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Sleep Apnea 101

January 18th, 2016  |  The Blog

Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition, which affects normal breathing while sleeping. Breathing becomes shallow with short interruptions, which last between 15 to 20 seconds, in the patient’s normal air exchange.

Facts About Sleep Apnea

  • It is more common in men than in women; 25% of middle-aged males versus 9% of middle-aged females suffer from sleep apnea
  • Approximately 42 million U.S. adults have some type of sleep apnea
  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults has mild sleep apnea
  • 1 in 15 U.S. adults has moderate sleep apnea
  • 75% of severe sleep apnea cases remain undiagnosed
  • Patients with sleep apnea are two times more likely to be involved in a car accident than patients without the condition

Why Is It So Serious?

When sleep apnea occurs, it stops the flow of oxygen to various parts of the body. Restful sleep is interrupted and the patient experiences light, unrestful sleep. When the body does not have the opportunity to recover strength during sleep, the result is low energy, low productivity and irritability.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause daytime sleepiness and dulled reflexes. Serious health problems like obesity, high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are negatively impacted for patients who suffer from sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

A family member or partner is often the one to notice interrupted breathing when someone has sleep apnea. The patient is often not aware of the actual occurrence.

The signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Interrupted breathing
  • Very loud snoring
  • Choking
  • Wheezing
  • Restless sleep
  • Sleep walking
  • Dry mouth in the AM
  • AM headaches
  • Daytime sleepiness

Causes and Risks for Sleep Apnea

There are risk factors that influence a patient developing sleep apnea. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Swollen tonsils or tongue
  • Blocked nasal passages
  • Family history of sleep apnea

Treatment Tips

Sleep positions:

  • Sleep positions are important in treating sleep apnea. It is important for a patient to sleep on his or her side because this allows more air to enter the lungs than does back or stomach sleeping
  • Sleep with the chest raised, as well

Other treatment suggestions for sleep apnea:

  • Losing weight is an important option to treat this condition and open the patient’s airways while sleeping
  • It is important to stop smoking, which causes liquid to collect in the throat and can result in upper airway swelling, a direct cause of sleep apnea
  • Avoid alcohol consumption because it causes throat muscles to relax, which can result in sleep apnea
  • Avoid excessive caffeine, especially later in the day, because it interferes with the normal sleep rhythm
  • Eat lightly at dinner because a full stomach affects the airflow to the lungs

Natural treatments

  • Valerian root helps to improve the quality of sleep because it helps a patient relax and, therefore, sleep better
  • The best essential oils to help a patient sleep are chamomile, lavender and primrose. Primrose helps to reduce airway inflammation. Another important oil is eucalyptus, which helps to open the nasal passages

Sleep apnea diagnosis and confirmation is found through a sleep study during which the patient is wired and observed in a clinical setting for a full night’s sleep. The results of the study help to determine the treatment plan. Some sleep apnea treatments evolve into choices like a CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure machine to force air into the lungs while the patient sleeps.

Sleep apnea is an important and potentially dangerous medical concern with far-reaching consequences and effects, which should be treated by a qualified healthcare provider.

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