Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder and can be fatal

You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and feel sleepy even after a full night's sleep.

By Speedoc Medical Team,
July 25, 2022

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a dangerous and serious sleep disorder that is caused by an obstruction of the airway. This makes you feel tired in the daytime even after a full night's sleep.

If sleep apnea is not properly treated, it can increase the risk of other diseases like heart failure, type-Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, arrhythmias (irregular heart beats), cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the muscle tissue of the heart), obesity and heart attacks.

There are few types of sleep apnea:

  1. Central sleep apnea - happens when the brain fails to send signals to the muscles that control breathing.

  2. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) - a common type of sleep apnea where the structural integrity of the throat fails to open the airway. In other words, there is something blocking proper airflow.

  3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome - when the patient has both central and obstructive sleep apnea patterns.

What causes sleep apnea?

Here are a few factors that may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

  • Excess weight gain. Extra fat layers around the throat and neck area increase the risk of sleep apnea as they obstruct the airway.

  • Small airway. Tonsils and adenoids can enlarge and cause the tightening of the airway due to allergies or other medical conditions.

  • Use of alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilisers may cause the muscles in your throat to relax, which can make OSA worse.

  • Smoking can also cause the airway to inflame and swell up, over time, obstructing the airway.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

  • Loud snoring.

  • For more than 10 seconds, stop breathing.

  • Shallow breath.

  • Choking or gasping for air.

  • Restlessness.

  • Dry mouth or sore throat in the morning.

  • Night sweats.

  • Headaches.

  • Sleepy or tired in the morning.

  • Insomnia.

  • Trouble swallowing.

How do I find out if I have sleep apnea?

Let's start you off with the obvious, which is to seek medical advice. Seeking medical attention may determine which category you fall into by going through a sleep study test (polysomnogram), which can be done in the comfort of your home.

A polysomnogram is a multiple-electronic test that helps keep track of the specific physical activities that go on while you’re sleeping. It monitors the brain, muscle activity, chest and abdomen movements, your breathing pattern, heart rate and also your oxygen levels. This test requires just one night of your usual sleep time to analyse any possible sleep disorders.

How can my sleep apnea be treated?

Doctors may suggest lifestyle changes to treat mild sleep apnea, such as:

  1. Losing weight. The most common cause of sleep apnea is the compressing weight of the fat in the neck area. So, losing a few kilograms can help!

  2. Stop consuming alcohol and sleeping pills. They relax the muscle tone in the back of your throat and can interfere with the airflow.

  3. Change your sleeping position. Sleeping on your side can help to increase the airflow.

For severe sleep apnea, doctors will recommend:

CPAP or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. With CPAP, the device will maintain an open airway with a positive or greater air pressure to keep the throat inflated while inhaling. It will also help with your oxygen levels. A CPAP device is the most common treatment for sleep apnea.

Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP). BiPAP is similar to CPAP in that it applies positive pressure (pushes air) to your lungs in both inhalation and exhalation.The BiPAP machine also helps with oxygen supplementation. This is the better option, compared to a CPAP.

Automatic Positive Airway Pressure (APAP). The APAP device is a smart machine that measures your lung capacity and adjusts the positive airway pressure (pressure of the air that is blown into the airway) according to when you sleep without manually adjusting or presetting it.

Surgery – doctors may suggest surgery when all other treatments don’t work.

Types of Surgery:

  • Tissue removal - This surgery is to remove excess tissue that obstructs the airway, like fatty layers or saggy skin tissue.

  • Tissue shrinkage - Another form of surgery is shrinking the back part of the throat using radio frequency ablation.

  • Jaw restructure - This procedure is to move the jaw bone forward and create some space between the tongue and the soft tissue of the throat, making it wider and less obstructed.

  • Nerve Stimulation - A surgeon will insert a stimulator into the hypoglossal nerve, which is the nerve that controls the tongue, to strengthen the tongue and reduce the risk of obstructing the airway.

  • Tracheostomy - This surgery is to make a new airway in the middle of your throat, slightly below the Adam’s apple. This procedure is usually suggested if it is the last or extreme measure to help with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a very serious sleep disorder that needs immediate attention. Many of the things that are mentioned here can be daunting and may paralyse you from making a decision, but you should first seek medical advice.

If you are having sleep problems, you may want to obtain COMPLIMENTARY consultations with Speedoc’s doctors to understand your condition better and possible treatments.