Understanding Sleep Apnea

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Understanding Sleep Apnea

Types of Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the flow of air pauses or decreases during breathing while you are asleep because the airway has become narrowed, blocked, or floppy. A pause in breathing is called an apnea episode. A person with obstructive sleep apnea usually begins snoring heavily soon after falling asleep. Often the snoring gets louder. The snoring is then interrupted by a long silent period during which there is no breathing. This is followed by a loud snort and gasp, as the person attempts to breathe. This pattern repeats.

Central sleep apnea is a central nervous system disorder that causes the brain to temporarily stop sending the signal to breathe. Central sleep apnea is seldom accompanied by any telltale signs, although people with central sleep apnea may have the same daytime sleepiness that characterizes people with obstructive sleep apnea. Sometime persons with central sleep apnea can stop breathing completely while asleep, making it very important to obtain treatment and also treat any underlying causes.

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Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The pattern of being jolted to take a breath, either through clearance of the obstructed passageway or by the brain sending a delayed signal, can be repeated hundreds of times a night for a sleep apnea sufferer. The number of apneas divided by the number of hours of sleep result in the apnea-hypoapnea index (AHI). This sleep apnea index is calculated through a test called a polysomnography. The AHI determines whether one has mild, moderate or severe sleep apnea. Mild sleep apnea is characterized by an AHI of 5-15. An AHI of 15-30 falls into the moderate range. And severe sleep apnea has an AHI over 30. The more severe the sleep apnea, the more critical the consequences, although even mild sleep apnea has risks. Some possible symptoms and risks of sleep apnea include:

  • Daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Increased risk of auto accidents
  • Hypertension and/or cardiovascular disease (leading to heart failure, heart attack or stroke)
  • Headaches
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Impotence
  • Complications with medication and surgery
  • Sudden death

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Treatment for Sleep Apnea

Treatment for mild obstructive sleep apnea can be as simple as learning to sleep on one’s side. Losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding taking certain pills or alcohol in the evening, using oral devices to decrease snoring, or taking allergy medications can all possibly relieve mild sleep apnea. If obstructive sleep apnea is moderate or severe, more aggressive treatment is usually necessary. The most common form of treatment is use of a C-PAP (continuous positive airway pressure). For those who cannot tolerate C-PAP or for whom it doesn’t work, a Bi-PAP (bi-level) machine can be effective. Some choose to have corrective surgery of the septum, nose, jaw, tongue, throat, uvula, or tonsils.

Central sleep apnea is often treated with medications that stimulate the need to breathe and administration of oxygen. It can also be treated with C-PAP or bi-PAP. If the heart is the cause of the central sleep apnea, treating the heart will be instrumental in curing sleep apnea. Of course, once cured, you should never have to worry about paying exorbitant rates for life insurance policies like Sleep Apnea Life Insurance.

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