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Sleep Apnea: How it Affects Health and Ways to Breathe Easy

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May 5, 2023
A man sleeping in a bed and managing sleep apnea with a CPAP machine

What is Sleep Apnea?

If you feel sleepy and fatigued during the day, even after getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep, you may be suffering from sleep apnea, a disruption of normal sleep that can occur multiple times during the night. The most common type is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which happens when throat muscles collapse and block your airway as you sleep. Although this condition can strike anyone, more men suffer from it than women, and the odds increase as a person ages. Menopausal women and anyone who is overweight are also more vulnerable to developing sleep apnea.

Types of Sleep Apnea

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA)
  • Mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSAS)

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA):

This is by far the most common type caused by a restriction of your airway as you sleep. It occurs when the tongue and soft palate collapse and fall to the back of the throat, closing off your airway.

Central sleep apnea (CSA):

This type is not very common and does not involve obstructing your airway. Instead, it happens when your brain fails to send the correct signals to the muscles controlling your breathing during sleep. This causes your breathing to pauses numerous times throughout your sleep.

Mixed sleep apnea or complex sleep apnea syndrome (CompSAS):

As the name signifies, this is a combination of OSA and CSA types of sleep apnea disorders.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

The symptoms of sleep apnea can overlap, making it difficult to determine which type of the disorder you have. However, there are some typical signs that can help determine if you suffer from this condition. Many of them can only be observed while you are sleeping, so it’s important to consult a sleep disorder specialist to determine your medical condition. An accurate diagnosis often requires an overnight stay in a clinical setting.

The following are some common symptoms:

  • Snoring loudly
  • Intermittently stopping breathing during sleep – this would need to be observed
  • Gasping for breath that may awaken you
  • Waking up with an extremely dry mouth
  • Hypersomnia, which means being excessively sleepy during the day
  • Insomnia, which describes being unable to fall or stay asleep at night
  • Having trouble paying attention when awake
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Irritability

How it Can Impact Your Health

Although excessive tiredness during the day is a clearly detrimental aspect of having sleep apnea, there are other ways this disorder can adversely affect your health. The following are some of the serious health risks caused by the condition:

  • Increased Risk of Motor Vehicle Collisions: May put patients at greater risk of falling asleep behind the wheel and getting into a car accident.
  • Depression: Can cause depression or worsen symptoms in people who are already dealing with depression or anxiety.
  • Memory and Brain Issues: According to sleep disorder specialists, the brain collects and organizes your day’s events during sleep. It assigns them to short-term or long-term memory. When sleep is interrupted during sleep apnea episodes and the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can damage structural pathways that control memory, mood and even blood pressure.
  • Breathing Problems:  Paused breathing multiple times during the night can exacerbate conditions such as asthma and COPD. These breathing problems cause low oxygen levels that negatively impact your body’s ability to function.
  • Hypertension and Heart Trouble: This condition is associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, stroke and even heart failure.
  • Liver Problems: May increase your risk of developing fatty liver disease and cause above-normal levels of liver enzymes.
  • Cholesterol: May elevate LDL levels, which is the bad cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Blood Sugar Levels: People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and it can make diabetes increasingly difficult to manage for those who already have it.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) Problems: People suffering from acid reflux disease often find their heartburn worsened by sleep apnea.
  • Immune System Issues: If you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system is adversely affected, making you more susceptible to infections or illnesses.
  • Reproductive Problems: May cause a variety of sexual issues such as a reduction in your desire to have sex or erectile dysfunction in men.

How to Deal with Sleep Apnea

If you have only a mild case, your doctor may suggest some changes to your lifestyle. Such changes may include quitting smoking or losing weight. If allergies are a problem, he or she may want to treat your nasal congestion or help you gain better control of your asthma in order to minimize sleep disruption.

However, having moderate to severe sleep apnea calls for a more direct approach. If you think you may be experiencing sleep apnea, the best first step is to consult your doctor. Patients often see a sleep disorder specialist who conducts a variety of tests to accurately pinpoint the nature and extent of sleep problems. The following are some therapies that are helping people counteract the dangerous effects of this disorder.

Using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machine

A CPAP machine delivers positive and consistent air pressure while you sleep via a mask. The pressure is greater than what you would receive by breathing on your own as you sleep, and it serves to keep your airway open. It ensures that you receive sufficient oxygen during sleep, and because your airway is open, you won’t snore.

There are many types of masks that work with a CPAP machine (or the other types of machines mentioned below), so you should find the type that is most comfortable for you. This may take some research. There are types of masks that can accommodate back or side sleepers and others that come off easily in case the user has dementia or Alzheimer’s.  There are even masks to reduce noise, if your partner is a light sleeper. It is important to consult with your doctor or sleep specialist throughout the process of adjusting to your CPAP machine to ensure that the pressure settings are accurate and giving you optimal results.

Using a BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) Machine

This machine operates much like a CPAP, however, while the CPAP delivers one consistent level of air pressure, the BiPAP offers two different pressure settings, one for inhaling and one for exhaling, allowing your doctor to set different levels depending on your needs. Doctors often prescribe this type of machine to patients with congestive heart failure, CSA, or CompSAS types of sleep apnea. For instance, if you have a low blood oxygen level from one of these conditions and there is too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in your blood, a BiPAP can make it easier to exhale and get rid of the CO2. This also creates a more uninterrupted and comfortable sleep.

Using an APAP (Automatic Positive Airway Pressure) Machine

If you have been assessed by a sleep disorder specialist and found to have a varying breathing rate during sleep, an APAP machine may be your best option. There are several factors that can determine whether the APAP is the right choice for you. Breathing rates during sleep can change for a number of reasons. For instance, tossing and turning can impact your breathing rate.

In addition, some people experience sleep apnea during REM sleep – a deep state of sleep that helps restore cognitive functions. If that’s the issue, the APAP machine automatically applies more pressure as necessary during REM. It will also adjust for other factors such as drinking or weight changes that can also cause fluctuations in breathing during sleep. In short, if the constant pressure of the CPAP machine is either too strong or too weak to treat your sleep apnea successfully, you may want to try an APAP.

Using an Adaptive Servo-Ventilation (ASV) Machine

This is a fairly new approved airflow device that works by calculating your normal breathing pattern, storing the data in an internal computer, and then delivering the pressure that most closely resembles your normal breathing pattern to prevent pauses as you sleep. Sleep specialist are finding this a good method of treating complex sleep apnea but it may not be the best choice if your sleep apnea is primarily CSA or caused by heart failure.

Using Supplemental Oxygen

Those with CSA may be able to get relief from sleep apnea by using supplemental oxygen while they sleep. You should consult your doctor to see if this is the right approach for you. There are several different forms of oxygen and types of delivery systems you can use.

HonestMed Offers Supplies for Sleep Apnea

No matter what type of machines and supplies you need to treat your sleep apnea, HonestMed provides a wide-range of products, at the best prices, to meet your needs. Browse our CPAP-BiPAP supplies or speak to an HonestMed Care Specialist at (833) 933-2323.

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