What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs during sleep. It consists of the patient’s airway collapsing for at least 10 seconds, preventing oxygen from entering the lungs and therefore the oxygen in the blood decreases and the patient’s sleep is not restful.
What are the consequences?
The consequences of sleep apnea are due to the 2 phenomena it produces, on the one hand a non-restorative sleep and on the other hand the decrease of oxygen in the blood during sleep. Due to the non-restorative sleep the patient wakes up with the sensation of not having rested well and has a tendency to fall asleep during the day in situations such as driving, which is a danger to other users, watching TV, etcetera. On the other hand, the decrease of oxygen in the blood, causes the heart has to make an overexertion and that is manifested in an increase in blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, having a mortality four times higher than patients who do not suffer from apnea.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed?
The diagnosis of sleep apnea is initially a diagnosis of suspicion in patients who are very sleepy during the day, who have not rested well, and a loud snoring. But the only way to accurately diagnose sleep apnea is to do an examination during the night using a system called polysomnography. This system interprets a lot of parameters such as the electroencephalogram during sleep, the respiratory movement of the rib cage, the heartbeat and the oxygen saturation in the blood. With all these parameters we can know how many apnea pa-pauses a patient has had during the night and how far his blood oxygen level has dropped and thus determine if the sleep apnea is mild, moderate, severe or if there is no sleep apnea.
What is the treatment?
The treatment of sleep apnea consists of avoiding those apnea pauses that occur during the night and for that we have a device called CPAP that what it does is to introduce air at a high pressure in the airway and prevents it from collapsing at any time. This device is connected to the patient by means of a mask and the patient has to sleep with it during the whole night and logically every day, in this way we will prevent the patient from having amnea.
Is there any definitive treatment?
Yes, logically there are treatments that are curative of sleep apnea. We reserve them for patients who do not want to live their whole life depending on a machine such as CPAP or for patients who simply cannot tolerate it, because they cannot breathe well with the device in place or simply cannot sleep with it. Basically, what these treatments do is to widen the airway by acting at two levels. On the one hand, we have a type of operations that act on the soft parts of the airway such as the palate, turbinates, nasal septum or the base of the tongue. These types of surgeries are simple surgeries that are often performed under local anesthesia and sedation and with a quick recovery of 4 or 5 days. However, it is not always effective and in the most serious cases we need to make another type of intervention that consists of cutting the bones of the face and advance them in such a way that we can increase in a very important way the airway. This type of surgery is always performed under general anesthesia. It is an operation that lasts between 2 and 3 hours and, although it may seem very complicated, the recovery of the patients is quite fast, and they can return to their normal life in a period that ranges between 7 and 15 days.