Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea of some sort, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common. So why are so few people talking about it?
If the tragic death of Carrie Fisher is any indication, we definitely aren't raising enough awareness about sleep apnea as a whole. Though drugs were a contributing factor in Carrie Fisher's death, the coroner's report listed sleep apnea as the main cause. It was not specified what type of sleep apnea she had, but since obstructive sleep apnea is the most widespread, it's certainly worth educating yourself about it and what you can do if you suspect you have it.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which your airway collapses or becomes blocked while you sleep, which causes you to have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Despite the fact that so many people suffer from it, it often goes undiagnosed, since doctors can't typically diagnose it during routine office visits. It's usually a family member or a significant other that notices signs of obstructive sleep apnea in a person.
Is obstructive sleep apnea dangerous?
It certainly can be. According to Psychology Today, early recognition and treatment are so important when it comes to sleep apnea because it can be potentially be associated with irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The people most at risk for sleep apnea are those who snore loudly and also are overweight, or have high blood pressure, or have some type of abnormality in the nose, throat, or upper airway. The biggest signs of sleep apnea include loud snoring, obesity, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should be referred to a specialized sleep center that can perform tests to figure out if obstructive sleep apnea is indeed the cause.
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Is obstructive sleep apnea curable?
So let's say you do have obstructive sleep apnea. The good news is that it is possible to cure it, according to Harvard Health Publications. In some cases, obstructive sleep apnea can be cured by losing a significant amount of weight. As some patients struggle to lose weight, many professionals recommend they use a continuous positive airway pressure device while they sleep in the meantime. Another option of ridding yourself of the condition for good is surgery to remove excess tissue from the palate or throat. However, surgery comes with side effects, so it's often viewed as a last resort.