In this sleep disorder, a person’s breathing unintentionally stops and is interrupted several times during the night. Shallow breathing, uncontrollable pauses in breathing pattern are all sleep apnea symptoms. At times, it causes the person with this disorder to wake up startled. As a result of pauses and breaks in normal breathing, less oxygen is spread to the brain and throughout the body, once the airway is opened and the signal for breathing is received, it triggers the person with this sleeping disorder to snort, take a deep breath, or even wake up with a feeling of choking, smothering and gasping for air. This will cause an unrefreshing sleep, which will result in daytime exhaustion, affects relations with others, and threatens one’s health.
This may occur about 30 times during one hour of sleeping, and one may not be aware of hundreds of breathing pauses that happen during the night, which ruins the sleeping rhythm and causes daily fatigue, and the person may not think of a specific reason for the state he/she is in. All they know is that they feel fatigued, unenergetic, irritable, mentally and physically non-productive, with a puffy face upon waking up.
Many serious problems and complications arise from a lack of quality sleep, which in this case is caused by sleep apnea. The following problem may happen as a result of untreated sleep apnea:
- Heart disease,
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
- Weight gain
Chronic sleep deprivation results in daytime fatigue, poor concentration and makes a person more prone to accidents. This is why it’s critically important to be treated for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Chronic and loud snoring almost every night
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Snorting, choking and gasping for air
- Pauses in breathing
- Waking up short of breath during the night
- Morning headache
- Waking up with dry mouth or sore throat
- Lack of concentration and forgetfulness
- Moodiness, depression and irritability
If a person snores, it doesn’t mean they have sleep apnea and if a person has sleep apnea they don’t necessarily snore. The most specific sign of sleep apnea is daytime fatigue and a lack of energy. Normally snoring does not interfere with sleeping pattern and as a result, it does not cause fatigue and sleepiness during the next day.
Although sleep apnea must be diagnosed by a professional, a bed partner observing another person’s sleeping habits, recording one’s own sleeping process and comparing them to the list of symptoms we mentioned earlier, may be of great help in seeking for professional help and treatment.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
In order to confirm that someone has sleep apnea, a test called “Polysomnogram” is required. This test consists of multiple tests that monitors, records and transmits the body’s activity during sleep. Some surface electrodes will be placed on the person’s forehead and scalp to record electric signals, and two belts, one around the waist and the other around the chest to monitor and record the breathing pattern. An oximeter is placed on a finger for measuring the existing amount of oxygen in the blood while sleeping. The health professional will then study and analyze the records and decide whether the person has sleep apnea or not. This test can be performed, in a lab, in a hospital or even at the comfort of someone’s home.
How is sleep apnea treated:
There are both natural treatments and devices- or surgery-based treatments for sleep apnea. Natural treatments include lifestyle changes in general, such as weight loss, quitting smoking, quitting drinking, etc.
Here we will only name the treatments and discuss more the various sleep apnea surgeries.
Other options for sleep apnea treatment include:
- CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) which refers to keeping the airways open and by a gentle and constant stream of positive pressure air is breathed through a mask.
- MRD (Mandibular repositioning device) which increases the space behind the tongue by holding the jaw in a forward position. Side effects of this treatment may include, tooth and jaw pain.
- Surgery: Numerous surgeries are performed to widen the airways, remove the obstructing tissue, remove enlarged tonsils.
Sometimes the person may need to undergo both surgical and non-surgical treatments.
Surgical treatments for sleep apnea (Somnoplasty)
1. Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP):
This type of sleep apnea surgery is the operation of the anterior surface of the soft palate and targets the back of the roof of the mouth. During this procedure, the excess tissue in the throat will be repositioned and removed in order to make the airway wider. The soft palate and uvula can be trimmed and pharyngeal arches and the tonsils may need to be removed and some of the muscles of the throat repositioned by the surgeon. In this surgery, the uvula is folded towards the soft palate.