The diagnosis of apnea in a person is based upon several elements of diagnosis:
- the person awakes numerous times during the night
- the oxygen the sleeper is registering is below normal
- the sleeper snores
- sleep is not refreshing
- the person is sleepy during the day
- a bed partner will notice that there are pauses in the person’s breathing
Based upon these criteria, a doctor will determine that the person is suffering from a condition called sleep apnea. Depending upon the severity of the case, the person may need no medical solutions. But in the case of moderate or severe sleep apnea, some form of correction is required. Not to do so could result in dramatic consequences, including death. Someone with uncontrolled sleep apnea may lose several years of life which could have been captured by fairly simple responses when diagnosed. It is a progressive condition, in which the incidence of obstructed breathing gets worse over time.
There are three types of sleep apnea – obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common, afflicting nine out of ten individuals who suffer from the disorder. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea, an obstruction is blocking the trachea (or wind pipe) from allowing air in and out of the lungs. Other causes of the obstruction include the possibility of too much fatty tissue in the area of the throat or that the throat muscles are too relaxed. The second type, central sleep apnea, results from the brain having crossed signals about normal breathing patterns. In this case “the muscles you use to breathe don’t get the ‘go-ahead’ signal from the brain. Either the brain doesn’t send the signal, or the signal gets interrupted.” This form is extremely rare. The third and final type, mixed sleep apnea, is a combination of the other two, though it generally has more in common with obstructive sleep apnea.” *
There is a surgical procedure for treating sleep apnea but it is seldom the prescribed solution. Results vary, making the use of surgery a less positive solution.
Under normal circumstances, the patient is encouraged to utilize what is called a CPAP mask. CPAP is an acronym which stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The mask, which is worn during sleep times, fits over the nose (and sometimes the mouth) and sends an unending stream of air through the breathing system, forcing open the areas that would otherwise be closed and restraining breathing. There are varieties of masks, each of which is effective, but which are customized to the patient’s individual needs. The tube which carries the air is attached to a fairly quiet machine which pumps the air throughout the sleeping period.
Many people in their “senior” years require the use of a CPAP mask or other form of correction for sleep apnea. Because without it there is an incomplete breathing system, a patient will be tired during the day, and as one ages, the sleep pattern may occur at unlikely times during the day. (Such as when driving!) Research is constantly dealing with sleep apnea in the hope of discovering a less cumbersome method for dealing with this seemingly benign, but dangerous condition.
Apnea is from an Old English word which means “wind.” It’s not difficult to see the connection to its use today.
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