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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep medicine is a relatively new speciality in the medical community. The research and study of sleep patterns and their effect on overall health has identified many sleep disorders, including sleep disordered breathing (SDB) conditions. Apnea, literally meaning “without breath”, occurs when there in an interruption to airflow during normal breathing. As there are different causes of apnea and levels of severity, a sleep test and a medically supported diagnosis to find the underlying cause of the apnea are the first steps toward finding effective treatment. Snoring is often associated with but not limited to sleep apnea

Primary Snoring – Snoring occurs when the upper throat muscles partially relax restricting the airway and limiting the amount of air that can pass through. The sound of snoring is caused by vibration of the relaxed throat tissue as air moves through the restricted airway. Even loud snoring can often be helped by wearing a fitted dental appliance during sleep which moves the lower jaw slightly forward. Snoring is considered a social problem, not a medical one. As the sleep of family members is often affected by snoring, finding a solution helps everyone rest easier.

Types of Sleep Apnea Are:

1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea – Also called OSA, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep. Although the muscles of the upper throat which hold the airway open should continue to do so during sleep, they sometimes relax and block the upper airway passage. The tongue can also relax, moving to the back of the throat and blocking the airway. The brain sends a signal to the respiratory muscles to breathe but because of the airway blockage, breath is not possible. OSA happens in both sexes and at all ages however, it is more common in men. Those most likely to have OSA experience loud snoring, are overweight, or have high blood pressure. There may also be a physical abnormality in the upper airway, nose or throat that causes the airway to be blocked.

2. Central Sleep Apnea – Also called CSA, central sleep apnea occurs when there is a lack of communication between the brain and the muscles that control the functions of inhaling and exhaling. As the signals are not sent from the brain, the muscles don’t respond. Central sleep apnea is commonly associated with other medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, degenerative conditions of the spine, or conditions that affect the brain stem. The symptoms of central sleep apnea vary according to other underlying conditions, but may include difficulty swallowing or experiencing weakness or numbness in the body. An in-depth sleep test called a polysomnogram can help to diagnose this sleep disorder.

3. Complex Sleep Apnea – Also called Mixed Sleep Apnea, this condition is a combination of neurological causes as in Central Sleep Apnea and the physical obstruction of the upper airway as in obstructive sleep apnea. An in-depth sleep test called a polysomgram can help diagnose this sleep disorder.

What are the Risks of Sleep Apnea?

The severity of sleep apnea is determined by how frequently the apneas occur and how low the blood oxygen levels fall. This is observed by undergoing a sleep test which measures the amount of oxygen in your blood, snoring, and breathing patterns during sleep. An in-depth sleep test called a polysomnogram also monitors EEG (brain waves), oxygen levels, snoring, ECG, movements during sleep and various other signals.

Apneas typically last from 10-60 seconds and can occur at varying times throughout the night. In mild cases, apneas can occur every 10 minutes or so while severe cases can experience apneas every minute or so. Symptoms of sleep apnea – like gasping for breath, loud snoring, or thrashing – are caused by a person’s brain instinctively trying to wake them to restore breathing. This constant interruption fragments the sleep, not allowing the body to experience restorative sleep. Although sleep disordered breathing conditions can’t be cured, they can be effectively managed to minimize the symptoms of sleep apnea and reduce the long-term health risks associated with untreated conditions which include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.

Pacific Sleep Care on Vancouver Island provides a medically supported diagnosis of sleep apnea, state-of-the-art treatment options including CPAP therapy and BiPAP therapy, dental appliances, and ongoing professional support.