Sleep apnea is a major problem today in a significant segment of the population. Both adults and children are affected. Studies have it that as many as 9% of women and 24% of men suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Many conventional treatment methodologies for this condition and even obtaining the diagnosis itself can be quite expensive. Hence, there is a lot of emphasis on home diagnosis and self treatment via home remedies.
But first, how can one diagnose sleep apnea at home? Is it necessary to undergo costly diagnostic tests like polysomnography to diagnose sleep apnea? The answer is no. While these tests can provide a definitive diagnose of obstructive sleep apnea, the necessity of lab tests or a hospital admission to determine if a patient is suffering from sleep disorder, is not always necessary. The main signs of obstructive sleep apnea are – snoring, sleepiness during daytime or waking hours and observation by others during sleep.
Snoring is an important sign that cannot be missed by anyone. It is important to note that not all cases of snoring are due to sleep apnea. However, most sleep apnea patients do snore to some extent. Snoring is the result of partial obstruction to the upper airway, due to collapse of some of the soft tissue of the throat on to the air way of the pharynx, larynx (voice box) or trachea (windpipe). Chronic difficulty in respiration due to obstruction also produces disturbed sleep during the night. The result is what is called a “pickwickian syndrome” or the “sleepy Joe” appearance, described by Charles Dickens in his novels. Such patients are sleepy during the day time and may also show profound behavioral disorders such as irritability and inability to concentrate. When other psychological disorders are ruled out, the possibility of sleep disorders need to be considered. Observation of the patient by the spouse or partner can usually lead to suspicion of this sleep disorder. Look to see if the patient misses any breaths while sleeping. In sleep apnea the period of apnea or absent respiration is more than 10 seconds, and often may last longer than 30 seconds. This simple method of timing the period of missed breaths is sufficient to suspect sleep apnea. In more serious cases, there may be 1 to 2 periods of sleep apnea every minute.
Reduce body weight by about 4 to 7 pounds (2 to 3 kilos). This weight loss should help to reduce the mass of fatty tissue around the neck and chest, which should make breathing easier and relieve the degree of obstruction. Try not to sleep on the back. This position can cause the tongue to fall onto the upper airway causing obstruction. Also, use a few pillows to elevate the head while sleeping. A flower extract called vervain can sometimes be used to improve the patient’s relaxation during sleep. Others recommend using small amounts of the drug 5-HT (5-hydroxy tryptamine) which affects the levels of the brain chemical serotonin, producing better sleep. Try to avoid taking drugs and alcohol both of which have an adverse effect on respiration during sleep.