What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
When a person is suffering from sleep apnea, they experience shallow breathing and in many cases stop breathing all together for brief periods of time while they sleep. For many people who suffer from sleep apnea, this can happen several times over the course of the night.
During sleep apnea, a patient’s upper airway is partially or completely blocked. This means that the patient’s chest muscles and diaphragm have to work harder in order to inhale and get air into the lungs. When breathing resumes it is usually with a body jerk, loud gasp, or a snort. The patient will experience the effects of not sleeping well, however, in many cases they absolutely have no idea why.
In addition to causing discomfort during sleep, sleep apnea causes irregular heart rhythms as well as diminishing the flow of oxygen to vital organs.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from sleep apnea, here are some of the signs that you should look out for:
- Night sweats
- Headaches when you wake up in the morning
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
- Issues with sex
- Dry mouth or sore throat after waking up
- Experiencing depression, forgetfulness, hard time concentrating, or irritability
- Waking up suddenly while gasping or because you choked
- Snoring etc
These symptoms usually manifest in adults but are different in children. Signs of sleep apnea in children include:
- Drooling or choking
- Problems at school
- Teeth grinding
- Absence or pauses in breathing
- Plenty of sweating during the night
If you notice any of these signs you should immediately get in touch with a doctor.
People that are likely to suffer from sleep apnea
Some people are at more risk of suffering from sleep apnea than others. If a person is obese or overweight they will likely show symptoms of sleep apnea. Other groups of people that are at risk include people who:
- Have enlarge tonsils
- Have smaller airways
- Have too much tissue at the back of the throat
Also, men are at a higher risk of getting sleep apnea than women. The risk increases as a person grows older. A larger than average tongue, can also block the airway in many people as well as deviated septum in the nose.
If a person has a large tongue prone to blocking the airway they are likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
Other risk factors that increase chances of getting sleep apnea include:
- High blood pressure
- People who are prone to getting a stroke or suffering from heart failure
For a proper diagnosis, the doctor will liaise with people who are familiar with your sleeping habits in order to gain a better understanding.
The doctor will also require that you participate in a sleep study; either done in your home or in a sleep lab. During the study you will be required to wear monitors to measure things such as:
- Air flow
- Electrical activity of the brain
- Breathing patterns
- Blood oxygen levels
- Heart rate
- Eye movements
- Muscle activity
Some of the possible treatments include:
- Weight loss
- Abstaining from sleeping pills and alcohol
- Nasal sprays
- Sleeping on your side
- CPAP Therapy
- Oral devices
Types of Surgery
- Somnoplasty – During this procedure, doctors utilize radiofrequency energy to tighten the soft palate at the back of the throat.
- Upper airway stimulator – In this procedure, the surgeon places a pulse generator known as Inspire under the patient’s skin, that is, in their upper chest. One wire that goes to the lung detects the natural breathing pattern, while another wire that goes to the neck mildly stimulates nerves that control airway muscles, hence keeping them open.
- UPPP – This procedure increases the width of the airway at the throat opening. It involves removing soft tissue at the back of the palate and throat. Just in case you were wondering UPPP is an acronym for Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.
- Nasal surgery – This procedure corrects obstructions that are in the nose, for instance, a deviated septum.
- Maxillary advancement surgery – This surgery involves moving the face and jaw bones forward in order to create more room at the back of the throat. It is a very complex procedure and is done on people who have problems with their face or head and who suffer from severe sleep apnea.