What is Sleep Apnea?
Do you wake up with a headache every morning? Are you chronically tired? Do you wake up several times at night to urinate? You might have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a common disease but can be dangerous if left untreated. People with sleep apnea experience repeated stoppages to their breathing while asleep due to blockages in the upper airway or respiratory tract. In mild cases, a person with sleep apnea can experience 5-10 breathing stoppages per hour with the number increasing to more than 50 stoppages per hour in extreme cases.
What causes Sleep Apnea?
When you sleep, your muscles relax. When the throat muscles relax, they become flappy and block the airway. In many cases, the tongue also becomes relaxed and can fall backwards and block the airway. People with short, fatty necks and large, bulky tongues are particularly prone to this.
However, sleep apnea can also occur if you have large tonsils or adenoids which are small lumps of lymphoid tissue located at the back of the nose. Adenoids and tonsils can become swollen or enlarged due to a bacterial or viral infection. Adenoids can also become enlarged due to allergies. During the day, when you are awake and standing up, these may not cause problems. But when you lie down at night, they can press down on your airway, narrowing it and causing sleep apnea. Enlarged adenoids and tonsils are usually the main causes of sleep apnea in children.
Sleep apnea is also more likely to occur if you are overweight, drink alcohol or eat close to bedtime, sleep on your back or use sedative medicines.
Why do you need to treat Sleep Apnea?
Repeated stoppages of breathing during sleep are dangerous for two reasons: a) oxygen levels in the blood decrease rapidly, leading to under-oxygenation of vital organs and tissues throughout your body; over time, chronic oxygen deprivation can cause cancer or degeneration of various organs throughout your body. b) every time breathing stops for several seconds and oxygen levels drop, the brain forces the person to wake up and resume breathing. Thus, sleep becomes highly fragmented and, in many cases, the person does not get any deep sleep which is vital for physical and mental rejuvenation. Chronic sleep deprivation wreaks further havoc on the body.
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, irregular heart rhythms and even cancer. The good news is that sleep apnea is highly treatable through lifestyle changes, changes in sleeping position, use of medical devices (such as CPAP machines which help maintain positive pressure and keep the airways open while a person is sleeping) and also surgery to broaden the upper airway and reduce soft, bulky tissue that blocks it.
If you think you might be suffering from sleep apnea, get yourself tested as soon as possible. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where you can get a sleep apnea test among 60 world-class healthcare providers in 5 countries.