What is Sleep Apnea?

In the Greek language, Apnea means “want of breath.”  The term APNEA means a suspension in one’s breathing process. When this occurs, there will be a cessation of muscle movement specifically responsible for inhalation. In layman’s term, this is commonly known as holding one’s breath.  Sleep Apnea is a medical condition that can affect anyone, even children.

SLEEP-APNEAThe disease was discovered the year 1965 however, it wasn’t named and confirmed as a disorder until the latter part of the twentieth century. Prior to its confirmation as an actual disease, it was considered as a simple, upper airway closure mishap and so treatment for the condition was mainly focused on removal of the obstruction known as Tracheostomy.

In 1981, the device known as the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) via a Nasal Mask was introduced and this has been the number one go to treatment for the disease up until this day.

There are 3 types of Sleep Apnea:

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)- This is the most common of the 3 types. The fatty/ soft tissues located at the back of the throat relax during sleep and in turn blocks the airways, causing the loud snoring sound to occur.

People who are predisposed to this type are as follows:

  • Being male
  • Overweight
  • 40 years old and above
  • Smokers, consumption of Alcohol, tranquilizers or sedatives
  • Suffering from GERD
  • Other factors include family history, sinus problems and physical attributes ( an example is having a large tongue, tonsils and having a small jaw bone.)


  1. Central Sleep Apnea- This is a less common type of sleep apnea. This involves the central nervous system of the body. What happens is that the brain fails to signal the muscles that control our breathing. Another thing that’s unique about this type is that people with this condition seldom snore.

People who are predisposed to this condition belong to the following:

  • Older people
  • People suffering from Heart Disorders
  • People who suffered from Stroke
  • Use of Narcotic Pain medications
  1. Complex sleep apnea – is a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

What are the common Signs & Symptoms that might indicate that one has this condition?

1. Snoring:

Chronic, loud and disruptive snoring that occurs on a nightly basis is the most common symptom of this condition yet.  During snoring, there is a partial obstruction or blockage as the air is being restricted from moving smoothly through airways.

2. Pauses in Breathing

The fatty tissues in the tongue and throat become relaxed and fall back into our airway passages which causes snoring, restricts airflow and causes one to stop breathing for a while. This can occur between 5 – 30 times in an hour lasting up to 10-20 seconds at a time.

3. Unexplained Tiredness/Fatigue

The frequent pauses in breathing on a nightly basis add up a lot to the lost time in quantity and quality of one’s nightly sleep.

4. Frequent Headaches when Waking Up

When disruptions in breathing occur, less oxygen gets into one’s brain. This causes the widening of the blood vessels in the brain which causes vascular headaches.

5. High Blood Pressure

Similar to headaches, there will be a low oxygen level in the blood which alerts the body, causing a spike in the blood pressure as it restricts your blood vessels to kick starts your system into working again

6. Being Overweight and/or Obese

Obese/overweight people tend to have more fatty tissues in the body. This will usually build up around the neck and throat area. These excesses in fatty tissues cause the fall back into the airways causing obstructions during sleeping.

7. Having Mood Swings (being depressed, irritable)

Lack of quality sleep causes one to become moody, irritable and at most depressed.

Treatments and Management of this condition varies. It ranges from lifestyle change, mechanical intervention and pharmacologic treatments.

Because being obese/overweight is the most common factor that can make one predisposed to this condition, weight reduction and maintaining an ideal weight, although hard, is going to be very beneficial for the patient in the long run.

Other methods include the use of CPAP or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) device and oral appliance (OA) therapy. CPAP is the go-to/ the standard treatment for OSA and it can generally reverse the condition quickly with the appropriate titration devices.

Medications/ Pharmacologic treatments are not part of the primary treatment for this condition. Currently, there is no clinically useful drug therapy that is available.

There are also things that can be done on your own to help make the situation better. This can be a good option for patients who have mild to moderate sleep apnea. K

Types of Self-Help Treatment:

1. Sleep on Your Side

This prevents the tongue from falling back into the throat which causes blockage in the airways and snoring.

2. Tennis Ball or Pillow Trick

Sew a tennis ball into the pocket at the back of your nightgown/pajama top or wedge a pillow full of tennis balls behind your back. This will keep your upper body prop up and will prevent you from going into the supine position.

3. Keep Your Head Up

If possible, elevate the head of your bed about 6 inches or keep your body from the waist up using a pillow or with the use of a special cervical pillow.

4. Keep Nasal Passages Open

This can be done with the use of nasal dilators, breathing strips, saline sprays or a nasal irrigation system.

5. Muscle Control Exercises for the Mouth

There are 3 muscles that we use to keep our mouths closed. These are the Temporalis, Medial Pterygoid, and Masseter muscles. Before bedtime, try chewing gum or placing a pen between your teeth for approximately 10 minutes until the jaw starts to ache.

6. Throat Exercises

Like the mouth exercises, throat exercises can reduce the severity of the condition by strengthening the airway muscles, making them less likely to collapse. Patience is needed for this one because it may take several weeks before results can be noticed.


Place and press the length of the tongue at the roof of the mouth and hold it there for 3 minutes per day.

7. Alternative Remedies

A patient can also practice singing as it strengthens the throat and soft palate which will prevent the airways muscles to go lax when sleeping.   Or play a musical instrument that needs the use of mouth. Example: trumpet.

Although there is no known cure for it yet, people suffering from this condition have several options that they can choose from as far as treatment is concerned. All in all, the prognosis for this condition is very positive if properly managed and treated.

However, keep in mind that if this disease goes unidentified and is not treated accordingly, this can be a life-threatening condition. People who are suffering from this and are unaware of their condition may be at risk for more serious conditions.