With lifestyle diseases on the rise and about 40 lakh people, particularly the elderly and obese, suffering from sleep apnea (OSA) in India, it is imperative that we avail treatment early. Otherwise, this condition impacts the body’s oxygen requirement and may cause heart and respiratory issues.
What is sleep apnea?
We sleep for eight hours, which is one-third of 24 hours. This amounts to us sleeping one-third of our lifetime. There are 84 known sleep disorders and sleep apnea is the second most common after insomnia. This is a serious disorder, which results in changing patterns of sleep, especially causing excessive drowsiness. Sleep apnea leads to continuous start and stoppage of your breathing cycle during sleep. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common and is caused by a blockage of the airways during sleep.
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Causes of sleep apnea
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition in which your upper airways get blocked during sleep, causing apnea or stoppage of breathing. There is a loss of muscle tone during sleep, which causes the airway muscles to become floppy and the tongue to fall back. This leads to narrowing of the upper airway during sleep in everybody, but this can cause severe constriction among obese people. Excessive respiratory efforts to overcome this obstruction and resultant a fall in oxygen level awaken you from your sleep. As you wake up, the airway opens up to make you comfortable, and you fall asleep again. But as soon as you shut your eyes, the cycle repeats and you are disturbed the whole night, making you feel sleepy, tired and fatigued the next day, causing a lack of concentration and irritability. In extreme situations, this can lead to automobile accidents if you are driving in a sleep-deprived condition.
Risks of sleep apnea
During sleep apnea, as your oxygen falls and sleep is disturbed, there is a worsening of your blood pressure and diabetes. People with sleep apnea also tend to gain weight as they feel hungrier due to increased secretion of the hunger hormone, Ghrelin, and lack of the satiety hormone, leptin. This creates a vicious cycle of obesity causing sleep apnea and sleep apnea worsening obesity.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, unable to stay asleep, morning headache, feeling of irritability, having a dry mouth after waking up, gasping for breath during sleep and most importantly excessive daytime sleepiness or tiredness.
Loud snoring is the most common symptom of sleep apnea. However not everyone who snores loud suffers from sleep apnea. Silent apnea refers to a condition in which the vibration of the tissues that caused snoring during airway collapse remains; thus, OSA persists but snoring does not.
Management of sleep apnea
As there are sleep disorders, there are sleep specialists too. A sleep test called polysomnography helps diagnose your condition. The good news is that sleep apnea is fully treatable with multiple interventions, which include dental devices and the application of a device called positive airway pressure (PAP). This pushes air and relives the obstruction during sleep with air pressure. This is considered as the most effective and reliable way of treating and coping with sleep apnea.
For mild sleep apnea cases, you may just make some lifestyle modifications such as losing weight and quitting smoking. Surgical interventions like bariatric surgery and upper airway sleep apnea surgeries can also offer a cure in selected patients but the gold standard treatment remains the PAP device. With obesity becoming an epidemic, sleep apnea cases are bound to increase, and awareness about this disease is necessary to break the cycle and halt its ill effects.