Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing, during sleep time, stops and starts throughout the night. There are two types of sleep apnea the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnea, most often caused by excess weight and obesity. This is when throat muscles relax, partially or completely blocking the airway. Extra fat in the throat can cause obstructive sleep apnea to worsen. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not communicate properly with the breathing muscles, causing an interruption. Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when the patient experiences both of the above conditions – obstructive and central sleep apneas.
The Causes of Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the muscles in the back of the throat relaxing, which then causes the airway to narrow restrict breathing. Sensing that not enough oxygen is being brought in, the brain triggers the body to gasp to restart the breathing process. This causes wakefulness. The most common causes of obstructive sleep apnea include excess weight obesity, genetic or family history factors including greater neck circumference or narrowed airways, age, using alcohol or drugs, smoking, congestion, using sedatives or various medical conditions.
Central sleep apnea is somewhat rare and unpredictable. Being male, of advanced age, having heart disorders including congestive heart failure, stroke and using pain medication may all contribute to a higher risk of this form of sleep apnea.
Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Each form of sleep apnea has symptoms that overlap, making it helpful to undergo a sleep study to determine what form the patient suffers from. Generally speaking, however, the common signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Stopping breathing at times during the night
- Gasping for air
- A dry mouth in the morning
- A headache in the morning
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loud snoring
- And daytime sleepiness
Why Sleep Apnea Needs to Be Treated
Sleep apnea may lead to significant considerations and complications including heart problems. High blood pressure and drops in oxygen levels can create a dangerous cardiovascular condition. Those with chronic sleep apnea may also experience atrial fibrillation, heart attack or stroke more commonly than those without the condition. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of metabolic syndrome – including high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Sleep apnea may cause excessive daytime drowsiness leading to reduced performance at work or generally in day-to-day activities. The condition may also strain relationships with partners who become sleep deprived due to loud snoring. This daytime drowsiness can lead to serious consequences if it causes and accident.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
The treatment plan for sleep apnea begins with a proper diagnosis. This is usually achieved using a sleep study at our facility in Long Island. The study monitors the patient’s sleep patterns through the night and can give our sleep physician, Dr. Anwar, the information needed to develop a treatment plan. Dr. Anwar will then discuss lifestyle modifications that will assist the patient in improving their sleep. Medications and devices such as a CPAP may be necessary to help the patient sleep well through the night and regain their former abilities.