Sleep apnea is a condition that causes difficulty in breathing during sleep. The condition is defined by the health services provider MayoClinic.org as “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.” This could disrupt the amount of oxygen an individual gets, disrupting some critical body functions.
MayoClinic.org categorizes sleep apnea into three types:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Is the most common type of sleep apnea. It is caused by a collapse of the soft tissue at the back of the throat during sleep, effectively blocking the airway.
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): Results from the brain’s failure to trigger muscles responsible for regulating breathing.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CSAS): Is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the underlying causes of sleep apnea include obesity, having large tonsils, endocrine disorders, neuromuscular disorders, heart or kidney failure, specific genetic syndromes, and premature birth.
Sleep apnea can also be caused by muscular changes in the back of the throat during sleep and physical obstructions that restrict airflow caused by thickened tissues or fat stored around the airway.
The medical website, MedicalNewsToday.com, reports that brain function deficiencies that may cause breathing to malfunction can cause central sleep apnea (CSA). The same source also reports that CSA has been found to correlate with conditions like stroke and heart failure and the use of painkillers. It is also common among individuals who have recently ascended to a high altitude.
Some of the common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Morning headaches
- Restless sleep
- Frequent sleep interruptions
- Choking, snorting, or gasping during sleep
- Waking up with a dry or sore throat or mouth
Mental issues such as forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex have also been linked with sleep apnea. Of course, these symptoms could also result from several other health conditions, thus the need to consult a professional if you experience most of the symptoms above. For children, one of the symptoms of sleep apnea is hyperactivity.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke warns that sleep apnea does not only threaten the comfort of your sleep but can also threaten your life. When left untreated, sleep apnea leads to severe complications, including:
- Liver problems
- Heart problems, like coronary heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, and hypertension
- Impaired focus and cognition
- Memory problems
- Stroke and Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), sometimes called “mini-strokes.”
- Type 2 diabetes
- Complications during and after major surgery
CPAP therapy is the treatment approach for patients with sleep apnea. A CPAP machine is a medical device used to provide a constant, gentle flow of pressurized air that prevents the collapse of the individual’s airway during sleep.
The Alaska Sleep Clinic identifies three main parts of CPAP machines:
- CPAP Motor: Is a small quiet compressor that takes in room temperature air and pressurizes it to deliver the right amount of air pressure needed to clear obstructions in the throat.
- CPAP Hoses: Are pipes that convey the pressurized air from the motor to the wearer’s mask. The main pipe is usually 6 feet long, but its diameter can differ depending on the type of machine used.
- CPAP Mask: Is placed on the face and comes in various shapes and sizes depending on how comfortable the individual finds it. There are three major mask variations to choose from: nasal pillows, nasal masks, and full-face masks.