Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by the interruption of a person’s breathing during sleep. It is a serious condition wherein the person experiences periods when their breathing stops while they are asleep. Many are probably aware of this disorder, but perhaps not well enough.
There are less-known but important details about it that everyone, whether or not they have sleep apnea, should know. Read on for more information.
Most People Who Have Sleep Apnea Don’t Know It
Sleep apnea is a highly underdiagnosed health condition. Only a few are aware that they have this disorder. This underdiagnosis is attributed to a number of factors.
For one, sleep-apnea symptoms are usually vague and slow to develop. Patients don’t feel sick and don’t have an idea that they have been experiencing symptoms. It also doesn’t help that patients don’t remember the active state of the disorder during sleep.
Moreover, the test performed to have a conclusive diagnosis of sleep apnea is specialized and expensive. That’s why people just don’t bother verifying whether or not they are afflicted by it.
Sleep Apnea Can Happen Hundreds of Times in One Night
The stopping of breathing in sleep apnea is not something that happens only once or twice in an episode. The breathing disruption can repeatedly take place up to hundreds of times in a night.
This repeated breathing disruption may go unnoticed, or it can wake a person up again and again. This is what causes sleep problems and makes a person feel tired in the morning as sleep apnea prevents continuous deep sleep.
Sleep Apnea Is Not Just about a Blockage in the Airway
Many who know something about sleep apnea equate it with an airway blockage. However, there are actually two types of sleep apnea. These are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the more common type, which is what many think of when talking about sleep apnea. It is brought about by an obstruction in the airway, particularly, the collapsing of the soft tissue in the back of the throat during sleep.
Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, does not involve blockages. In this type, it is the brain that fails to function as expected as it fails to send signals to the muscles to move involuntarily and enable breathing. This is usually caused by the instability of a person’s respiratory control center.
Sleep Apnea Can Lead to Serious Health Consequences
Sleep apnea is not as dreaded as are other diseases or health problems, such as cancer, HIV, and heart conditions. However, if left untreated, this disorder can result in critical health conditions.
It can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is also associated with depression and the worsening of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What makes sleep apnea dangerous is how it slowly deprives the brain of oxygen. When breathing is disrupted, the oxygen that goes to the brain and to other parts of the body is significantly reduced.
The effects of this reduced oxygenation is not immediately noticeable. The harmful consequences of low oxygen levels in the body accumulate for some time, resulting in more serious health problems.
To avoid the aforementioned complications, it is important to treat sleep apnea as soon as possible. Treatment usually entails a weight loss plan or surgery. While doing treatment, it is important to eliminate or at least reduce sleep-apnea triggers and monitor the body’s oxygen saturation levels using pulse oximetry sensors like Nonin SpO2 sensor.
In some cases, it may be necessary to be hooked to a pulse oximeter to have feedback on the effectivity of the breathing interventions and therapies being implemented. A pulse oximetry sensor can also provide alerts for low oxygen levels and help determine if supplemental oxygen is needed.
Sleep Apnea Is More Frequent among Men
Men are more likely to develop sleep apnea than women. The risks are also aggravated by the following factors:
- Being overweight or obese
- Age (forty years or older)
- Having a big neck circumference (17″ or bigger in men and 16″ or bigger for women)
- Family history/heredity
- Having large tonsils and tongue, relatively small jaw bone
- Nasal obstructions (may be caused by allergies, sinus issues, or a deviated septum)
Sleep Apnea Can Be Misdiagnosed as Depression
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine says that over 70 percent of those suffering from sleep apnea encounter depression symptoms. This creates the possibility that sleep apnea may be wrongly diagnosed as depression and vice versa.
To ascertain that it’s a case of sleep apnea, proper diagnosis must be done. This can be through nocturnal polysomnography and home sleep tests. In nocturnal polysomnography, a person is hooked up to an equipment that tracks brain, heart, and lung activity as well as breathing patterns, movements of the extremities, and blood oxygen levels during sleep.
Home sleep tests, on the other hand, are basically a DIY diagnostic option. It also involves the testing of the heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and airflow and breathing patterns while sleeping.
Words of Caution
Sleep apnea may be common, but it is a serious health issue. It needs to be promptly diagnosed and treated. Leaving it untreated can give rise to serious health conditions. If you suspect that you are suffering from this disorder, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor and get yourself tested.