Snoring and sleep apnea causes and cures have long been overlooked by the medical profession. It wasn’t so long ago when a visit to your GP with these problems would have been rewarded with a “it’s something you’ll have to live with” response. Fortunately these days things have changed and there are more possible solutions to these two connected disorders.
The other thing that has improved enormously is the increased number of sleep laboratories or clinics, where you can get diagnosed using current techniques such as polysomnography, to record and diagnose a person’s sleep.
Snoring occurs when the intake of air you breathe hits the floppy soft tissue at the back of the throat, which is relaxed whilst asleep. This causes increased air turbulence resulting in the noises so familiar to a snorer’s sleeping partner. Everyone snores – it has been estimated that there may be 750 million snorers worldwide.
Twice as many men as women snore. This could partly be to do with the inherent physiological differences of the shape and size of the neck in men and women or it could be the relationship to alcohol.
Snoring is not an illness but a symptom.
Studies have shown that snorers tend to be less healthy with higher blood pressure, a higher preponderance to angina and symptoms of arterial disease in the legs.
10 percent of snorers develop the potentially dangerous condition known as obstructive sleep apnea.
Snorers can be anyone and although not common even children suffer.
The shape of the head, jaw, the thickness of the neck, size of tonsils, adenoids and uvula (flap of skin at the back of the throat) can influence whether you snore or not.
A high proportion of overweight drinkers and smokers snore.
If your throat is a collapsible tube the muscles at the base of the tongue hold it open when you’re awake but the muscles relax when you sleep and the throat collapses. If there is a lot of fatty tissue in the throat the air flow is partially obstructed creating noisy air turbulence.
Sleep apnea ( or apnoea)
Snoring is not funny but forms of sleep apnea can be very dangerous. Sleep apnea occurs when no air at all passes through the nose or mouth for more than 10 seconds at a time. About 4 percent of men, twice as many as women are thought to be affected. That makes it more common than diabetes or asthma.
There are 3 types of sleep apnea, the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This is where the airway falls in on itself completely obstructing the air passage. The sleeper doesn’t know its happening but fortunately his brain, which is being starved of oxygen, does. A safety mechanism wakes the sleeper for an instant forcing a gasp of air. This can happen over and over again during the night.
With central sleep apnea the brain doesn’t send the right signals to tell you to breathe when asleep and mixed sleep apnoea is a combination of the two.
Because the sufferer is constantly waking he returns to stages 1 and 2 sleep and so may never get enough deep sleep that he would otherwise get in stage 4.
This may lead not only to daytime fatigue, moodiness and low concentration levels but also more seriously, to memory and intellect problems, mood swings and loss of libido.
Apart from which in the longer term, because bouts of sleep apnea reduces the supply of oxygen to the brain, the body gets pumped with additional quantities of adrenalin to wake the sufferer up causing the heart rate to speed up. This can be dangerous for anyone with an underlying heart condition.
Poor quality sleep and daytime fatigue is a much bigger problem than was first realised.
Sleep apnea causes
The greatest risk for developing sleep apnea is being an obese middle-aged male. The fact that obesity in the western world is becoming more common indicates a link with the increasing number of sleep apnea cases as well.
The structure of the face can be a large factor in causing the airway blockage. So jaw structure abnormality such as an overbite, large tonsils and adenoids, the shape of the hard palate and generally large neck and head can contribute the collapse of the airways when the muscles relax during sleep.
Of course what makes sleep apnea worse is anything that has a sedating affect on the muscles in the upper airway which includes alcohol and sleeping pills.
Sleep Apnea Cures
In mild cases it would be wise to try the “lifestyle change” option where you look at weight, smoking and alcohol consumption. These measures associated with a dental mouth device (like a sports gum shield); designed to hold the lower jaw and tongue forward can be totally effective.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is considered the most effective treatment for moderate to severe conditions of sleep apnea. It may not be a cure for sleep apnea, but most people agree the treatment works.
The machine is connected to a specially designed sleep apnea mask that forces a pressure of air into the airway which would have been specified by a sleep specialist after examination at a sleep centre where testing for sleep apnea is normally carried out.
Masks for sleep apnea come in a range of different styles and designs are available for those who feel closed in with the full face mask, nasal masks and also nasal cushions which are inserted into the nostrils.
Sleep apnea surgery
Surgery is an option but is generally not recommended and is becoming less and less so unless the circumstances are exceptional. If the cause of the obstruction is oversize tonsils or adenoids they can be removed by surgery. Same with the large palate and uvula which can be reduced in size by laser; this procedure is called laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty (LAUP). If a deformed jaw is the cause then this can be operated on as well.
Sleep apnea causes are not fully understood yet although an increasing amount of research is going into the sleep disorder, but it’s generally believed that CPAP is the preferred treatment even though a lot of people find it uncomfortable and inconvenient. Curing the problem would naturally be the answer to a lot of people’s prayers.