Breathless nights: Understanding Sleep Apnea and reclaiming your sleep

While sleep apnea can be a challenging condition to live with, it is essential to seek treatment to avoid serious health consequences. Representational graphic: Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Shutterstock

If you ever feel your breathing is interrupted during sleep, causing you to wake up briefly and gasp for air and this interruption is occurring repeatedly hundreds of times each night, it can be a serious sleep disorder called Sleep Apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep. One of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea is loud snoring. The other common symptoms of the condition include gasping or choking during sleep, restless sleep, daytime fatigue, and morning headache. Some people with sleep apnea also experience difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and mood swings.

Many people snore but only some have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition that can be quite concerning and is linked to snoring. It occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted while he or she is asleep, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels in the body. This interruption can cause frequent awakenings during the night, as well as excessive daytime sleepiness. If left untreated, OSA can lead to a range of multisystemic disorders over the long term.

Consequences of Sleep Apnea

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to a range of negative health consequences. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and depression. Sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries.

How snoring and sleep Apnea can be treated?

Effective treatment is available for almost all patients. The treatment of sleep Apnea is divided into medical and surgical options. The therapeutic choice is individualized. A 'staged' approach is often used, which involves medical therapy first, followed by consideration of surgery. The severity of the condition is assessed by a sleep study.

Medical Treatment

As nasal obstruction increases the frequency of snoring and sleep-disordered breathing, oral medications prescribed or recommended by your physician are available to help you breathe through your nose during sleep.

Nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a treatment that delivers pressurized air to the upper airway via a nasal mask, helping to keep the airway open. However, CPAP is typically not prescribed for snoring alone unless it is accompanied by apnea. Dental appliances that adjust the position of the jaw forward during sleep have also been utilized as a treatment option for snoring.

Surgical Treatment

While sleep apnea can be a challenging condition to live with, it is essential to seek treatment to avoid serious health consequences. It is also important to spread awareness about sleep apnea and its symptoms, as many people may not even realize they have the condition.

For mild cases, lifestyle changes like losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bed may be enough to alleviate symptoms.

Surgical procedures for the treatment of snoring may include surgeries of nose, palate, jaw, tongue, or neck surgery depending on the level of obstruction which is determined by a sleep endoscopy.

There are several effective treatment options available, including lifestyle changes, positional therapy, oral appliances, and CPAP machines. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may have sleep apnea to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. With proper care and management, individuals with sleep apnea can improve their quality of life and reduce their risk of developing associated health complications.

(Information courtesy: Dr. Mihir Mohan T, Consultant - Head & Neck Surgical Oncology Aster MIMS Calicut)

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