Sleep apnea is a common and often undiagnosed sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a condition where a person’s breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep, leading to excessively loud snoring, daytime fatigue, and an increased risk of health complications.
While many people may dismiss their snoring or daytime sleepiness as normal, it is crucial to recognize the symptoms of sleep apnea and seek proper treatment. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available to help sleep apnea patients improve their health and quality of life.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that can have serious consequences, causing breathing to repeatedly stop and start during the night. There are three main types of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type. This condition occurs when the throat muscles relax and block the airway.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) happens when the brain fails to send proper signals to the breathing muscles, leading to interruptions in breathing.
- Treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, or complex sleep apnea, is a combination of OSA and CSA that can occur when someone seeks therapy for OSA.
What Causes Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can experience sleep apnea, but certain people are at a higher risk of developing this condition than others. CSA is most likely to affect middle-aged and older people, especially men, than younger people and women. A history of stroke or heart disorders or taking narcotic pain medications may also increase your risk.
When it comes to OSA, several factors can contribute to your likelihood of developing this condition:
- Age: OSA occurs more frequently in older adults than children or younger people.
- Excess Weight: Obesity can cause fat deposits around the upper airway that obstruct breathing.
- Family History: If people in your family have OSA, you are more likely to develop OSA yourself.
- Narrowed Airway: A narrow throat or enlarged tonsils or adenoids can obstruct the airway. This is one of the most common risk factors for OSA in children.
- Neck Circumference: People with thicker necks may have narrower airways, heightening the risk of OSA.
- Alcohol, Sedative, or Tranquilizer use: These substances can relax the muscles in the throat, worsening OSA.
- Nasal Congestion: Difficulty breathing through the nose due to allergies or anatomical problems can increase the risk of developing this condition.
- Smoking: Smokers are much more likely to have OSA than non-smokers. Smoking can also increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway, both of which may contribute to this condition.
- Medical Conditions: A history of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, hormonal disorders, stroke, polycystic ovary syndrome, and chronic lung diseases such as asthma can all increase the risk of OSA.
- Gender: Like CSA, men are more likely to have OSA than women. Women increase their risk if they are overweight or have gone through menopause.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may have some form of sleep apnea. In these situations, you should consult with a doctor as soon as possible to determine your best course of treatment:
- Excessively loud snoring
- Irritability during the day
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Experiencing morning headaches
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, also known as hypersomnia
- Difficulty staying asleep, also known as insomnia
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
- Episodes where breathing stops during sleep
Both CSA and OSA share similar symptoms, so you will need to speak with a medical professional to determine which type you have.
Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea Patients
If sleep apnea is left untreated, it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other conditions. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments available to help manage this chronic disorder and improve sleep quality.
CPAP Machines and Other Airway Pressure Devices
Moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea can be effectively treated with a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. Known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, the air pressure is slightly greater than that of the surrounding air, keeping your upper airway passages open and preventing apnea and snoring.
While CPAP is considered the most reliable treatment for sleep apnea, some individuals may find it cumbersome or uncomfortable to use. However, with practice, most people learn to adjust the mask tension and obtain a comfortable fit. You may need to try different types of masks before finding the one that suits you best. It’s also important to notify your healthcare provider if you experience persistent snoring or if your weight changes, as the CPAP pressure settings may need to be adjusted.
If you have difficulties using the CPAP machine, don’t hesitate to speak with your healthcare provider to explore other options. Automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) machines, which adjust pressure settings during sleep, and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines, which provide more pressure when you inhale and less when you exhale, are alternative options for people who are unable to tolerate traditional CPAP interventions.
If CPAP therapy is not an option for you, wearing an oral appliance may be a viable alternative. These devices are designed to keep your throat open during sleep and are often easier to use than CPAP machines. Some oral appliances work by moving your jaw forward, which can alleviate mild obstructive sleep apnea and snoring.
For milder cases of sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to help reduce or remove some of the risk factors that may be contributing to the condition. These adjustments may include:
- Losing weight
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding alcohol and certain medications
- Changing sleep positions
Injured by a Defective CPAP Machine? Contact an Attorney
While CPAP machines can provide significant relief for sleep apnea patients, some of these devices are made with dangerous polyester-based polyurethane (PE-PUR) foam. This material can degrade and travel into the lungs, causing dangerous complications such as respiratory issues and an increased risk of cancer. If you were injured by a defective CPAP machine, you may qualify for legal action. Speak to a Philips CPAP recall attorney today to discuss your legal options.
By filing a lawsuit against the CPAP manufacturer, you can recover financial compensation to pay for the losses that you endured. If you believe that you are eligible for litigation, contact an attorney today to plan your next steps.