Sleep apnea means you get short, repeated breathing breaks while you sleep. Most often this is because the tongue falls backward in the throat and closes to the air stream. Breathing stops interrupting sleep and you often get tired during the days. There is effective help to get that allows you to breathe as usual when you sleep.

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea

Usually, the respiration pauses are 20 to 30 seconds long, but sometimes they can last for a minute or longer. In order to be considered a so-called apnea, a respiratory break must be at least ten seconds long.

It is common for you to also snore if you have breathing pauses while you sleep. The snoring does not always have to be loud, but can also be quieter.

You rarely notice yourself breathing, but often someone in the immediate area notices that you are breathing or snoring. 

These are other common symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea:

  • You are extra tired in the morning when you wake up.
  • You have a lump in your throat in the morning.
  • You are tired of the days.
  • You wake up several times at night and are pissed off.
  • You have a feeling that you have not been exercised for a long time.

Children with sleep apnea may have other problems. Read more about children with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

When and where should I seek care?

Contact a health care provider if you know you are snoring and feeling tired during the days. The same is true if someone in your area tells you that you have a breathing break while you sleep. Sometimes you can search directly for a reception that investigates sleep problems. 

What happens to obstructive sleep apnea?

Breathing stops in obstructive sleep apnea are usually caused by the tongue falling backward in the throat. Then the airflow to and from the lungs can be completely or partially blocked. 

Obstructive means impediment. The respiration in the case of obstructive sleep apnea is due to something obstructing the path of the air. Snoring is also due to the airways being partially blocked.

You wake up for a short while

When you have a respiratory break, the body reacts in several ways. You get an increased amount of the stress hormone adrenaline, the heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises and oxygenation drops. It finally wakes you up. After every breathing break, you get oxygen deficiency in the body. When you then start breathing, the oxygen level increases again.

You who have many breathing breaks during one night also have many short awakenings. You may not remember yourself waking up, but sleep has still been disturbed. It is probably these awakenings that make many people with sleep apnea tired during the day.

Increased risk of other diseases

Sleep apnea is a risk factor for both high blood pressure and stroke. The increased fatigue also increases the risk of traffic accidents if, for example, you drive a car.

It is especially important that you get treatment for your breathing breaks if you have any other illness at the same time, such as angina or high blood pressure. Breathing stops can aggravate the disease.

Investigations

At the health center, you will be able to explain your complaints to the doctor. You can tell if you, for example, snore loudly and soundly and how drunk you feel after sleeping.

You may also be able to answer questions about what alcohol and dietary habits you have if you have any illnesses or are using any drugs.

You can get a referral to a clinic that can perform a sleep apnea investigation if needed. It can be, for example, a sleep laboratory, a lung clinic or an ear-nose-throat.

Sleep apnea investigation in the home

Asleep apnea study means that the airflow through your nose and mouth is recorded during one night. Your respiratory movements, blood oxygenation and how you lie when you sleep are also recorded. The measurements show how many breathing breaks you have on average in one hour.

Measurement usually goes like this: Before you go to bed, attach a meter to your nose that records temporary stops or impaired breathing while you sleep. An oxygen meter that you attach to your finger or ear canal will check for oxygen deficiency. A band around the chest records the breathing movements themselves.

There are technologies that allow you to do all this on your own at home. It’s easy and you can borrow home equipment with you.

This is how the diagnosis is made

The studies show both breathing pauses while sleeping, apnea, and periods of impaired breathing, hypopneas. Based on what the measurements show, the doctor can decide if you need treatment and if so which one can fit.

To be able to diagnose, one usually calculates a so-called apnea-hypopnea index, AHI. The index shows the number of sleep apnea and hypnosis on average per hour of sleep per night. 

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea

The purpose of the treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is to remove the breathing pauses so that you can breathe as usual with each breath as you sleep. Then the fatigue and the other troubles often disappear.

CPAP through a mask

The most effective treatment when you have sleep apnea is a CPAP device. It breathes a slight stream of air into your throat through a mask as you breathe. The airflow keeps the airways open.

It may take a while to get used to using a CPAP. You may sometimes experience discomfort, such as a slight pressure over the nose or dry mucous membranes in the throat during the first treatment period. It can also feel annoying to have a machine next to the bed and be connected to it by a hose. Many people get used to it, especially if the treatment makes you more attractive during the day.

Contact the unit that printed your CPAP if you do not think the treatment is working or if you have any problems or side effects that do not go away. Then you can get help and support.

You can use CPAP for many years. You can try doing a new sleep study if you’ve been overweight and lost a lot of weight. It shows if your breathing breaks have decreased or gone and if you still need a CPAP.  

CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

Anti-apnea or dormancy

Another effective treatment is anti-apnea, which is also called sleepiness. The rail pulls out the lower jaw and prevents your tongue from falling backward when, for example, you sleep on your back. You simply insert it into your mouth before going to bed. The treatment is used for mild to moderately severe sleep apnea.

It is important that you try out the rail of a dentist. The dentist makes a dental imprint which is then used in manufacturing. Because this type of rail is individually designed, it has a good effect, unlike the pre-made rails of different brands that are available for purchase.

Once you have received your rail, you may need to do a new sleep apnea study to see that the treatment is working properly and that your breathing stops disappearing.

Sometimes you may feel strained in the jaw joint and jaw muscle during the first time with the rail, but it usually goes over.

Operation

Surgery is most common in children with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. The surgeon then removes the tonsils and the glands behind the nose that make breathing difficult during sleep.

Regular checks

It is important that you go on regular visits and check that the treatment you receive is working. 

What is the cause of sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea can have several causes.

Being overweight is a common cause

You who are overweight can get fatty tissue around the trachea. Then it becomes more difficult for the air to pass to and from the lungs. It increases the likelihood of you getting a breathing break while you sleep. The more obese you are, the more common it is with sleep apnea.

Narrow throat and airways

It can become tight in the throat and more difficult for the air to pass if you have a small or retracted lower jaw, so-called overbite. This is because the tongue then sits further back in the throat and can more easily clog the trachea when you relax and sleep. Even large neck tonsils can cause it to become tight in the neck.

Some diseases can affect

Some diseases can also make you more easily sleep apnea, such as hypothyroidism,  which means that you get too low thyroid hormone production. Sleep apnea is also common in diabetes.  

Alcohol

Alcohol can make the muscles of the pharynx more relaxing, which can block the airflow, especially if you lie on your back. This can make breathing stops longer and longer.

Drug

Some medicines make it easier for you to get sleep apnea. This applies to some strong painkillers, sleeping pills or sedatives. They can have the same relaxing effect in the body as alcohol. If you are taking such medicines, tell your doctor when seeking treatment or receiving treatment for your respiratory arrest.

Enlarged neck tonsils in children

The tonsils, the so-called tonsils, are two glands that sit on either side of the pharynx in height with the back of the tongue.

The tonsils are larger in children and then gradually shrink during adolescence. Although it is unusual, in some children, they can become so large that it becomes too tight in the neck. It is most common when the child is between two and five years of age and is usually noticed by the child breathing, having a short breathing pause or snoring vigorously.

Central sleep apnea

People with central sleep apnea do not snore. The respiration comes after a while of gradually deeper breathing, which then becomes more superficial and becomes a breathing pause.

The cause is unclear and there is no specific treatment for central sleep apnea. Instead, the underlying disease, such as heart failure, is treated.

CPAP has no effect on central sleep apnea and should not be used.

How is life affected by sleep apnea?

Having sleep apnea can affect your life in different ways. Before the diagnosis is complete and treatment has begun, it is common for you to snore. It can interfere with both you and the people in your vicinity. Most often, the sleep stops also make you tired and powerless on the days without understanding why. It can cause you to become depressed or annoyed.

It may feel a bit clumsy or unusual at first if you start using CPAP. It demands understanding from the people you are closest to. It may take a while to get used to, but because the treatment is so effective it usually goes well.

Remember to bring your CPAP or dental position with you if you are going away or hospitalized so that you can breathe properly even then. 

Influence and participate in your care

You can seek care at any medical center or open specialist clinic you want throughout the country. Sometimes a referral to the open specialist care is required.

You should understand the information

In order for you to be involved in your care and treatment, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the healthcare personnel. Ask questions if you don’t understand. For example, you should receive information about treatment options and how long you may have to wait for care and treatment.

You have the opportunity to get help from an interpreter if you have, for example, a hearing loss. 

Muhammad Nadeem

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