Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes sleep deprivation. The word ‘apnea’ is derived from a Greek word apnoia which means absence of respiration. Hence, sleep apnea is a disorder in which the breathing of an individual is repeatedly interrupted.

It is a common sleep disorder that goes widely undiagnosed. Although sleep apnea is not dangerous by itself, if left untreated it can lead to some serious diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, depression, stroke etc. Due to sleep apnea the body may not get the oxygen that it needs.

There are two types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)– This is the most common form of the disorder. This occurs when the airways get blocked in the throat while sleeping.
  • Central Sleep Apnea- This occurs when the brain does not send out proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

It is also possible to have sleep apnea that is a combination of the above two type. In such a case, it is called Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome.

Sleep apnea affects the male population more that it affects the female population. People of all ages are at a risk of developing this disorder, but the risk increases after the age of 40.

  • Nasal obstructions like sinus
  • Family history of sleep apnea
  • A large neck size or tonsils or tongue may all cause obstructions to breathing which may in turn lead to sleep apnea.

Let’s look at some of the symptoms of sleep apnea:

  • Loud snoring
  • Restless sleep
  • Headaches
  • Gasping for air or choking that wakes you up from sleep
  • Breathing repeatedly stopping and starting while sleeping
  • Feeling tired after a full night’s sleeping
  • Sleepiness while driving
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Abrupt awakening with a dry and sore throat
  • Irritability

Of course, not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but it is better to visit a doctor if you snore loudly or if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Severity of sleep apnea is determined by number of apnea every one hour

  • Normal – 0-5 apnea episodes per hour
  • Mild sleep apnea – 5-15 episodes of apnea per hour
  • Moderate sleep apnea – 16-30 episodes of apnea per hour
  • Severe sleep apnea – 31+ episodes of apnea per hour

 Sleep apnea treatments may include:

  • Lifestyle changes like losing weight
  • Use of certain devices that can open blocked airways. Eg. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)- it is a mask worn on the nose or mouth while you sleep. It helps keep the airways open as continuous flow of air is supplied to the nose.
  • There are also oral appliances to keep your throat open
  • Surgical options are also available to enlarge airways or unblock them.

Talk to your doctor about the various treatment options available, their pros and cons and let your doctor recommend the best treatment for you.