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Recognizing and Treating Sleep Apnea

by Rishabh

Sleep Apnea Treatment

Does snoring mean that one has sleep apnea?

Not necessarily, although sleep apnea does leads to loud snoring but just because one snore does not really signifies that they suffer from the affliction. Almost 30% women and 45% men around the world snore frequently however most of these cases do not need any medical attention and are completely harmless. On the other hand, if alongside snoring, one also finds other symptoms like pauses in breathing during daytime or night sleep, they must consult doctor to check for the condition.

What can an untreated case of Sleep Apnea lead to?

Sleep Apnea, if established, should be treated at the earnest. Sleep is an important factor in overall health of a being and thus it is imperative to take a good night’s sleep. Nonetheless, an untreated case of sleep apnea can lead to stroke, depression and car accidents. In other words, it can lead to all of these.

Sleep Apnea causes the levels of oxygen to fall in the body which besides causing daytime sleepiness can over time lead to blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. To compensate for the diminished oxygen levels, the body releases stress hormones which causes exhaustion and can in long run induce depression. Further, daytime sleepiness is a big reason for car accidents.

Can playing didgeridoo curtail daytime sleepiness caused by Sleep Apnea?

Indeed it can. A study carried out by experts has suggested that daily practicing didgeridoo (an Australian wind instrument) for at least 25 minutes a day and six days a week showed improvement in sleep apnea symptoms like for day time sleepiness. It is conjectured by researchers that by playing the instrument, the muscles around the airways are strengthened which inhibit them from collapsing during sleep.

Why does Sleep Apnea more common in people who are overweight?

Ans. Obesity is a substantial reason behind sleep apnea and in the process triggers a chain mechanism where one reason becomes the cause of another and vice versa. Due to obesity, fat build up in the throat constricts the airways, causing air obstruction a likely result. Alternatively, sleep apnea-disturbed and fragmented sleep- itself prompts a hormonal change in the body which causes you to become hungrier and induce you to eat more and hence gain weight.

How does the most common treatment for Sleep Apnea, CPAP-Continuous Positive Airway Pressure-machine work?

CPAP machine, although not a cure for Sleep Apnea, is said to reduce the symptoms of this disorder dramatically. The machine when used sends a constant stream of air through the nose to prevent the airways from collapsing when one breathes during sleep. CPAP has a small device with an attached fan that pushes the air through a tube and a facemask as you sleep. Although it takes some time to get used to its usage, it does help a lot. Moreover it significantly curtails the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other health problems associated with sleep apnea and hence it’s quite useful.

Does old age increase your chances to have sleep apnea?   

As one progresses through age, the brain finds it hard to keep the muscles in the airways tight during the time one sleeps. During night, these muscles are likely to sag, even momentarily cutting off the oxygen supply. According to study, at least one in ten people over the age of 65 suffer from sleep apnea. It is very important to treat Sleep Apnea in Older people (OSA) as it likely becomes the cause of many other troubles like heart diseases, heart failure, high blood pressure as well as atrial fibrillation.

What is the primary reason when even the CPAP machine doesn’t work to reduce the symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

CPAP effectively treats the symptoms of Sleep Apnea in majority of cases. However, as soon as the symptoms subside, people leave it and the symptoms return. It must be understood, however that CPAP machine is useful as long as you use it. But, almost 50% of people leave their treatment within the very first month since they don’t give themselves enough time to get used to the machine.

Nevertheless, if your CPAP machine is not working for you as suggested, don’t lose heart. Consult your doctor. There are different kinds of masks and machines and your doctor would be better able to recommend the one which would be most suitable to you according to your preferences and comfort.

Which are the best ways to treat Sleep Apnea?

While CPAP is definitely the best way to reduce the symptoms of Sleep Apnea as well as treat it till the time one is using the machine, losing weight and excess fat near the neck region definitely helps. Also sleeping on your side assist in keeping the air passages open and for this some people even go to an extent of using a special prop that helps them to keep on their sides during night or use the ones that makes sleeping uncomfortable on their backs. Also there are devices which one can wear in their mouths that push the jaw forward that keeps the airways open.

For some individuals, surgery is required to enlarge the air ways. In this the surgeon will either remove the tonsils or any excess soft tissues from the back of throat. He can put in a plastic insert to stiffen this region as well.

How is Sleep Apnea diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose the condition of Sleep Apnea is overnight sleep study. Even still your doctor will ask you a number of questions upon your symptoms and check your nose, mouth or for any excess tissues at the back or sides of your throat, but, the best way is nevertheless overnight sleep study.  The study is done in a sleep clinic or with portable devices at home. The medical technician will put sensors on your head, chest, face, arms, legs and finger and will record information. Most people think that they won’t be able to sleep with all those sensors. But majority of them get enough sleep that give the doctors enough information to analyze their condition.

Does propping up the head of your bed helps reduce the symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Raising your bed approximately 2-4 inches by putting some blocks beneath it can help some people to cut back the symptoms of sleep apnea. The reason why this might be helpful is because as we sleep, gravity pulls down and closes the airways as the muscles in the throat relaxes, causing it to droop. On the other hand sleeping on an inclined bed balances the effect of gravity to some extent and helps keep the air passages to remain open.

How can a CPAP machine be made easier to use?

The best way to get used to anything is through practice. Try making a habit to wear your CPAP every night. If you will avoid, the symptoms will invariably return. However, it is nevertheless true that it is difficult adjusting to your CPAP in a short time. One way out of this is to practice wearing the mask when you are awake and the doing the relaxation exercise by utilizing the “ramp” factor that enhances the air pressure as you try to fall asleep and using a nasal spray with saline feature to clear stuffy nose. If however your mask still does not fit or feel uncomfortable then talk to your doctor. There are many other different styles available to suit your needs and wishes and it’s likely that you will find one that matches your requirement.

What out of sleeping pills, alcohol or tobacco can make sleep apnea worse?

Actually all three are equally crucial causes that can aggravate the condition of sleep apnea. All three come in to the category of sedatives that can soften the muscles of airways making them susceptible to collapse as you sleep. On the other hand, smokers are almost twice as likely to suffer from sleep apnea as their non-smokers or ex-smokers counterparts. Smoking not only inflames the airways but also cause fluid retention that leads to obstructive air passages. Moreover as one sleeps, the reduced level of nicotine again causes the muscles of air passages to slacken leading to disturbed and fragmented sleep.

Usually, who’s the first one to notice the hints of sleep apnea?

Quite likely it is your bed partner or a close family member who will first notice the hints of sleep apnea. The most conspicuous signs of sleep apnea-pauses in breath, loud snoring, gasping or any other similar symptom will make them decide whether you need a doctor’s consultation or not. It must be noted however that a doctor cannot find the symptoms of sleep apnea during a regular examination as the condition can only be discovered when one is fast asleep. Moreover, as the symptoms of sleep apnea can only be found while a person is sleeping, a patient with strongest of signs may not know that they have these symptoms.

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