Sleep apnea is a condition in which the patient stops breathing intermittently during sleep.
These pauses in breathing can occur anywhere from a few times to dozens of times per night depending on the severity of the illness.
As the brain will command the body to wake up when suffocating, patients will suffer from disruptive sleep and therefore cannot rest well.
It results in daytime sleepiness, difficulty in concentration and unresponsiveness, which may lead to accidents and dangers if the patients operate machines or drive under such condition.
In general, the symptoms of sleep apnea are quite obvious, such as snoring, shallow breathing and suffocation during sleep. Patients will have a hard time to wake up, sometimes accompanied by headaches and dry mouth.
However, they mostly are unaware that they have this condition. A bed partner or family member is often the person to notice the symptoms.
Some may think that low quality of sleep is no big deal but the fact is that sleep apnea affects not only the quality or rest, it also leads to various complications, including affecting cardiopulmonary function, increasing the chances of having high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood cholesterol, stroke and heart disease.
Sleep apnea is considered a chronic condition and requires proper treatment.
Older people with reduced muscles and people with obesity are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). People with shorter chin and narrow upper respiratory tract may also have a higher chance of getting OSA.
Moreover, problems, like stroke, which affect the transmission of respiratory signals, can cause central sleep apnea.
Some children may have sleep apnea due to excessive gland obstruction of the respiratory tract.
If you suspect that you or your family members have sleep apnea, you should seek medical advice and complete a sleep apnea screening assessing the quality of sleep, which can be done in a hospital or at home.
The doctor will advise a suitable treatment according to the severity of your sleep apnea. Common treatments include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and dental appliances to widen the upper respiratory tract.
Some patients may need surgery that involves cutting away of excess tissue or re-structure of the respiratory tract to improve the condition.
Patients should also modify their lifestyle, for instance, by maintaining healthy habits and losing weight. They should exercise regularly and have a healthy diet to maintain a moderate weight to lower their chance of having sleep apnea.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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