Sleep apnea is a condition where you repeatedly stop breathing during sleep.

There are two kinds of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is when the muscles in your throat relax during sleep, cutting off the flow of air to your body. This can happen 5-30 times an hour throughout the night. Central sleep apnea is when your brain doesn’t send signals to your body to breath during sleep. Central sleep apnea can be caused by heart problems or a stroke. When your breathing stops, you wake up and start breathing normally until you fall asleep again.

Sleep apnea causes the following symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or throat
  • Suddenly waking up with shortness of breath
  • Headache in the mornings
  • Attention problems

If untreated, sleep apnea can cause various other problems in the rest of your body.

  • The lack of oxygen can cause an increase in blood pressure, which itself increases the chances of heart problems or stroke.
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • The sleepiness can progress to fatigue
  • Increased risk of complications from medications and surgery
  • Liver problems
  • Cognitive issues such as memory problems, mood swings, or feelings of depression

These other complications can become disabling. High blood pressure is associated with heart problems and stroke, and if you already have high blood pressure you may not be able to work without putting yourself at even greater risk. Diabetes and liver problems also come with their own host of medical symptoms. Fatigue and cognitive changes can all drain your ability to do work. If your sleep apnea is related to other medical issues, then it’s possible that the combined symptoms of the sleep apnea and those other medical issues would be enough to keep you from working.

For mild cases, a doctor might ask you to use lifestyle changes that lower the risk of sleep apnea, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. For more severe cases, machines can be used. One way to treat sleep apnea is a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine, which uses air pressure to keep your throat muscles open when you sleep. If the CPAP machine is not enough, there are other machines your doctor may be able to get for you. If even the machines do not work and the sleep apnea is severe enough, your doctor might want to do surgery to alter your throat so that your breathing won’t be blocked anymore. Your doctor may also prescribe treatment for other medical problems you’re having if those problems are related to the sleep apnea.

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