Sleep apnea (SA) is a serious sleep disorder in which your breathing starts and stops repeatedly while you sleep. The most common kind is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), where your throat muscles relax while you’re sleeping to block your airway. Snoring, gasping or jerking in your sleep are some of the reported signs of sleep apnea. Lethargy, daytime sleepiness, weakness, lack of concentration, headaches, mood swings or irritability and morning dryness of mouth and throat, etc. are other symptoms you should look out for.
Harmful effects on overall health
If left untreated, sleep apnea can give rise to diverse health issues including the following:
1. Cardiovascular conditions: Repeated breathing interruptions cause oxygen depletion in the body. As a result, the heart stops pumping as much blood, which causes involuntary reflexes like agitation, jerks or shaking in the body to wake the person up. Sudden awakening makes the heart pump faster, raising the heart rate and blood pressure. Eventually, this can go on to cause damage to the walls of the heart and increase the risk of various heart diseases and blood vessel conditions like high blood pressure.
2. Metabolic syndrome: Chronic sleep disturbances can cause hormonal imbalances and increase inflammation, giving rise to various metabolic diseases like diabetes, weight gain, high cholesterol levels and central obesity. All of these metabolic conditions are also risk factors for heart diseases.
3. Liver problems: As sleep apnea increases the risks of metabolic diseases, it can lead to abnormal liver functioning or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as well. According to 2013 study, obstructive sleep apnea patients are at a 2.6 times higher risk of developing NAFLD.
4. Daytime lethargy: Disturbed night sleep or repeated awakenings can make you feel irritable, moody, drowsy and fatigued. This can hamper how you focus or concentrate on daily jobs, which may lead to poor performance in your professional life or education. This may become a reason for future stress, anxiety or depression. In children, it might make memorising harder or lead to behavioural problems.
You must see a doctor if you notice the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea so you can avoid the adverse effects mentioned above. Treatment of sleep apnea may consist of:
- Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy: In PAP therapy, a mask is provided to be worn over the nose or nose and mouth. The mask has an air blower that gently blows a measured amount of air through the nostrils or mouth easing the breathing process and ensures uninterrupted sleep.
- Nerve stimulator: The hypoglossal nerve is responsible for the movements of the tongue. A hypoglossal nerve stimulator is implanted in the chest that works to stimulate the nerve. These stimulations sync the tongue movements with every breath and keep the tongue out of the airway, thus helping in easy breathing.
- Oral mandibular advancement devices: This refers to dental or oral appliances prescribed by a dentist for mild or moderate OSA. This device brings the jaw forward and prevents the tongue from blocking the throat. As a result, the airway is kept clear for proper breathing.
- Surgery: Surgical procedures mainly aim to keep the airway clear. Some of the surgical procedures that may be explored are nasal surgery to remove any blockage in the nose, tonsillectomy to remove the tonsils, somnoplasty to reduce the size of the uvula, uvulopalatopharyngoplasty to remove the soft tissue on the back of the throat and palate and mandibular or maxillary advancement surgery to correct any structural defects in the face and jaw.
For more information, read our article on Sleep apnea.
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