What is sleep apnea and its types?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects breathing during sleep, leading to repeated interruptions in breathing throughout the night. These interruptions are known as apneas, and they can occur when the muscles at the back of the throat relax excessively (obstructive sleep apnea) or when the brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing (central sleep apnea).
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
- OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea, and it often affects individuals who are overweight or obese.
- During sleep, the relaxed muscles in the throat can cause the airway to become partially or completely blocked, leading to reduced airflow or complete cessation of breathing.
- As a result, oxygen levels in the blood drop, and carbon dioxide levels rise, prompting the brain to briefly awaken and resume normal breathing. These awakenings may be so brief that the person affected might not even remember them, but they disrupt the sleep cycle and lead to poor sleep quality.
- Loud and frequent snoring is a common symptom of OSA, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea.
- OSA is associated with several risk factors, including obesity, large neck circumference, family history of sleep apnea, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
- Left untreated, OSA can lead to serious health consequences, including cardiovascular problems, hypertension, daytime fatigue, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of accidents.
Central Sleep Apnea:
- Unlike OSA, central sleep apnea is less common and is related to a malfunction in the brain’s respiratory control center.
- The brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the muscles responsible for breathing, resulting in pauses in breathing during sleep.
- Central sleep apnea can be associated with certain medical conditions, such as heart failure, stroke, brainstem lesions, and neurological disorders.
- Unlike OSA, snoring is less common in central sleep apnea.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
Diagnosing sleep apnea usually involves a sleep study, which can be conducted at a sleep center or at home using portable sleep-monitoring devices. The study measures various parameters during sleep, such as airflow, oxygen levels, heart rate, and brain activity.
Treatment for sleep apnea depends on the severity and type of the condition. For obstructive sleep apnea, lifestyle changes such as weight loss, positional therapy, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can be beneficial. Additionally, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy is a common treatment. CPAP involves wearing a mask over the nose or mouth during sleep, which delivers a constant flow of air, keeping the airway open.
In some cases, oral appliances that reposition the jaw and tongue may be used to help keep the airway open. For severe cases or those not responding to other treatments, surgical interventions may be considered.
For central sleep apnea, treatment focuses on addressing the underlying medical conditions contributing to the apnea. This may involve treating heart failure, adjusting medications, or using adaptive servo-ventilation therapy.
If you suspect you or someone you know may have sleep apnea, it is essential to seek evaluation and diagnosis from a healthcare professional. Proper management of sleep apnea can significantly improve overall health, enhance sleep quality, and reduce the risk of associated health complications.