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What Is Sleep Apnea? Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

written by Vidya Sury November 30, 2021

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Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night.

Left untreated, sleep apnea results in many health problems, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), heart failure, diabetes, and heart attacks.

Untreated sleep apnea can also cause job impairment, work-related accidents, and motor vehicle crashes, as well as underachievement in school in children and adolescents.

Sleep is most crucial to both our physical and mental wellbeing and should always remain a priority in maintaining our health. However, in our modern and busy world, sleep seems to be the first thing that people are willing to sacrifice, intentionally or not, to meet other goals.

If, however, you are one of the few people who does make the effort to sleep for the recommended amount of time and still feel tired and sluggish in the mornings, you might have an underlying health condition that is diminishing the quality of your sleep.

Sleep apnea not sleeping well

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Sleep apnea is one of the most prevalent conditions that cause this, affecting the body’s ability to intake oxygen in its slumbering state.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are three types of sleep apnea and each one has its own risk factors.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea—which is the most common form. It occurs when the throat muscles relax
  • Central sleep apnea—this is when the brain does not send the right signals to the muscles which control breathing.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome, or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, is when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea

Symptoms and Signs of Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea has several symptoms, such as loud snoring, or making gasping and choking noises while sleeping. Sometimes you may even be woken up by these. There can be instances when you stop breathing during sleep. There are many other symptoms of sleep apnea, and they don’t all occur when you are sleeping. For example, waking symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Mood swings/irritability
  • Difficulty staying asleep or insomnia
  • Feeling sleepy during the day
  • Headaches and dry mouth upon awakening

If you feel that these symptoms apply to you, it may be worthwhile taking the help of a friend or family member to keep an eye on your sleep to help you recognize the symptoms and seek a proper diagnosis.

When Should You See a Doctor?

Talk to your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea described above and especially if you snore, feel fatigued, sleepy during the daytime, and irritable. Evaluation usually involves tests and overnight monitoring at a sleep center where they observe your breathing and other body functions when you are asleep. Tests include:

Nocturnal polysomnography

Here you are hooked up to equipment to monitor your heart, lung, and brain activity, your breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and your blood oxygen levels during your sleep.

Home sleep tests

These tests measure heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow, and breathing patterns.

Based on the results, your doctor might recommend therapy. You may also be referred to an ENT or ear, nose and throat specialist to ensure there is no blockage in your nose or throat. A cardiologist and neurologist may also need to be consulted to identify the causes of central sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea symptoms and sleep apnea treatment

What About Sleep Apnea Treatment Options?

There are many ways to combat sleep apnea and enhance your sleeping experience, ranging from natural remedies to prescription medicine. Of course, you should always consult a doctor to find the best solution for your own body and experience.

For mild cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as weight loss and quitting smoking. You may be needed to be treated for nasal allergies. Here are some of the treatment options available, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea Yoga

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Exercise and Yoga

While there are several causes for sleep apnea there is significant evidence to suggest that weight can be a big factor. Staying active and physically healthy, or making conscious changes to improve your lifestyle could alleviate some of the symptoms you may be experiencing.

Popular lifestyle changes such as practicing Yoga (you should read Hatha Yoga, 14 Basic Hatha Yoga Asanas And Their Health Benefits to get started) can also make a positive impact as its breathing exercises will not only strengthen your heart but help with your oxygen levels too.

Sleep apnea new sleeping position

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Try A New Sleeping Position

Sometimes, the way that we sleep may be comfortable but can ultimately be damaging to our bodies. Sleep apnea tends to predominantly affect those who sleep on their backs, so you should try sleeping on your side to see if it helps to keep your breathing regular and stable.

However, whilst the above suggestions may help to alleviate some of your symptoms, it’s always best to consult a medical professional regarding sleep apnea (or any health issue) to discuss the best treatment for you.

In terms of medical treatment, sleep apnea treatment uses a CPAP device, though there are alternatives.

Sleep apnea cpap device

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CPAP Device

The CPAP or continuous positive air pressure device is the most common treatment for sleep apnea, and it includes wearing a mask whilst you sleep to keep your oxygen levels stable. Although this is effective, many people dislike this treatment as they find the mask uncomfortable to sleep in. If your doctor and you decide that this option is best for you, you should familiarize yourself with the risks too.

For example, there have been CPAP lawsuits due to the devices being defective, and leading to users developing respiratory problems or even lung cancer. Read rosenfeldinjurylawyers.com/cpap-lawsuit.html to have a thorough understanding of the risks. If you are someone who currently uses a CPAP device, they are the right people to contact if you are a victim of defective devices.

Sleep apnea surgery

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If you aren’t keen on the CPAP devices or if lifestyle changes are not helping to treat your sleep apnea, then surgery may be the right option for you. There is a multitude of surgeries to help with sleep apnea, and ultimately it depends on what your doctor feels is best for your specific case. Of course, surgery is always a big decision for people to make, so talk to your doctor about your surgical options to understand the procedure.

Remember to always consult with a doctor before deciding on any course of treatment.

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