Sleep Apnea – What You Need to Know

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Many of us snore while we sleep, just ask our spouses! The problem, however, lies in snoring which forms part of a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. If left untreated, this disorder can have negative effects on our health.


What is sleep apnea?


The disorder commonly referred to as sleep apnea has long been known in medical circles. In fact, it was first called “Pickwickian syndrome” by physician William Osler in the early 1900’s. In modern medicine, the disorder began to take prominence in the medical world from the 1970’s and the first continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) used to treat it, was used in Australia in 1981.

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder that occurs while you sleep. Basically, those suffering from it will either pause for long periods between breaths (for periods of between 10 and 20 seconds) or breathe very shallowly. This has a twofold effect. Firstly, it stops a natural sleeping rhythm, preventing the deep sleep we need to restore our mental and physical being. Secondly, sleep apnea has dangerous consequences for our health. In time, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, strokes, and diabetes.


Types of sleep apnea


The disorder falls into three categories:

  • Obstructive
  • Central
  • Complex

Obstructive sleep apnea is by far the most common type found in sufferers. Here, soft tissues found in the back of the throat relax during the sleep cycle. This, in turn, causes snoring when it begins to block our airways.

Central sleep apnea is less prevalent. In this version, snoring is not common at all. This is more of a central nervous system problem where the brain is at fault by not passing on the necessary signals to our muscles that control our breathing while we sleep

Complex sleep apnea occurs when patients have both the obstructive and central form of the disorder.


Signs that point to sleep apnea


Although a doctor is the best person to identify whether you have some form of the disorder or not, there are a number of signs that you should be aware of. These are a good indication that you might be a sufferer and that you should visit your doctor for treatment.

They include:

  • Very loud snoring whenever asleep
  • Gasping for breath while sleeping
  • Choking while sleeping
  • Snorting while sleeping
  • Long pauses between breaths while sleeping
  • Suddenly waking and struggling for breath

There are many secondary indications as well. These include:

  • Daytime fatigue regardless of how long you slept the night before
  • A dry mouth and sore throat when you wake up
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent trips to the toilet during the night
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Headaches on awakening
  • Impotence

Sleep apnea is a very serious disorder. If you suspect you may be a sufferer, it is imperative that you see a doctor as soon as possible. There are many ways that this disorder can be dealt with and even severe cases can be managed using a CPAP machine.

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