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Dealing with Sleep Apnea

Sleep ApneaHow to deal with sleep apnea? It’s safe to say that practically every human being on earth goes through certain days feeling sluggish and tired, but the reasons may not always be because of working too hard or experiencing loss of energy due to undernourishment.

Experts say many of those who experience such feeling may have a sleeping disorder they may or may not be aware of. This disorder should be addressed properly as it can adversely, even seriously, affect one’s state of health.

What is Sleep Apnea

Researchers estimate that many people are unaware they have “sleep apnea” a disorder in which breathing is briefly and sometimes repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The word “apnea” itself refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. Sleep apnea comes in two forms.

One of them is “obstructive sleep apnea,” which occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open despite efforts to breathe. Another form is “central sleep apnea,” in which signals from the brain that tell the individual to breathe don’t work properly during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common that central sleep apnea.

A number of factors increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. These include having a small upper airway, large tongue, swollen tonsils or larger than normal “uvula” (the fleshy appendage at the back of the palate); being overweight, having a smaller than normal-sized jaw, a pronounced overbite, a large neck size (17 inches or greater in a man or 16 inches or greater in a woman); smoking and alcohol use.

For others, it may be a by-product of the aging process. Also, it seems to run in some families, suggesting a possible genetic link.

In whenever form, sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with this disorder, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to many health concerns. Immediate consultation with a doctor is imperative once the symptoms are experienced.

Symptoms and Effects

Chronic snoring is a strong indicator of sleep apnea and should be evaluated by a health professional. Loud snoring during the night, which may or may not be accomplished by gasping or choking, often startles the sufferer and causes brief periods of wakefulness during the night, thus causing that sluggish feeling during the day.

Since people with sleep apnea tend to be sleep-deficient, they may suffer from a wide range of symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, irritability, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties, and a feeling of listlessness at work or slowed mobility. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause excessive sleepiness during the day, high blood pressure, heart strain, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke or depression.

Sleep apnea is also a concern with certain medication and general anesthesia. People who experience or suffer sleep apnea may be more likely to experience complications following major surgery because they’re prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs. Before undergoing a surgery, it is advisable to alert the doctor about this disorder to avoid the aforementioned risk.

Treatment Options

No single drug can treat sleep apnea and it is more challenging to manage central sleep apnea than the obstructive type. However, some medications such acetazolamide, which is used to lower blood pH and encourage respiration, or modafinil to treat excessive daytime sleepiness seem to work especially when combined with other modes of treatment.

For obstructive sleep apnea, treatments depend on what is blocking the airways, how severe the symptoms are, as well as other medical condition the individual may have. The most effective one is to ensure “continuous positive airway pressure” or CPAP. This treatment involves a small machine which has three main parts: a mask or other device that fits over the nose only (or nose and mouth) held by a strap during use; a tube that connects the mask to a machine; and the machine with a motor that blows air into the tube.

Some of these gadgets have other features such as heated humidifiers. CPAP machines are small, lightweight and make soft, rhythmic sounds. It is often the best treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. The health benefits of this therapy can be enormous, but only if used correctly. Users of this device may have problems adjusting to CPAP, in which case the doctor must be informed for immediate assistance.

Another modality is wearing a dental appliance that may help by pushing the lower jaw forward (especially for individuals with exaggerated overbites), keeping the tongue from obstructing the airway or a combination of both. These may be uncomfortable until one gets used to them but often, sleep apnea can be managed with these gadgets and some lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Changes

According to Maryland Medical Center, few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific health measures, though they may be helpful as supportive therapies. The following lifestyle changes may help obstructive apnea.

For many, losing weight help make sleep apnea go away entirely. To attain this, one must eat fresh fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and low-fat diary products. Limits the amount of saturated fat found in meats, butter and processed foods and use healthier fats like olive and canola oil instead.

Eat more foods that prevent thickening of mucus such as garlic, onions, watercress, horseradish, mustard, parsley, celery, pickles and lemons, to name a few.

Smoking inflames the nasal tissues, causing them to swell and restrict the nasal passage. Ideally, one who suffers from sleep apnea should give up smoking altogether, but if this is too much to hurdle, try cutting down and in particular, reduce smoking in the evening even more.

It is also best to limit the use of alcohol, antihistamines or tranquilizers as these substances relax the throat muscles and cause them to collapse during sleep, in the process blocking the airway. There’s no need to cut out alcohol altogether, but restricting intake three or four hours before going to bed can have considerable positive effects.

Getting treatment for allergies, colds or ad sinus problems as well as gargling with salt water tends to shrink swollen tonsils.

Sleeping on the side rather than lying flat on the back, or elevating the body from waist up can help keep the airway open. Firm foam wedge-shaped pillows to raise the upper body can be helpful in contrast to soft pillows, which tend to make apnea worse by “pushing” the chin toward the chest.

If one is not used to exercising, it is recommended to start slowly and build up to the goal of at least 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week. An ideal exercise program includes aerobic activity (walking, swimming, biking), strength training (weightlifting) and flexibility (stretching). In case of being overweight or suffering from other medical problems, it is important to first discuss a proposed exercise program with a doctor to ensure that the program will be beneficial.

Keep Breathing

Sleep apnea can develop into as a serious health threat. However, following an effective treatment and lifestyle plan can often help prevent linked to it and improved the quality of life significantly. Being in control of this condition can be amazing and what a difference it can make to restful sleep by simply being able to breathe normally during slumber time.

Author: Susan Villaroman

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