All About Sleep Apnea

by Keith George

Do you feel restless, have morning headaches, feel irritated, is forgetful, sweat at night, frequently go to the toilet etc? If yes, then you are probably suffering from sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a type of sleep disorder in which the patient suffers from pauses in breathing while asleep. In layman terms, the person while asleep forgets to breathe, which causes restless sleep and consequent problems associated with lack of sleep. Its most serious consequence is to the heart and may lead to congestive heart failure.

The main symptoms are restless sleep, loud snoring with silent periods in between followed by gasping, morning headaches, forgetfulness, mood changes, anxiety, depression, frequently urinating, sweating at night, bedwetting, increased heart rate etc. However the individual suffering from sleep apnea does not feel difficulty in breathing. A spouse is the best person to indicate whether the individual has breathing problems.

A definite diagnosis is obtained by polysomnography. Polysomnography is a multi parametric test for studying sleep. It monitors brain function (EEG), eye function (EOG), muscle function (EMG), heart function (ECG), breathing function etc.

There are two types of sleep apnea Central sleep apnea and Obstructive sleep apnea. In central sleep apnea, the breathing is paused due to lack of effort. In obstructive sleep apnea the breathing is blocked even though there is an effort to breathe.

People With High Risk:
Sleep apnea affects both children and adults. Obese people, individuals with flabby muscles, increased soft tissue near the airway, heavy face and neck etc are more at risk compared to normal individuals. Children mostly suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and are usually over tired or hyper. Due to sleep apnea the children tend to be thin and not grow properly.

The treatment deals with removing the obstruction from breathing. In children the obstruction is usually due to tonsils or adenoids and are cured by tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. In adults if the obstruction is due to enlarged lymphoid tissues, then steroids are prescribed to reduce the swelling. Medicines like methylxanthine theophylline and amphetamines are used in treatment of sleep apnea.

Life style changes are also advised such as avoiding alcohol, medicines like muscle relaxants and sedatives, losing weight, quitting smoking etc. Some times, changing the pillow or changing the direction (sideways, on back, on chest) also helps. Avoiding sleeping on the back is very effective. For this keep a tennis ball in the back pocket of your trouser, this way it will be uncomfortable to sleep on the back and you will unknowingly shift to sleep sideways. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a strong method used when other methods are not working. In this method an oxygen mask with positive air pressure is attached to the patient while sleeping. Many people have found relief from using CPAP. Neurostimulation is under study to treat the disorder from a neurological angle.