They say that sleep apnea is a condition that steals oxygen and the days of a person’s life during sleep. It’s more than just snoring. Apnea affects almost 5% of people. It is also linked with an increased risk of other diseases.
We think that some physiological processes are normal. But actually they are not normal and also not healthy. Some say we all snore at night, especially men. It’s nothing you need to see a doctor for. But that is not true. Because sleep apnea is actually a serious condition. It is also more common than we think. Men and women are equally affected by it. The consequences can also be enormous.
It is a mistake to say that you should not go to the doctor for snoring. Because sleep apnea can even be fatal. There’s a simple reason for that. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is suddenly interrupted during sleep. The person may stop breathing for 5, 6 or even 10 seconds. Their body then restarts the breathing process without them waking up.
At first it may seem harmless. But you have to remember that it occurs repeatedly. It can sometimes happen 20 times an hour. Now you can see why the consequences are so serious. That’s even more true when we consider that it occurs nights in a row.
So it is not harmless. The idea that it only affects men is also incorrect. Studies show that both men and women experience this syndrome in equal numbers.
What is sleep apnea and what are the symptoms?
Many people have it without knowing it. Because people don’t hear their own snoring. They also don’t notice the sudden interruption of their breathing. But when an interruption occurs, the airways narrow. This causes the lungs to collapse as air no longer reaches them. The body therefore no longer receives oxygen. The CO2 level in the blood rises. At the same time, the brain is no longer supplied with oxygen for 7 to 10 seconds.
After a while, the person breathes again. This happens after a snore that is louder than normal. It’s like someone gasping for air after swimming or someone who can finally breathe again after choking. Sleep apnea is divided into 3 categories based on the number of interruptions per hour:
- Mild: The interruptions happen between 10 and 20 times per hour.
- Moderate: The interruptions occur between 20 and 30 times per hour.
- Severe: The interruptions happen more than 30 times per hour.
The causes of sleep apnea
There are several causes associated with sleep apnea. When you think of sleep apnea, you may be imagining a middle-aged man who is overweight. You might think of someone who snores at night, wakes up exhausted and is unable to function without coffee. Well, we should mention that it’s a little more nuanced than that. Because this disorder has many causes:
- An abnormality of the nasal septum
- Polyps in the respiratory tract
- A big palate
- Craniofacial peculiarities: the shape of the face, the dimensions of the lower jaw, the length of the neck, and so on.
- Smoking: Tobacco can cause respiratory infections
- A brain disorder in which the brain no longer sends respiratory signals for brief moments during the night. This cause is not common.
We would like to emphasize the following again. Sleep apnea affects both men and women. But in women, it is more common after menopause. The various changes in metabolism then contribute to the problem.
The consequences of sleep apnea
The main effect of sleep apnea is clear. The person does not get a good night’s sleep. So they will be sleepy and tired during the day. In severe cases, they may feel completely unable to get through their day. That’s because their exhaustion is so extreme.
- A dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Swelling in the legs (in severe cases)
- Problems with concentration
- Being overactive (in children)
More serious consequences:
- High blood pressure
- Atrial Fibrillation
- A higher risk of developing certain types of cancer
- Kidney problems
- Cognitive and behavioral disorders: impaired attention, problems with motor skills and with verbal and visual-spatial memory
- An increased risk of developing dementia
- Diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.
- Eye diseases such as glaucoma, dry eyes, and so on.
- Complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes.
The treatment of sleep apnea
Treatment will depend on the patient and the cause. For example, if the sleep apnea is caused by hyperthyroidism, then the treatment will be different than in the case of an abnormality of the nasal septum. So those aspects play a role. However, we can give an overview of the treatments that are most commonly used:
- Lifestyle changes: a better diet and more physical activity.
- Use a respirator at night. That could be a CPAP machine, for example. This device expels the compressed air and is connected to a face mask.
- Mandibular Reposition Devices: These devices cover the upper and lower teeth. They hold the jaw in a certain position so that it cannot block the upper airway.
- Tongue-holding devices: These are mouthpieces that hold the tongue in a forward position to prevent it from obstructing the airways.
- Exercises to improve the position of the tongue and strengthen the muscles that control the lips, tongue, soft palate, lateral pharyngeal wall and face.
In the most severe cases, surgery will eventually be performed to correct breathing during sleep. As you can see, the treatment will be adapted to the person. But the goal is always to improve the quality of sleep and therefore their lives.