.      What is sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by partial or complete blockage of the airways during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea causes breathing breaks during sleep, these breaks will last more than ten seconds at a time.

Breathing breaks during the sleep can also be caused by over-breathing (hyperventilation), whereby the brain is forced to slow down the breathing and stops sending respiratory instructions to the respiratory system.

In the first case, it’s called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and, in the other, central sleep apnea (CSA).

2.      When is sleep apnea considered as a disorder?

Many have occasional breathing breaks, but with a sleep apnea patient there may be hundreds of them overnight. It’s considered as a disorder when these breathing breaks cause lack of concentration and daytime fatigue. Someone with sleep apnea is tired because sleep is not refreshing. Normal sleep consists of four different sleep stages, as well as a dream phase called REM sleep.

In sleep apnea patients, the amount of deep sleep and associated growth hormone secretion may be less than usual. The amount of REM sleep may also decrease.

3.      Is sleep apnea dangerous?

A lack of sleep can lead to a similar state of fatigue as alcohol. Daytime sleepiness in a sleep apnea patient can cause serious incidents, at worst falling asleep behind the wheel. Properly treated sleep apnea does not prevent, for example, to be a professional driver.

During sleep apnea, blood oxygen levels decrease and oxygen deficiency exposes to cardiovascular diseases, arrhythmias and possible cardiac arrest.

4.      What causes sleep apnea?

Overweight increases the risk of sleep apnea. It can prevent the diaphragm from functioning normally and hampers the functioning of the upper respiratory muscles and thus contributes to the development of the stenosis of the upper respiratory tract.  However, all sleep apnea patients are not overweight, nor are men as previously believed, in fact after menopausal age, women are as likely to be affected as men. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 70 years have sleep apnea.

5.      When there is a reason to suspect sleep apnea?

Unexplained daytime fatigue and drowsiness are reasons to go to the doctor. Your doctor suspects sleep apnea when laboratory tests do not reveal other illnesses that cause fatigue in general, such as diabetes, heart or thyroid failure, or asthma. Many people do not notice themselves that they snore or have nightly breathing breaks. Many sleep apnea patients come to research on their partner’s initiative.

6.      How to diagnose sleep apnea?

The diagnosis requires a sleep study for which the patient will stay at the sleep lab overnight. Usually this takes place in a hospital or sleep center. The study records breathing, movements, airflow in the respiratory tract, and sleeping position during the sleep.

Previously, the severity of sleep apnea was mainly determined by calculating the number of overnight apnea, or breathing breaks. Nowadays, more attention is paid to the amount of time the patient sleeps and the symptoms that occur during the day. Respiratory system reacts for heavy breathing, either by increasing the amount of breathing and blood circulation, or by giving some of its tasks to the kidneys – both solutions are bad.

7.      How is sleep apnea treated?

The illness is most often treated with a CPAP device ( CPAP = Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). It increases air pressure in the airways and keeps the upper airways open.

The latest equipment will vary the pressure as needed, i.e. when there are no breaks, the pressure will be lower. The pressure in the upper respiratory tract produces an air passage, which removes breathing breaks and the blood oxygen level normalizes. The pressure is delivered to the upper respiratory tract via a nasal or full face mask.

8.      How effective is CPAP therapy?

Many people notice the effect of treatment immediately and they feel refreshed in the morning. Treatment does not cure the disease and almost always treatment is lifelong. Occasionally, when the CPAP therapy has been used for a long time, the structures of the throat will solidify and the patient could (in principle at least) spend some time without the device. Weight loss can sometimes make the device unnecessary.

9.      Is there a cure for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea syndrome can be cured by surgical and orthodontic treatment by the oral surgeon when the cause of breathing breaks is in the abnormal structure of the upper respiratory tract, such as the small jaw and misalignment of jaws and teeth.

The lower jaw can also be brought forward at night by a mouthpiece which opens the airway wider during sleep. The purpose of the mouthpiece is to broaden the airway, especially at the base of the tongue.

10.   How to ease sleep apnea symptoms?

In addition to weight loss, you should especially avoid drinking alcohol in the evenings. Alcohol relaxes the throat muscles, causing the throat to become narrower. After drinking alcohol sleep apnea awakenings during the night might get delayed, in which case the duration of breathing breaks are longer and the blood oxygen level decreases. You should also stop smoking, as it swells the mucous membranes and forms mucus and thus narrows the nose and throat. 

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