Drawing showing cause of sleep apneaSleep Apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.


There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control centre.

Common sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Waking up with a very sore or dry throat
  • Loud snoring
  • Occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation
  • Sleepiness or lack of energy during the day
  • Sleepiness while driving
  • Morning headaches
  • Restless sleep
  • Forgetfulness, mood changes,
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Recurrent awakenings or insomnia

What Are the Effects of Sleep Apnea?

If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of health problems, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Worsening of ADHD
  • Headaches

In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.

Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

·Being male ·Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
· Being overweight ·Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
·Being over age 40 ·Having a family history of sleep apnea
·Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems

If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor may ask you to have a sleep apnea test, called a polysomnogram. This may be done in a sleep disorder centre or even at home.   If sleep apnea is determined, you may be asked to do further sleep testing in order to determine the best treatment option.

Sleep Apnea Treatments

woman laying in bed with CPAP device Treatments can include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or changing sleep positions, medical devices like CPAP machines, or surgery, as well as self-care routines.  Below are some suggestions as to possible treatment routes.

Self Care to Combat Apnea

You may be able to treat mild sleep apnea with some lifestyle changes; a few suggestions are:

  • Lose Weight if You Need To

Not all people with sleep apnea are overweight or obese, but about half are. If you have some extra weight, then slimming down — even by a few pounds — can often improve your symptoms.

  • Limit Alcohol and Stop Smoking

Cigarette smoking increases swelling in your upper airway. That can aggravate symptoms like snoring and pauses in breathing.  Alcohol decreases the muscle tone in the back of the throat, which can interfere with air flow — the last thing you need when you already have breathing problems.

  • Take Charge of Your Allergies

If your allergies aren’t under control, the tissues of your upper throat swell and make the airway narrow. With less space for air, breathing gets harder.

If you have nasal allergies, talk to your doctor about how to get them under control. It may help to use a neti pot or a saline nasal spray before bed.

Other Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

  • Medication
  • Oral Appliances
  • Surgery

Adapted from: WebMD Medical Reference

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