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Sleep apnea treatable

A popular treatment technique for obstructive sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure, involves wearing a mask that blows a stream of pressurized air into the nose to keep air-breathing passages open.

If your spouse snores loudly enough to keep you awake, you should think of seeking medical help. The snoring could be a sign of a potentially dangerous condition called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, a condition in which a temporary blockage of breathing occurs during sleep, is being increasingly recognized and diagnosed. It may promote high blood pressure, and can be particularly hazardous to those at high risk for heart attack or stroke.

During sleep, the muscles in the back of the throat may relax and block intake of air. A person cannot breathe for 10 to 60 seconds, begins to choke and wakes up briefly.

A person with sleep apnea may have as many as 1,000 such episodes each night. People who do not have breathing problems while awake may experience interrupted breathing during sleep.

The condition is fairly common, more so among men than women and increasingly with age. The main risk factor is marked obesity.

Procedure involves the surgical removal of excess tissue from the back of the throat. Also excised is the uvula, the flap of tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat.

Typically, people with sleep apnea are unaware of the condition, and their bed partners notice the characteristic loud snoring of sleep apnea. The noise often robs partners of sleep.

An important symptom of sleep apnea is sleepiness during the day, causing the person to doze off periodically. This not only affects job and personal life, but may be dangerous if the person drives.

Obstructive sleep apnea can be detected by a tape recording made while a person sleeps. Snoring associated with sleep apnea has a distinctive sound.

When attempting to treat obstructive sleep apnea, a physician first looks for an obvious cause, such as a receding chin or big tongue. Swollen tonsils or adenoids are often the cause of sleep apnea in children, and can be surgically removed.

When hay fever or some other allergy is a factor, treating it may improve sleep apnea.

For snoring or mild sleep apnea, preventive measures include not sleeping on one's back, which can make apnea worse. Some patients have sewn a tennis ball into the back of the pajama shirt to deter them from rolling onto their backs.

In addition to treatment, it is recommended that people with apnea not use sedatives, such as alcohol or sleeping pills, which may aggravate mild cases and be life-threatening in severe ones. Smoking should be shunned because it may cause swelling of the throat and nasal passages.

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