A diagnosis of sleep apnea can be frightening or frustrating to patients, many of whom may need to make lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and environment to reverse the sleep disorder. In the face of such changes, many people may find it tempting to simply do nothing. However, left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to…
Types of Sleep Apnea and Treatments
A relatively common type of sleep disorder, sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops and then restarts throughout the sleep cycle. As a result, major organs in the body, including the brain, receive less oxygen at varying intervals throughout the night.
A person with sleep apnea may not be aware of these events while sleeping and are only cognizant of the effects the next day, such as a dry mouth and throat, fatigue and irritability. This process is hard on the human body and can result in excessive tiredness throughout the day, even if the individual did not wake during the night. Those with sleep apnea are at an increased risk for numerous health conditions, including heart attack or heart failure, stroke, diabetes, depression and headaches. Therefore, it is critical for these individuals to obtain a proper diagnosis and begin treatment.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is often diagnosed or observed through a sleep study, which allows a medical professional to monitor a patient’s breathing throughout the night, as well as heart rate, brain activity and oxygen levels. Through such evaluations, it can be determined if the patient actually suffers from sleep apnea or another form of sleeping disorder, as well as which type of sleep apnea is present in the individual.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the disorder and occurs when the airway becomes blocked and breathing is impaired. Central sleep apnea is more rare and happens when the brain fails to signal the lungs to breathe during sleep. Once a patient is diagnosed with either obstructive or central sleep apnea, treatment can begin to help maintain steady breathing throughout the night.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Depending on the severity of the case, there are several options for effective treatment. First and foremost, patients should make positive and healthy lifestyle changes to set themselves up for success, like exercising regularly, losing extra weight and avoiding drug and excessive alcohol use. One possible solution is to simply sleep in a side-lying position to prevent airway blockage while sleeping.
Many individuals find success in receiving a customized oral appliance from a dental specialist to help align the jaw or stabilize the tongue during sleep. For more serious cases, a CPAP machine may be prescribed to be worn at night and provide consistent positive air pressure to maintain breathing. In some situations, surgery may be required to repair abnormalities in the nasal passage, mouth or throat.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that should not be ignored. In addition to poor sleep habits and insufficient rest for the body, it can also lead to a host of other potentially serious diseases. Diagnosis and evaluation are typically relatively straightforward and treatment can usually begin promptly afterward. While living with undiagnosed sleep apnea can be difficult both in the present and long term, many can experience relief and restful sleep with the proper treatment plan.
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