Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition that is closely related to snoring. When left untreated for years, it may have a serious consequences and it endangers the patient with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.


Sleep apnea usually occurs in obese people. It is related to muscle weakness of the soft palate and nasopharyngeal area. In horizontal position and when sleeping, the soft palate may move to such position that it block the back part of nasopharynx. The risk is increased in people who lie on their back and in people who smoke or drink alcohol before sleep.


Note: Snoring in children is usually caused by adenoid, which is enlarged nasopharyngeal tonsil that can block the nasopharynx.


The affected person breathes by mouth, snores and periodically stops breathing for a short while. These periods of breathlessness recur during the night and one period may last few dozens of seconds. When the blood level of oxygen drops, the person wakes up reflexively and begins to breathe. After a while one falls asleep and the situation may repeat. The affected person is tired and suffers from headaches during the day because the sleep is insufficient.


The defensive reaction of the organism forcing the person to wake up have a serious long-term negative effect as they cause secondary hypertension and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as the heart attack or stroke.


The snoring is found easily and in obese people with hypertension, there is a high risk that it is a part of the sleep apnea syndrome. The patient should be examined in a sleep lab, where the doctors evaluate the sleep quality, blood level of oxygen and actual blood pressure.


It is advisable to lose weight and avoid alcohol before going to sleep. If possible, the best position is on the side and not on the back. It is recommended to sleep in well aired room with temperature below 20°C.


The treatment may focus on the soft palate, which closes the nasopharynx. There is a possible surgical intervention that includes the removal of uvula and other structures located in the rear of the oral cavity that cause the obstruction to airflow. Less invasive is a laser procedure that leads to scarring and atrophy of the rear part of the soft palate, which also improves breathing and reduces snoring.


The other therapeutic option is regular usage of a device known as CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This device is a machine with a hose and a mask. This mask is attached to the patients face during the sleep and the machine maintains higher pressure of inhaled air. This pressure prevents the soft tissues of nasopharynx to collapse and prevents the sleep apnea.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources