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Why Sleep Apnea is Harmful


Haven’t had a solid night of sleep lately? You aren’t alone. While both depression and anxiety are on the rise worldwide due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, the elephant in the room just might not be the only beast. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association it is estimated that around 22 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders to include sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate and severe obstructed sleep apnea undiagnosed. Sleep apnea is a very disturbing and potentially damaging disorder. It is important to understand not only what sleep apnea is, but also the damage that it can cause to our bodies and what options we have to minimize the risks.

What is sleep apnea?

There are three different types of sleep apnea. The most common form is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA.)  Obstructive sleep apnea is most simply, an airway blockage. Usually OSA occurs when the tongue collapses against the soft palate and in turn the soft palate collapses against the back of the throat resulting in a blocked airway. There are two other forms of sleep apnea, Central and Complex. With Central Sleep apnea, unlike OSA, the airways are not actually blocked however the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe. Complex sleep apnea is a combination of both previously mentioned conditions. Having severe sleep apnea means your brain is being prompted numerous times a night to resume breathing. Not only will this cause a decline in the quality of your sleep, but having the disorder also continuously reduces the oxidization of the blood which contributes to the stress on your body.

What other problems can undiagnosed sleep apnea cause?

Left untreated, sleep apnea and chronic sleep loss can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. It also has been known to contribute to a significant increased risk in heart disease as well as obesity. Sleep disorders have been linked to substance abuse, on the job accidents, and overall total mortality; to include productivity, performance, and a reduced quality of life. The Institution of Medicine estimates that both the indirect and direct costs associated with sleep deprivation and disorders total hundreds of billions of dollars annually. This is a serious disorder that does not get enough attention. Sleep apnea left untreated can only have negative impact and effects on your healthy and quality of life.

What can we do to minimize risks?

Sleep apnea can be a huge health concern, however there is hope. Sleep apnea can be assessed and diagnosed; there are numerous avenues for treatment. Testing can be completed with at home kits as well as in various sleep studies conducted in clinics. Your provider can give you the best option catered specifically to your needs and symptoms. In some cases of sleep apnea, you may have to visit an ear nose and throat specialist (ENT) to rule out certain blockages. Other cases may possibly require a visit to the cardiologist or neurologist to determine indicating factors, but there are many certified professionals willing to help. Once your specific type and risk factors have been determined you will be able to move forward with treatments. Some doctors will recommend smaller day to day actions for milder cases, such as taking allergy medications or working on losing weight. In some cases you may be required to start more formal prescribed treatments.

What types of treatments are available?

More extreme cases of sleep apnea may require daily use of treatments. The most common of which is a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) A CPAP is a machine that uses a mask to deliver air pressure while you sleep. Because the air pressure provided with the CPAP is greater than the surrounding air, this keeps your passageways open. Keeping your passageways open can prevent snoring and sleep apnea. Sometimes it may take a few tries to get comfortable with your CPAP machine or the mask, but don’t give up. You can always contact your CPAP machine seller or inquire with your doctor for advice as to what improvements can be made to help it become a more positive experience for you. There are other pressure devices and oral appliances that can be utilized on a case to case basis if the CPAP proves to not be a good fit. In extreme cases, or in the case of all previously tried methods failing, surgery may be utilized to provide a more permanent relief. In some cases it may also be a good option to consider what other kinds of surgery could be needed or be utilized for overall long term success, such as surgery to remove enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or bariatric surgery to aid with weight loss. Both of these procedures have the capability to aid with blockage in your air passageways.

No matter what route you need take in your journey, it is important to start. Sleep apnea not only can disrupt our much needed rest, but can really cause more unwanted long term trouble. It is in our best interest to not only determine if we are at risk for sleep apnea, but what other factors could be up against our physical health as well.  Know your family history, sleeping habits, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are at risk or experiencing symptoms, talk to your health care provider as soon as possible. There are many sources available online. Take action, your sleep (and health) don’t have to suffer.


Article by: Mindi Flippen

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