How Dangerous is Sleep Apnea and How to Recognize You Have It



Snoring is hard work; that’s why you’re waking up in the morning just as tired as when you went to sleep. Unfortunately, chronic loud snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, a disorder which can punch deep holes in your long-term wellbeing unless diagnosed and treated timely. But why is sleep apnea such a major health concern, what are its symptoms and health risks, and what can you do to counteract it?

Beyond the Snore: The Basics of Sleep Apnea

Statistics show over 18 million Americans have a case of sleep apnea, and the number of people affected by the disorder is on the rise. Sleep apnea is characterized by snoring and gasping since the passages of the upper airway close during sleep, thus interrupting breathing and cutting off oxygen supply until the sleeper wakes up and begins to breathe again. The brief pauses between breaths during sleep can occur up to hundreds of times a night, leading to reduced sleep quality, daytime drowsiness and focus dips, increased risk of a range of conditions, and higher likelihood of early death from all causes.

Sleep apnea is usually classified into three types, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) being the most common. In OSA, the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes and falls back during sleep, thus blocking the airway. A less common type of the disorder, central sleep apnea (CSA) occurs when the central nervous system fails to signal to the muscles to make the effort and inhale air, whereas complex sleep apnea is a mix of OCA and CSA.

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Gasp, Snore, Repeat: Sleep Apnea Symptoms

If you’re not sure whether you have sleep apnea, here are some of the common symptoms you should keep an eye out on:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Snoring and gasping
  • Poor focus and/or memory
  • Low energy levels
  • Morning headaches
  • Moodiness
  • Insomnia
  • Restless sleep

If you’ve ticked off more than one symptom from the list above, it’s a sign you should undergo sleep apnea testing as soon as possible and consult your doctor about best type of treatment for your condition. If you suspect there is more to your nighttime discomforts than just an odd gasp, you can take a home sleep apnea test before you visit the local clinic: after all, not just about every snore is a sign you need apnea therapy.

The Long-Term Toll: Sleep Apnea Health Risks

Unless diagnosed timely, sleep apnea can contribute to a range of health issues such as elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, weight gain, obesity, and cardiovascular problems. In addition to that, sleep apnea can increase the risk of sexual dysfunction, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and chronic headaches, which is all the more reason to take the test if you’re feeling low even after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Apart from physical health glitches, untreated sleep apnea can up the risk of psychological issues such as depression and anxiety, and it can also lead to cognitive impairment if left untreated.

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No Snores in Sight: Sleep Apnea Treatments

Once diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may have to make a few lifestyle changes if you want to prevent the disorder from wreaking havoc on your long-term health.

1. Losing Weight

If you don’t lose extra weight fast, it can completely ruin your sleep quality. To ease sleep apnea and prevent it from getting out of hand, make diet tweaks and take up a workout that will put your sleep quality and waistline on the right and healthy track.

2. Change Sleep Position

Changing your sleeping position can alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea. If you want to ditch snores from the nighttime agenda, you can experiment with different postures ‘till you’ve found the right one.

3. No Smoking – or Alcohol

Smoking and alcohol abuse can aggravate sleep apnea, which is why you should quit both if you wish to rid yourself and your bed mate of snores, gasps, and other symptoms of the disorder.

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Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a treatment which improves oxygen supply for sleep apnea patients. A mask is placed over the nose and/or mouth, delivering an uninterrupted flow of air to the person’s lungs and helping keep the airways open.

5. Surgery for Sleep Apnea

If all else fails, your doctor can recommend surgery to eradicate sleep apnea. The most common procedures performed for sleep apnea include nasal surgery, mandibular maxillar advancement surgery, and uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.

Sleep tight, and don’t let sleep apnea bite off chunks of your health and sleep quality. After all, life’s too short to spend another night tossing, turning, and gasping for air. Good night!

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