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What is Sleep Apnea?

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Sleep apnea is a common and often undiagnosed sleep disorder which is characterized by irregular and lapses in breathing while asleep. While usually this disorder is not dangerous (though some of the more extreme forms can be) it is often responsible for poor sleep in its victims. In a recent study it was found that sleep apnea doubles one’s risk of a car crash. While the two may not seem be related the lack of quality sleep is responsible for daytime drowsiness and general inattention. There are two main forms of sleep apnea that we will investigate here as well as ways to identify it and treat it.


Central Sleep Apnea


This form of sleep apnea, often abbreviated CSA, is the least common form of sleep apnea and stems from a neurological problem in the brain’s respiratory control center. During sleep the brain fails to trigger the signal to inhale which can result in missed breath cycles. This, in turn, results in low oxygen and high carbon dioxide in the blood stream which can cause an increased heart rate during sleep and false awakenings. Common symptoms for central sleep apnea include daytime fatigue, snoring, and obesity. Additional side effects of central sleep apnea can include different heart conditions. Luckily central sleep apnea is highly treatable if diagnosed. One of the principal techniques used to treat CSA is a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP). This compresses air that is passed through the airway using a breathing mask while sleeping. This is a common treatment for all forms of sleep apnea that is modified with two different settings for inhalation and exhalation specifically for central sleep apnea. There are a lot of different methods of treatment so it’s best to consult your physician to find out which one is best suited to your needs.


Obstructive Sleep Apnea


This form of sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea. The basic process of OSA is blockage of the breathing passage that causes a shortness or lapse of breath while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea is especially prevalent among elderly and obese people with low muscle tone and a lot of soft tissue around the air passage. The same symptoms of daytime fatigue and snoring apply to obstructive sleep apnea victims. Aside from the continuous positive airway pressure machine and other clinical treatments there are some simple methods of prevention to help with obstructive sleep apnea. These include some simple lifestyle changes like reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, avoiding muscle relaxants, and losing weight. Additionally sleeping on your side rather than in a supine position can be beneficial to keeping your airway open while sleeping. If you suffer from some of the symptoms of sleep apnea it may be time to see a physician and finally see what a good night’s rest can do for you.

July 14, 2013

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