Asthmatics Have a 40% Greater Risk of Sleep Apnea
According to the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, those suffering with asthma have a 40% greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. About 550 men and women participated in the study, all between the ages of 30 – 60 years of age. After 4 years, 27% of those who entered the study with asthma showed signs of sleep apnea. Only 16% of non-asthmatics who entered the study showed new signs of sleep apnea. However, by study’s’ end, the authors concluded that those with asthma were 40% more likely to acquire sleep apnea.

Sleep Apnea Sufferers Show Signs of Alzheimer’s Earlier
And in an unrelated study performed by the NYU School of Medicine, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and snoring may be associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The study indicated that participants who had sleep apnea tended to be diagnosed with a mild form of Alzheimer’s at 77 years, a full decade before others who didn’t exhibit the sleeping disorder. When treated with a CPAP, the signs of Alzheimer’s were delayed significantly, up to 10 years. The key here is that regulating sleeping patterns did not cure or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s but it did seem to delay it.

It’s important to note that the study’s author warned that it only indicated an association between sleep disruption and mild mental impairment (such as Alzheimer’s). It was not clinically proven that sleep apnea caused mental impairment.

What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
If you have sleep apnea you may not know it, but you may know the symptoms. If you feel tired after a full night’s sleep or if you snore, it could be an indication that you have sleep apnea. It is a potentially dangerous disorder that occurs when you suddenly stop and start breathing while sleeping. Not only can sleep apnea lead to fatigue and heart disease, but studies such as the aforementioned NYU School of Medicine study show that it may contribute to cognitive decline and memory loss.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  1. Obstructive sleep apnea: This occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep, closing the airway and causing snoring. When this occurs, the brain wakes you up so that you can open your airways and take a breath. You may not awake fully, and the awakenings may occur multiple times a night, preventing you from getting a productive, deep sleep. People with sleep apnea may experience sleep disruptions five to thirty times1, sometimes even more, every hour during the night.
  2. Central sleep apnea: This type occurs when the muscles that control breathing don’t function properly. It’s a less common type of sleep apnea that occurs when the brain stops sending signals to tell the body to breathe. When that happens, the body wakes up in order to start breathing again.
  3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome: This is a combination of obstructive and central sleep apnea

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
Both children and adults can suffer from sleep apnea. In some cases, the symptoms of sleep apnea in children may be mistaken for hyperactivity, lethargy, or learning disabilities.

You may need someone who sleeps with, or near, you to tell you that you snore, but you may experience some of the other symptoms personally that linger after you are awake. Perhaps the most telltale symptom of sleep apnea is feeling chronically tired and fatigued even after getting what you perceive to be a good night’s sleep. Other symptoms of sleep apnea can include:

  • Snoring that is loud and may include choking sounds
  • Appearance that you have stopped breathing while sleeping
  • Waking up abruptly and feeling short of breath
  • Waking up with a sore throat or dry mouth
  • Having a headache in the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling extremely sleepy during the day
  • Trouble paying attention during the day – may be especially evident in children with sleep apnea
  • Increased irritability

The Risks of Sleep Apnea
There are many health risks associated with untreated sleep apnea, caused by dropping blood oxygen levels through the night. Chief among them are high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and cognitive decline.

Sleep apnea can also contribute to the risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Daytime sleepiness and the risk of falling asleep while driving
  • Liver problems and scarring of the liver

Diagnosis of sleep apnea
The most accurate diagnosis of sleep apnea is made in a sleep lab or sleep center. Sleep centers have bedrooms where you will sleep for the night. The activity of the heart, brain and lungs are monitored while you sleep. Breathing patterns and blood oxygen levels are measured as well. A pulmonologist, who is also a sleep specialist, will read the report of the body’s activity during the night and determine whether sleep apnea is present.

Treatment of sleep apnea
A pulmonologist and/or an ear, nose, throat specialist will recommend the best treatment for sleep apnea. In cases where obstructive sleep apnea is diagnosed, an ear, nose, throat specialist should be consulted to determine if it is being caused by a blockage in the nose or throat.

In general, sleep apnea is treated with a device called a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine that introduces oxygen into the airways to keep them open during sleep. A mask worn over the nose delivers air pressure that is greater than that of the surrounding air, preventing the airways from closing. The CPAP machine is considered the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, in some cases more successful and long-lasting than surgery. The study5 regarding the connection between sleep apnea and early cognitive decline stated that “CPAP treatment of sleep disorder breathing may delay progression of cognitive impairment.”

There are various types of machines that deliver oxygen to the airways, including the Expiratory positive airway pressure (EPAP), a single use device.

Some oral appliances are designed to keep the throat and airways open by moving the jaw forward. Dentists can help to provide these types of devices.

In some cases, surgery is necessary to address the cause of sleep apnea but only after other treatments have been tried and failed to address the disorder. Surgery can remove extra tissue in the throat, tonsils or nose that is blocking the airways during sleep.

Losing weight may help to address sleep apnea. When excess weight is present around the neck, it can press on the airway while lying down. Losing weight can removes that pressure and relieve the airways.

Stop smoking. Smokers are three times6 more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

Narrowed airways and nasal congestion are risks for developing sleep apnea. They should be diagnosed and treated appropriately.

Snoring is fodder for numerous jokes and TV sitcom situations, but it is also hazardous to your short term and long-term health. If you feel for prolonged periods of time that you can’t get a good night’s sleep, despite sleeping seven hours or more, consult a physician and ask about getting checked for sleep apnea. It can help to keep your heart, your brain and your relationships healthy.


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