Sleep Apnea: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

Sleep apnea: causes, symptoms and treatments

Sleep apnea is said to be a disease that, while we sleep, steals our oxygen and even days of life. It is not just about snoring in an intense and alternating way. Sleep apnea syndrome affects nearly 5% of the population and exposes sufferers to a greater risk of contracting other diseases.

Many of us consider as “normal” some physiological processes that are actually not normal at all, nor healthy. There are those who argue, for example, that in reality we all snore at night, especially men, and that doing so does not represent a disturbance that requires the intervention of a doctor.

Is a mistake. Sleep apnea is a serious, even fatal, disease for one reason that is very easy to understand: it is a disorder where breathing stops suddenly during sleep. We stop breathing for a period of time ranging from 5 to 10 seconds. After a short time, our body automatically reactivates the breathing process without realizing what happened.

At first glance it may seem a little relevant, but we must take into account that this respiratory irregularity is repeated, at times, up to more than 20 times in an hour. The consequences are obvious, and even more serious if we think that this condition recurs every night. Sleep apnea syndrome is not harmless, and it is not, as many believe, a disorder that affects only men: recent studies have shown that the incidence in women is exactly the same as in men.

Man with sleep apnea

Sleep apnea: what is it and what are the symptoms?

Those who suffer from it do not realize it. He does not perceive his intense snoring or an abrupt interruption of breathing. The airways tighten causing a collapse where the air stops reaching the lungs. This lack of oxygen leads to an increase in CO2 levels in the blood, as well as a lack of oxygenation to the brain that can last between 7 and 10 seconds.

Gradually, the person starts to breathe again because he snores much louder than normal, like someone who emerges from the water or someone who regains breathing after the risk of suffocation. Based on the number of oxygen interruptions that can occur in an hour, this disease can be classified into 3 categories, ranging from a greater to a lesser degree of severity:

  • Mild : if the interruptions are not more than 10 or 20 per hour.
  • Moderate : if they occur between 20 and 30 times.
  • Severa : the most serious stage. In this case, breathing interruptions occur more than 30 times every hour.

Causes associated with sleep apnea

There are several causes associated with sleep apnea. When thinking about this disease, it is very common to imagine a middle-aged man suffering from obesity. A man who snores at night and when he wakes up he is tired and without energy to face the day. In fact, this disease has several triggering causes:

  • Deviation of the nasal septum.
  • Polyps in the respiratory tract.
  • Great palate.
  • Cranio-facial features: the shape of the face, the size of the lower jaw, the length of the neck …
  • Obesity.
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Smokers: Tobacco causes inflammation of the respiratory tract.
  • There is also another peculiarity that is not very common but also present in this disease: people with a small brain alteration due to which they stop receiving respiratory stimuli for short minutes.

On the other hand, it is important to take into consideration a fact that we marked at the beginning. Sleep apnea affects both men and women. In the case of women, however, the incidence is mainly due to menopause, which causes real metabolic imbalances.

Consequences of sleep apnea

The main effect of sleep apnea is more than evident, the person experiences great tiredness during the day, as well as drowsiness. In some cases these consequences are even more serious, for which the patient feels totally unable to carry out even simple tasks, so intense is the sense of fatigue he feels.

  • Other consequences are, for example, dry mouth, excessive sweating and even drowsiness (speaking in sleep).
  • Another very common consequence is headache.
  • If the apnea is severe patients will suffer from swelling in the legs.
  • They can have problems with concentration, memory loss …
  • In the case of children with this disease, a tendency to develop hyperactive behaviors has been observed.

Severe consequences of apnea

  • Hypertension.
  • Asthma.
  • Auricular fibrillation.
  • Increased risk of developing some types of cancer.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Cognitive behavioral disorders: decreased attention, problems with motor skills and verbal as well as visual memory.
  • Increased risk of developing dementia.
  • Heart and blood vessel diseases such as arteriosclerosis, heart attacks, heart failure, cerebrovascular accidents.
  • Eye disorders such as glaucoma, dry eye, etc.
  • Metabolic disorders, such as glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes.

Apnea treatments

Treatments for sleep apnea  will depend on each patient’s medical condition, their characteristics, and the cause of this sleep and breathing disorder. The treatment given to a patient with hyperthyroidism or some nasal duct problem will not be the same as that given to a smoker or a child suffering from obesity.

Generally speaking, the following therapeutic treatments are the most common:

  • Improvement of life habits: better nutrition and a more active life.
  • Use of a night breathing device, such as a CPAP machine which is capable of expelling air under pressure and which is connected to the patient via a face mask.
  • Mandibular breathing tubes : these are devices that cover the upper and lower dental arch while keeping the mandible in a position that prevents blockage of the airways.
  • Tongue-retaining devices : tubes that hold the tongue forward to prevent blockage of the airways.
  • Interesting therapies that teach patients how to improve tongue position and strengthen the muscles that control the lips, tongue, palate, lateral pharyngeal wall and face. All this promotes night rest, correct breathing and the disappearance of apnea.

Finally, in severe cases it is common to resort to surgery to promote correct nocturnal breathing. As we have seen, each person needs a particular therapy, an ad hoc treatment to improve his rest and his quality of life.

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