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What is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Having restless sleep or interrupted sleep can lead to various problems throughout your day, and obstructive sleep apnea may be the cause. However, this condition is difficult to treat if a person does not discuss their sleep habits with a professional. So, what is it, who is at risk for this and can it be treated?
General information about sleep apnea
This is a condition where the throat muscles relax to the point that the airway becomes closed, which then causes breathing to temporarily but continuously stop during the night. These brief pauses in breathing can last for more than 30 seconds every hour and continue for the entire night, according to the Mayo Clinic. The brain senses this disruption and forces the body to wake up. Fully understanding this condition involves knowing what signs to look for, what it is caused by and what the various treatment options are.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 18 million adults in America alone have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. There are a few obvious symptoms that people can watch out for and that doctors may ask about. Perhaps the most noticeable one is heavy snoring. More subtle signs include feeling exhausted throughout the day even if a person slept the recommended time the night before. This can lead to drowsiness, depression, trouble focusing, irritability and even heart trouble if left untreated.
Causes and risk factors
There are many different reasons a person may have obstructive sleep apnea. It can happen to anyone, although it is more common in men than women. Often, people with this condition are completely unaware of it. However, there are certain risk factors people can watch for, including the following hereditary aspects and lifestyle habits:
- Being overweight
- A small airway
- High blood pressure
- Chronic nasal congestion
- Excessive smoking or drinking
Fortunately, there are treatment options that can help individuals keep breathing while asleep. Before treatment, a doctor can run numerous tests to monitor a person’s breathing during sleep to determine how severe the condition is.
A common treatment is the use of a sleep mask that delivers continuous air to the nose, mouth or both during sleep to maintain positive airway pressure, allowing for sleep uninterrupted by breathing difficulties. This device is called a continuous positive airway pressure mask. There are also some lifestyle changes that can be made, such as losing weight or applying a nasal spray before bedtime. As a last alternative, surgery is also an option if other therapies do not work for a person.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms listed above, it is best to speak with a doctor and undergo testing. It may be that a person is unaware of having sleep apnea, but the risk factors and subtle symptoms may provide a clue. Restful sleep is key to having a good and productive day, so do not delay in seeking professional help.
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