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Many people are not aware that they stop breathing for a few seconds while they are asleep. Sometimes, these episodes consist of marked reductions in airflow, brief pauses in breathing that may last at least ten seconds, or complete stops in breathing for short periods. This condition is better known as sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that is common among adults and frequently results in a significant reduction in blood oxygenation.
Specialized Care for Sleep Apnea
Affected individuals are often not aware of their condition, but their bed partner, spouse or room mates may notice that they snore loudly, stop breathing for short periods, gasp for air, suddenly wake up and fall back to sleep. Symptoms that may provide clues to sleep apnea include daytime sleepiness, restlessness, fatigue, headaches, poor memory, and waking up with a dry throat.
It is important for people with sleep apnea to be diagnosed and treated properly to avoid its complications. These include heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and even death. Excessive daytime sleepiness can also put their life in danger because of their increased risk for accidents at work or while driving.
While many people are unaware or take their condition for granted, some people take steps to receive treatments for sleep apnea to improve their health. There are many ways to treat airway obstruction, including medical and surgical options, but studies show that receiving specialized care from board-certified physicians and accredited centers for treatment of sleep apnea is associated with better outcomes.
Many experts believe that the most effective therapy for sleep apnea is using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), in which the patients wears a mask over his nose/mouth while he sleeps. This mask is connected to a special machine that delivers air into the nose and keeps the upper airways open and makes breathing more regular.
What Happens When You Have Sleep Apnea?
A person who suffers from sleep apnea has frequent episodes of breathing stops while he sleeps, which can occur at least once in every four minutes. Sometimes his breathing stops completely for a few seconds, which can disturb his sleep and awaken him or cause his sleep level to become shallow. There are times when his breathing can be significantly reduced to about 25% of a normal breath. These episodes may also be combined with just slight reductions in breathing (called hypopnea), which can still lead to sleep disruption.
In most people, sleep apnea is caused by an anatomical obstruction in the airway, which may be due to a deviated nasal septum (the part of the nose that separates the nostrils), a large tongue that falls at the back of the throat when asleep, or other abnormalities. These structural abnormalities cause the upper airways to collapse, which makes it difficult for the individual to breathe while in deep sleep. The drop in oxygen level signals the brain to rouse the individual from sleep, so he can breathe more effectively. This is the obstructive type of sleep apnea, which is common among obese people and snorers, who often do not recall waking up at night, but may complain of not getting a good night's sleep. Men are more likely to be affected.