Sleep apnea is a common condition and it occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. This is known as obstructive sleep apnea. If not treated in time it may lead to various chronic ailments.
Sleep apnea can be caused by a person’s physical structure or medical conditions.
- Obesity is a common cause of sleep apnea in adults. People with this condition have increased fat deposits in their necks that can block the upper airway.
- Large tonsils may contribute to sleep apnea, because they narrow the upper airway.
- Endocrine disorders-The endocrine system produces hormone that can affect sleep-related breathing. The following are examples of endocrine disorders associated with sleep apnea:
- Hypothyroidism: People with this condition have low levels of thyroid hormones . This affects the part of the brain that controls breathing, as well as the nerves and muscles used to breathe. People with hypothyroidism can also be diagnosed with obesity, which can cause sleep apnea.
- Acromegaly: People with this condition have high levels of growth hormone. This condition is associated with changes in the facial bones, swelling of the throat, and an increased size of the tongue. These changes can obstruct the upper airway and lead to sleep apnea.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Sleep apnea is also seen in women with PCOS, an endocrine condition that causes large ovaries and prevents proper ovulation. PCOS is also associated with overweight and obesity, which can cause sleep apnea.
- Neuromuscular conditions-Conditions interfering with brain signals to airway and chest muscles can cause sleep apnea. Some of these conditions are stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Chiari malformations, myotonic dystrophy, post-polio syndrome, dermatomyositis, myasthenia gravis, and Lambert-Eaton myasthenia syndrome.
- Heart or kidney failure
- Genetic syndromes that affect the structure of the face or skull, particularly syndromes that cause smaller facial bones or cause the tongue to sit farther back in the mouth, may cause sleep apnea..
There are many risk factors for sleep apnea. Some risk factors, such as unhealthy lifestyle habits like drinking, smoking and environments, can be changed. Other risk factors, such as age, family history and genetics, race and ethnicity, and sex, cannot be changed.
Healthy lifestyle changes can decrease your risk for developing sleep apnea.
Signs, Symptoms, and Complications:
- Common sleep apnea signs and symptoms are snoring or gasping during sleep; reduced or absent breathing, called apnea events; undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea prevents restful sleep and can cause complications that may affect many parts of your body, excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue, loss of attention, vigilance, concentration, motor skills, and verbal and visuospatial memory, dry mouth or headaches when waking, sexual dysfunction or decreased libido.
- Women who have sleep apnea more often report headache, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and sleep disruption.
- Children may experience bedwetting, asthma exacerbations, hyperactivity, and learning and academic performance issues.
Screening and Diagnosis:
Your doctor may diagnose sleep apnea based on your medical history, a physical examination and results from a sleep study. Before diagnosing you with sleep apnea, your doctor will rule out other medical reasons or conditions that may be causing your signs and symptoms
- Make heart-healthy eating choices. This also includes limiting your alcohol intake, especially before bedtime.
- Get regular physical activity.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Research has shown that losing weight can reduce sleep apnea in people who were also diagnosed with obesity.
- Quit smoking.
- A breathing device, such as a CPAP machine, is the most commonly recommended treatment for patients with sleep apnea. If your doctor prescribes a CPAP or other breathing device, be sure to continue your doctor-recommended healthy lifestyle changes.
- Mouthpieces, or oral appliances, are typically custom-fit devices that you wear while you sleep.
- Implants can benefit some people with sleep apnea. Some devices treat both obstructive and central sleep apnea. You must have surgery to place an implant in your body.
- A nerve stimulator can also treat sleep apnea. This treatment also involves surgery. A surgeon will insert a stimulator for the hypoglossal nerve, which controls tongue movement. Increasing stimulation of this nerve helps position the tongue to keep the upper airway open.
- Tracheostomy: a surgery to make a hole through the front of your neck into your trachea, or windpipe. A breathing tube, called a trach tube, is placed through the hole and directly into your windpipe to help you breathe.