Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Snoring and Sleep Apnea by Gordie Guide

Snoring is an age-old problem and by itself is considered more of an annoyance than a major health threat. Sleep Apnea however is quite different and can be a potentially dangerous condition that requires proper diagnosis and treatment.

It is thought that 90 percent of people who suffer with Sleep Apnea are rarely aware of their condition and are only made aware by a family member who has witnessed an event.

Sleep Apnea is a characterized by pauses or blockages of breathing during sleep. The most common form is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat collapse around the opening blocking the airways. This deprives the person of oxygen for several seconds up to a minute or longer.

The brain then becomes aware of the oxygen deprivation and sends out signals. This startles the person awake and breathing resumes usually with a gasping, gurgling or loud snoring sound.

The person generally falls back to sleep almost immediately, unaware of what has happened and this gasping and breathing cycle may be repeated several times every hour throughout the night. As a result sufferers experience restless sleep and may wake unrefreshed and fatigued. Other symptoms may include:

* Morning headaches

* Difficulty in concentrating and memory lapses

* Dry mouth on waking

* Tiredness and irritability during the day often associated with depression and mood swings

There are generally no symptoms that are visible during a doctor's visit and no blood tests to confirm Sleep Apnea. A diagnosis will initially be based on family history, the sleep patterns, observations by family members and other predisposing conditions.

The most reliable basis for diagnosis is a polysomnogram which is performed in a Sleep Clinic. This is a scan that will monitor brain activity, oxygen levels, breathing, heart rate and muscular activity during sleep. It is non-invasive and simply requires sensors to be attached to the scalp and limbs during sleep.

The most common cause of OSA is obesity and is more common among men than women. The Elderly are more prone than younger individuals. High blood pressure and smoking also increase the risk of sleep apnea.

The severity varies considerably from person to person. At the mild end of the spectrum interruptions to breathing may occur up to five times per hour whereas in severe cases more than 30 interruptions per hour may occur. During each of these episodes oxygen levels in the blood drop resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. This may lead to increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

There is no medication for Sleep Apnea. However, there are several approaches to treatment, one of the most important being lifestyle changes. Losing weight generally leads to improvement in symptoms. Avoiding alcohol or other sleep inducing drugs may help keep the throat muscles firm and reduce symptoms.

Surgery may be considered depending on if excess tissue, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are thought to be the cause.

OSA is also commonly treated with a mouthpiece or oral appliance which is worn in the mouth during sleep and helps to keep the airways open.

Another method is the use of a Constant Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) device. This involves wearing a mask over nose and mouth in which air from a portable oxygen tank is gently blown into airways. This constant pressure helps to keep the airways open.

Sleep Apnea is a serious condition that could have major long term health consequences. Since it only occurs when a person is asleep it may go untreated for a long period of time however once diagnosed, there are many options and treatment plans available for success.