OSA – Obstructive Sleep Apnea – is a very complicated condition. It causes people to stop breathing in their sleep and has been known to be fatal. It is, therefore, incredibly important to make sure that treatment is sought to avoid significant problems later on in life. Various risk factors add to the prevalence of sleep apneas, so it is important to be aware of these as well.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
There are two types of sleep apnea, although both share the characteristic of interrupted breathing:
• Apnea, where the soft tissue and muscle in the throat relax too much, thereby collapsing enough to completely block the airway. If the airflow is blocked for more than 10 seconds, it is classed as an apnea.
• Hypopnea, which is when only part of the airway blocks, thereby reducing airflow by at least 50% for at least 10 seconds.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
There are various risk factors associated with apnea, although one of the main causes is being overweight. There is one exception, which is central sleep apnea. This is a condition of the brain found often in very premature children. Here, the brain quite simply forgets to breathe when the person is asleep.
Our brain activity drives sleep. Each person needs a certain amount of deep sleep every 24 hours in order to refresh both the mind and body. If deep sleep is not achieved enough, then the body will continue to feel tired. On average, an adult needs between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night. Around a quarter of that time should be spent in deep sleep, which is slow wave sleep.
What Happens During an Apnea?
Someone with apnea may experience multiple episodes during their sleep period. Because of the lack of oxygen, the patient comes out of deep sleep, returning to either wakefulness or light sleep. This is the body’s way of returning to natural breathing. However, as soon as the person falls back into deep sleep, a further apnea episode can occur. In fact, this can happen around once a minute in a particularly bad episode. More often than not, apnea sufferers snore very loudly. They may also breathe very noisily and appear to have labored breathing. In between breaths, they may gasp and snort, particularly if they are entering an apnea. Because their deep sleep is interrupted, people with apnea are often tired during the day. They will have no memory of the apnea occurring, which means they don’t know why they feel so tired during the day. Tiredness during the day is one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea.
How Common Are Apneas?
Apnea is surprisingly common. Women are less often affected than men. It is believed around 2% of all adult women have apneas, and around 4% of men. Usually, the onset happens between 35 and 54 years of age, although it can happen at any age. Unfortunately, the condition is most often undiagnosed and it is believed that on average, 5% of all adults have it without even knowing it. This percentage increases over time, with 60% of those over 65 most likely suffering from apneas.
Apnea Prognosis and Outlook
Apnea can be treated with a range of different options. It is very important to make lifestyle changes, particularly if you are overweight. This is often the best way to reduce minor cases of apnea. However, if apneas are getting worse, or if you suffer from severe sleep apnea, then you may have to sleep with breathing machines (a sleep apnea machine) or other types of sleep apnea treatments. These include:
• Sleep apnea mouth guards
• Sleep apnea pillows
In extreme cases, sleep apnea surgery may be recommended, particularly if you have experienced a sleep apnea seizure.
It is incredibly important to find sleep apnea solutions, since it increases the risk of:
• Heart attacks
• Hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Type 2 diabetes
Also, someone who has untreated apnea is more likely to have heart failure and irregular heartbeats. Furthermore, due to the interrupted sleep, it can cause people to perform poorly at work or at school.