Sleep Apnea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Did you know that when we sleep we need our brain and our respiratory system to be fully synchronized to ensure that oxygen reaches all the vital organs in our body?

It may seem obvious to you since we all fall asleep and without us realizing it, we continue to breathe without problems. However, the truth is that our body performs a whole set of complex actions while we sleep that help us stay alive.

And what is the most common condition that could jeopardize this whole process? Sleep apnea. This condition is characterized by the interruption of people’s breathing while we sleep. The pauses caused by apnea can end up having serious long-term consequences for our health if they are not treated properly or in time.

At present, the prevalence of this disease is increasing, probably due to the sedentary lifestyle habits that society is acquiring, affecting children and adults as well as men and women without distinction. If you are experiencing any symptoms of sleep apnea, consult an ENT specialist Singapore immediately.

Therefore, and because the danger posed by this disease is real and must be taken seriously, here’s an essential guide that will help you identify apnea, differentiate between the different types, learn more about its symptoms as well as identify the different treatment options available.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Currently, experts have determined that there are three different types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This is the most common and dangerous of all. 

It is characterized by a physical obstruction of the airway at the back of the throat, causing a momentary feeling of suffocation that disappears as the minutes go by.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

This type of apnea is more difficult to identify but just as dangerous. 

It is characterized by a poor synchronization of our brain with the muscles that are responsible for breathing, causing breathing to be much slower than normal and thus delaying the arrival of oxygen to the brain.

Mixed Sleep Apnea

This type of apnea is very rare to see and is characterized by symptoms of both OSA and CSA.

However, even though it has similar symptoms to the other two apneas, this type has different underlying causes and its treatment should also be different from that of the other two types. 

It is a complex sleep disorder that is very difficult to treat, but with a very lower prevalence compared to the other two. 

What Part of the Population is More Affected by this Disease?

Current data on this disease shows that sleep apnea affects up to 10% of the American adult population and is much more common among men over 40 years old and with unhealthy living habits. 

However, this does not mean that younger and better-looking adults cannot suffer from it.

Although all the types of apneas that we have mentioned above have been diagnosed among the population, it is obstructive sleep apnea that has the highest prevalence and is usually detected among most new cases.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

One of the main problems with sleep apnea is that sufferers do not realize their symptoms if there is no one beside them while they sleep. 

The most common and characteristic symptom of the pathology is chronic snoring. However, this does not mean that everyone who snores has sleep apnea. It is one of the most common symptoms that if accompanied by others will indicate the presence of the disease.

The main symptoms caused by sleep apnea are:

  • Irritability
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Short or long term interrupted breathing
  • Limited care capacity
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth and sore throat
  • Gasping, choking, or snorting
  • Nocturia

Causes of Sleep Apnea

Although sleep apnea can occur suddenly and with no apparent reason, especially in the case of children, there are usually a number of causes and risk factors that increase the risk of suffering from the disease.

These include:

Obesity

Obesity is the main risk factor of this pathology, increasing its danger by up to 60%. 

The reason an obese person ends up suffering from sleep apnea is because of the narrowing of their airways due to the excess tissue that surrounds them.

Anatomy

There are times when the natural anatomy of a person’s neck, respiratory and deglutition systems can make them more prone to develop sleep apnea.

Smoking

Smokers increase the risk of suffering from apnea by two, since tobacco alone obstructs our breathing.

Medication and alcohol

Repeated use of sedatives and consumption of alcohol in high quantities can cause sleep apnea, as both cause the tissues of the throat to relax and obstruct the airways involuntarily.

Hormonal problems

Hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism or acromegaly induce the development of very severe apneas, since these abnormalities end up producing an increase in the size of the tissues surrounding the airways, preventing air from flowing correctly through them.

Sleeping on your back

This position doubles the risk of producing a collapse in our airways. Hence, it is recommended to avoid it and always try to sleep in a position that helps the air flow.

Allergies

Nasal congestion caused by pollen or mite allergies can lead to apneas at night, as excess mucus can momentarily block our airways.

What are the Health Risks of Sleep Apnea?

Although many people consider sleep apnea to be a mild disease that can be lived with easily, the truth is that a pathology without proper treatment will end up causing other long-term health problems.

One of the main problems that apnea has is that it prevents us from sleeping deeply, making the quality of our sleep deficient and dragging a whole series of symptoms because of it. These include depression, lack of concentration, excessive fatigue and mental problems.

Sleep apnea is also a serious risk factor for the development of other diseases such as hypertension, stroke, tachycardia and cardiovascular diseases.

Treatments for Sleep Apnea

If a person believes that he or she has begun to develop the symptoms of sleep apnea, the first thing he or she has to do is to go to the doctor to be examined, and it is usually necessary to carry out an overnight sleep study to certify the presence of the disease.

The treatment of sleep apneas is quite difficult and does not always produce results in the first attempt. Hence, doctors are often trying different methods until the patient shows signs of improvement.

The main treatment options include the following:

  • Leading a healthy lifestyle
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Sleeping on your side
  • Avoiding sedatives and alcohol
  • Using a night pressure device (CPAP) that keeps the airway open by preventing obstruction
  • Using small mouthpieces that hold the jaw or tongue for those who have apnea due to anatomy problems
  • Surgery that removes excess tissue surrounding the airway (although this is always the last option)