In the United States, it is estimated that about 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and 80 percent of these are undiagnosed. When left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to severe chronic ailments such as high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, and a whole lot more dreaded diseases in this world that you do not want to hear.
But how in the world are you going to prevent all these illnesses if you have no idea what got you that sleep apnea of yours?
A crash course on sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder characterized by abnormal breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnea tend to have irregular and extended pauses in breathing while sleeping. These breathing lapses are what causes poor sleep and affect the body’s supply of oxygen. If not treated, sleep apnea leads to serious health consequences.
Sleep apnea is a prevalent health issue in the United States, hence the popularity of CPAP machines industries in the country.
There are three kinds of sleep apnea, they are:
- Obstructive sleep apnea. This is the most common type of sleep apnea. It happens when the tongue collapses against the soft palate and the soft palate collapses against the back of the throat during sleep, causing a blockage to the airway.
- Central sleep apnea. Unlike obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea is more of a brain-related issue. The airway is not blocked however the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.
- Complex sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?
Many of these symptoms manifest due to poor sleep and decreased oxygen levels that occur because of interrupted breathing.
All three types of sleep apnea have these common symptoms:
- Disrupted breathing in which a person’s respiration can become labored or even stop for up to a minute at a time
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Morning headaches
- Limited attention span or difficulty thinking clearly
Also, obstructive sleep apnea can display these symptoms:
- Loud, gasping, choking, or snorting type of snoring that may cause a person to briefly wake up
- Morning sore throat or dry mouth
- Frequent need to wake up to urinate
Health consequences of sleep apnea
Sleep apnea not only wrecks your sleep to a certain degree but can also wreck your overall health as well. Here are some of the health consequences of sleep apnea if left untreated:
- High blood pressure. Lack of sleep makes your hormone systems go overdrive, which boosts your blood pressure levels.
- Heart disease. Possible heart attacks can be caused by low oxygen, which controls how blood flows in your arteries.
- Type 2 diabetes. Not getting enough sleep can affect your body from using insulin properly, which leads to diabetes.
- Weight gain. Having sleep apnea makes it harder for you to shed those unwanted pounds. Sleep apnea can make your body release more of the hormone ghrelin, which drives your cravings like crazy.
Am I at high risk of sleep apnea?
Now, the great question lies. Are you at great risk of having sleep apnea? But before asking that question, are you even aware of what makes you at risk? What lights up that fuse before the bomb explodes that is sleep apnea?
Excess body weight is the most common risk factor, but sleep apnea can occur in fit people too. Let us look further what are the risk factors of sleep apnea:
- Excess weight. Being overweight is a leading cause of obstructive sleep apnea. Your unwanted pounds contribute to the build-up of your neck area thus, narrowing your airway too. This eventually contributes to difficulty in breathing during sleep.
- Anatomical characteristics. If your neck, jaw, tongue, tonsils, and other tissue near the back of the throat are awkwardly positioned, then there is a greater risk of having sleep apnea.
- Age. Sleep apnea can occur at any age, but it is most prevalent between young adulthood and middle age. If you are in this age bracket, take extra care.
- Gender. Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women however, the risk in women increases with menopause.
- Alcohol. Are you a binge drinker? If your answer is yes, you might want to tone your booze intake down. Sedatives such as alcohol can cause tissue in the throat to relax, blocking your airway.
- Sleeping position. You might also be guilty of this. Sleeping on your back makes it easier for the tissue to collapse around the airway and cause blockages.
- Hormone abnormalities. If you have hormone conditions like hypothyroidism and acromegaly, chances are that there might be swelling of tissue near the airway.
- Family history. Sometimes being too careful is not enough. Not having the risk factors mentioned above is also not enough. If one of your family members has it, you are still at risk of having sleep apnea.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. The first line of defense for sleep apnea is CPAP therapy. This requires you to have a well-functioning CPAP machine to help you keep your airway open during sleep.
If your doctor recommends this kind of treatment, make sure to keep your CPAP machine clean to prevent harmful particles from accumulating on your device. The best way to keep your CPAP machine clean is through the use of an efficient CPAP cleaner that uses sophisticated technology.
- Mouthpieces. There are certain types of mouthpieces that hold the jaw or tongue in a specific position which opens your airways for smooth breathing.
- Lifestyle changes. Sometimes the management of sleep apnea comes down to the kind of lifestyle you are having. Start with healthy eating, avoiding smoking and drinking, and regular exercise. Having these things done with commitment will make a huge difference.
Such irony in life is that sleep apnea is a sleeping giant. It affects millions of people around the globe and the consequences are astronomical if left untreated.
Fortunately, this condition is treatable, and the treatments are pretty much straightforward and helpful in reducing the risk.