The most widespread form of sleep apnea is referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and is a condition marked by periods during which breathing ceases while you are sleeping. Occasionally this condition is called sleep apnea syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
In most healthy people the muscles which work the upper portion of the throat ensure that the air flow into and out of the lungs is both continuous and steady. While you are sleeping these muscles relax a little but still manage to do their job satisfactorily. But those people who suffer from sleep apnea frequently have airways which are narrowed and therefore when the muscles relax the airway partially or completely closes thereby stopping the passage of air to the lungs. Snoring and labored breathing leading to a sleep apnea episode will then result.
In some people breathing can also cease altogether during periods of deep sleep and medical experts and researchers are not sure about just why this occurs. These periods during which breathing ceases can last for as long as ten seconds or more and are known as sleep apnea episodes or apneic events.
These apneic events result in a degree of awareness that you have ceases breathing and you then struggle to breath again which is normally accompanied by choking, gasping or even snorting.
Thereafter you normally fall into a period of light sleep before the pattern of apneic events begins all over again.
The effect is that an individual suffers from fragmented sleep which does not allow them to get amount of rest which they need on a nightly basis. This can lead to a host of health problems including excessive daytime tiredness. One of the reasons for this daytime symptom is simply that the oxygen level in the blood stream falls significantly during an apneic event leading to a condition called hypoxia.
It is very important to know that many people with sleep apnea are unaware of their problem and frequently it must be left to others to bring the problem to their attention. Sleep apnea sufferers are usually aware of being very tired throughout the day but do not necessarily know why.
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud and habitual snoring, waking in the morning and not feeling rested, headaches in the morning, difficulties with concentration, changes in personality, falling asleep at inappropriate times, hypertension, hyperactivity (in children) and swelling of the legs in severe cases.
The initial step in identifying sleep apnea ought to a visit to the doctor who will read through your medical history and look at your neck, throat and mouth for signs of any growths or abnormalities. If your doctor suspects that you have sleep apnea he will refer you to a specialist sleep center for a sleep study and what is called a polysomnogram. This test records brain waves, eye movement, muscle activity, breathing rate, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and how much air is being inhaled and exhaled during sleep.