One of the common sleep disorders that commonly occur is sleep apnea. It is defined as the cessation of air flow at the mouth and nose for at least 10 seconds during sleep. Typically, the affected individual is middle-aged or elderly male with a short neck who is mildly to moderately overweight and hypertensive. However, this kind of sleeping problem also occurs in young adults of on both male and female, older women and lean individuals. The best prevention is maintenance of an ideal body weight.
Sleep apnea is often categorized as obstructive, central or mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway sleeping problem is cessation of airflow at the level of the mouth and nose, despite persistent chest and abdominal movements. In the central type, airflow ceases at the nose and mouth, and there is no evidence of activity of respiratory muscles. Although this syndrome may appear in otherwise normal individuals, it is often associated with narcolepsy and a variety of central and peripheral nervous system disorders. The mixed type is the most common.
A small oropharyngeal opening may contribute to the airway obstruction. The airway may be narrowed by fat deposits along the pharyngeal wall of obese persons or by nasal obstruction caused by mucosal congestion, thickening, polyps, or a deviated septum. The narrowed airway increases airway resistance and enhances its tendency to collapse during sleep. Also predisposing the oropharynx to collapse during sleep is enlargement of the tonsils, adenoids, base of the tongue, uvula or soft tissue of the nasopahrynx. This type of sleep disorder is also found in patients with COPD.
Sleep apnea symptoms include periodic arousal from sleep. The progressive asphyxia may cause awakening or arousal to a lighter stage of sleep. Fragmented sleep occurs, which prolongs the duration of apneic episodes and produces more severe ventilator impairment. Loud snoring with interrupted periods as breathing ceases is noted. Snoring is often described as loud and so disruptive to family comfort that the individual is delegated to a remote part of the house. Aside from that sleep that is accompanied by jerking and thrashing movements are noted.
Sleep apnea treatment includes weight reduction but sometimes it does not alleviate the symptoms. The patient will be advised to avoid alcohol and drugs that cause respiratory depression because they impair arousability. Plastic bite blocks are used during sleep to hold the patient’s tongue forward to prevent occlusion of the airway. Aside from that, surgery is also done to remove obstruction or tracheostomy is recommended if highly needed.. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) through the nose with the use of ventilator during sleep has resulted in improvement of symptoms.
The prognosis of sleep apnea is good, especially for those with the mixed or obstructive type. If detected early, treatments can be instituted to prevent the more serious cardiovascular complications. That is why when your partner or someone in the family complains of symptoms of this kind of sleeping problem, you must be able to seek medical experts immediately.