Speaking of Health – Sleep Apnea

tToday’s column deals with sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times. This means the brain — and the rest of the body — may not get enough oxygen.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

• Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The more common of the two forms of apnea, it is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.

•Central sleep apnea: Unlike OSA, the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, due to instability in the respiratory control center.

Sleep apnea can affect anyone at any age, even children. Risk factors for sleep apnea include:

•Being male

•Being overweight

•Being over age 40

•Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)

•Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone

•Having a family history of sleep apnea

•Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD

Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems can also be a risk factor for sleep apnea.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a growing number of health problems, including:

•High blood pressure


•Heart failure, irregular heart beats, and heart attacks



•Worsening of ADHD


In addition, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents.

Sleep apnea treatments range from lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or changing sleep positions, to CPAP therapy, to surgery.  Mild cases of sleep apnea can be treated at home by changing your behavior, for example:

•Losing weight.

•Avoiding alcohol and sleeping pills.

•Changing sleep positions to improve breathing.

•Stopping smoking. Smoking can increase the swelling in the upper airway, which may worsen both snoring and apnea.

•Avoiding sleeping on your back.

•Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Continuous positive airway pressure , which helps keep the airways open so that breathing is regular. CPAP is the most common treatment for sleep apnea.  (WebMD, 2017)


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