Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What is Sleep Apnea?

A term many have heard and few actually understand, sleep apnea is a condition that affects thousands on a nightly basis. It can interrupt sleep, restfulness, and leave one tired, even after a “full” night of sleep. And without the sleeper even knowing what’s taking place. Thanks to ongoing studies that have helped advance diagnoses and treatments, it can be greatly reduced, if not cured altogether.

But what exactly is sleep apnea?

Recognized as a “disorder,” sleep apnea takes place wherethere are inconsistencies in a person’s breathing pattern throughout sleep. This can include pauses, shallow breaths, or irregular patterns through all cycles of sleep. Additionally, each pause is known to last between 10 seconds and multiple minutes, and can take place several times per hour (usually between 5 and 30 instances). Over time, this accounts for a large portion of the night. Because these breaks are so frequent, a person’s sleep time is cut down dramatically when suffering from sleep apnea.

However, few who suffer from sleep apnea realize it is taking place. They may wake up feeling tired or un-rested, but aren’t aware of their irregular breathing patterns. Other symptoms include vision problems, slow reaction time, or unclear thinking on a frequent basis. Though sleep apnea is known to affect each patient differently, including children and adults, which can lead to issues with self diagnosis.

The Diagnosis and Treatment

Generally, people become aware of sleep apnea when a friend or family member witnesses them sleeping. They may cough, wake frequently (without knowing it), or take breaks from breathing altogether. Others may seek the help of a sleep specialist after feeling tired for long periods of time. Then once the idea of a sleeping disorder is considered, doctors will perform an overnight “sleep study” to collect data. With the help of observation and special machines, a personalized diagnosis can be determined.

Next, doctors and patients can work together to find the best sleep apnea treatment; different methods will be taken based on the cause. For instance, those who experience lack of esophagus support can wear a mouthpiece that holds their throat/mouth into place. In other instances, low levels of oxygen or medications are also used to encourage deep breathing patterns.

To ensure a good night’s sleep, it’s important for apneapatients to start a proper treatment regimen. Through medications or facial-supporting devices, breathing patterns (and therefore sleeping) can be greatly improved.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about your testing and treatment options.