What is Sleep Apnea? Can You Succeed in Life With This Challenge?

Last Updated on 5 months

The term “sleep apnea” basically means “no breath.” Essentially, it’s a sleep disorder that’s marked by multiple breathing pauses when a person sleeps. The pauses (or breaks) usually last at least 10 seconds and can continue for several minutes.

Indeed, such sleep disruptions can occur hundreds of times in a single night. The disease can cause much interruption and lead to significant falls in a patient’s blood oxygen levels. Moreover, it causes poor quality sleep and can have adverse health consequences.

Experts have identified sleep apnea is a major cause of daytime sleepiness. Notably, many who suffer from sleep- apnea are unaware of it since it remains undiagnosed. There are 3 types of sleep apnea: First, there’s Central sleep apnea (CSA), Mixed apnea (MA), and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Experts measure the intensity of sleep apnea by the hypopneas and the number of sleep apneas that occur per hour. The apnea numeric index may be classified as mild (5-15 per hour), severe (more than 30 events per hour), or moderate (measuring 15-30 events per hour).

The Symptoms and Warning Signs of Sleep Apnea

Essentially the 3 main types of sleep apnea have several similar symptoms. Among these is disrupted sleeping (the patient’s respiration becomes labored; it may even stop for a minute or so). 

Also, they are often marked by morning headaches, limited attention span, difficulty in thinking clearly, irritability, or excessive sleepiness during the day. As you may realize, most of these symptoms occur due to interrupted breathing, decreased oxygen levels, and poor sleep.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Snoring (loud snoring, gasping, snorting, or choking). These may cause a person to wake up
  • Dry mouth or morning sore throat
  • Frequent urination  (nocturia)

The most typical symptom of OSA is chronic snoring. Notably, this is not a frequent symptom in those suffering from CSA.  Often, those suffering from this problem may not be aware of their breathing problems- they may only realize this when their partner, roommate, or family member points it out.

Are Migraines a Symptom of Sleep Apnea?

As you know, the mornings can be particularly dreadful if you regularly wake up with a sharp headache. 

Of course, many who endure such situations may quickly conclude that they have a migraine and rush to the doctor. Regardless, beware! 

You could be suffering from something entirely different; you may be an unknowing victim of sleep apnea.

How Sleep Apnea Causes Headaches

As noted, sleep apnea causes sufferers to stop breathing several times during the night. It happens the throat tissues often obstruct the airway. When this occurs repeatedly, air may be trapped within the patient’s lungs. 

Generally, this de-oxygenated air usually contains toxic carbon dioxide. The poisonous air can build up in the patient’s bloodstream, causing some brain vessels to dilate. In turn, such dilation can result in a sharp, painful headache that mimics migraine. Experts estimate that as much as 50% of those who regularly wake up with headaches suffer from sleep apnea unknowingly.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Sleep Apnea?

Yes, how is sleep apnea diagnosed? The diagnosis of sleep apnea may involve several stages. First, the doctor may evaluate your symptoms by reading your signs, symptoms, and sleep history. The doctor might send you over to a sleep disorder center. The sleep specialist in such a center would then help you know whether you need further treatment.

Generally, an evaluation typically involves a visit to a sleep center for overnight monitoring of the patient’s breathing and other body functions when sleeping.  The doctor might otherwise prefer home sleep testing.

The doctor might carry out the following tests to try and detect sleep apnea:

Nocturnal polysomnography: In carrying out the test, the doctor hooks up the patient to lung, heart, and brain-monitoring equipment. The equipment also monitors the patient’s arm and leg movements, general breathing patterns, and blood oxygen levels while the subject is asleep.

Home sleep tests: The doctor might prescribe some simplified tests that you can use at home to try and diagnose sleep apnea. Such tests typically measure the heart rate, blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns, and airflow.

If the doctor determines that the results indicate an abnormalcy, he might prescribe a therapy without taking you through further testing. Note, however, that portable monitoring devices do not usually detect each case of sleep apnea. Thus, even if the initial results seem to be “normal,” the doctor might go ahead to recommend polysomnography.

Ultimately, if you’re diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the doctor will likely refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist- the doctor will determine that there’s no blockage in these areas. Indeed, you may still need a cardiologist’s (heart doctor) and a neurologist’s (nervous system specialist) evaluation. Such an evaluation can help the doctors determine the causes of central sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

CPAP Therapy

Have the doctors determined that you have moderate or severe apnea? If so, they might direct that you use a special machine that delivers air pressure through a mask (this happens while you sleep). The device is known as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. 

With this device, the air pressure is usually greater than the surrounding air pressure- this is sufficient to keep the upper airway passages open and prevent snoring. Generally, CPAP is the most reliable, standard method of treating sleep apnea. However, some find it cumbersome or uncomfortable.  Hence, many give up on using the CPAP machine. 

You can learn to use this machine through practice and enhance your comfort. As a suggestion, try using more than one type of mask. Rather than stop, you can consult your doctor for advice on the changes needed to make it possible to use the device.

Oral Devices (appliances)

You may choose to wear an oral appliance that can help keep your throat open. Of course, while CPAP is usually more effective, you might find it easier to use oral appliances. Since they’re designed to open the throat and bring forward the jaw, some are excellent for relieving mild OSA and snoring. You can get some of these devices from your dentist.

Surgery & Weight Loss

Whenever other treatments fail, the only option left is usually surgery. Doctors suggest that you try different treatment options for at least 3 months before considering surgery.  However, a minority of patients can take surgery as a direct or first option- this includes those with jaw structure problems.

Your surgeon might take a few procedural options. This could include:

Removal of Tissue: This is referred to as uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. Through this procedure, the doctor usually removes some tissue from the top of your throat and the rear side of your mouth. He might also remove your tonsils and adenoids.

Many who undergo this type of surgery have found it successful; the procedure successfully stopped the throat structures from vibrating, thus preventing the snoring. The method is, however, less effective than CPAP. Most doctors don’t consider it reliable for treating obstructive sleep apnea.

Radiofrequency ablation: Effective for removing tissues at the back of the throat (for those who can’t use CPAP therapy).

Jaw repositioning. The procedure is known as maxillomandibular advancement.

Nerve stimulation: The increased electric stimulation keeps your tongue in position, leaving the airway open.

Weight-loss (bariatric) surgery: To enhance the breathing pattern.

Conclusion

Do you have sleep apnea? Take heart- it’s not the end of life! Did you know that some internationally renowned celebrities suffer from sleep apnea? Despite this condition, they have made it in life-you can make it too. 

We welcome you to read about the identities of some of these successful people right here on this website; yes, these celebrities conquered the world despite sleep apnea. 

Take courage! you too can.

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