Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleeping disorder characterized by pauses or difficulty in breathing during sleep. These pauses are caused by an obstruction of the airway, usually by the collapsing of the soft tissues in the back of the throat when the body relaxes. Snoring and snorting often accompany this particular disorder. It is important to note however that not all people who suffer from this problem snore, and that not all people who snore are affected by OSA.

Because sleep apnea happens while the sufferer is asleep, it is very hard for someone to self-diagnose this disorder and few people are even aware that they have OSA. Often, it’s their partner who will complain of loud snoring during the night. They may even notice the pauses during breathing, which typically last 20-40 seconds and can happen many times per night.

Signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea

A few symptoms could indicate whether a person suffers from obstructive sleep apnea. The common symptoms are:

  • Loud snoring during the night
  • Pauses in breathing while asleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Excessive fatigue during the day

Here are some more subtle signs that could indicate the presence of a sleeping disorder in a person:

  • Morning headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Digestive problems

Who is at risk?

Adults and children can both experience obstructive sleep apnea. Men are the most prone to be subject to this disorder. Women, on the other hand, typically tend to have symptoms that are less acute.

Obesity plays an important role in the development of OSA. People who carry excessive weight tend to have excessive soft tissues in the facial and throat area. This condition often leads them to develop difficulties breathing at night.

Old age is another factor that plays a role in the development of OSA. As the body ages, it generally loses muscle tone in the upper airways. This can cause soft tissues at the back of the throat to collapse more easily.

Some lifestyle factors also influence the development of OSA. Alcohol consumption, smoking and medication that increase sleepiness have been shown to increase the likelihood of this disorder developing.

Dangers of untreated sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious condition that can have important consequences on the health of a person. If left untreated, acute sleep apnea can lead to cardiovascular diseases and even death. Untreated sleep apnea can lead to the following conditions:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Treatment

Thankfully, there are many ways to treat this disorder. Here are the three most common ways to treat OSA.

CPAP

The most popular choice by far is the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device while sleeping. The CPAP machine comes with a mask that is attached to the patient’s head. The mask supplies the patient with air, helping him or her breathe throughout the night.

Oral appliance therapy

Oral appliance therapy is sometimes used to treat mild cases of sleep apnea. A mouthpiece similar to a mouth guard is placed in the mouth of the patient. This mouthpiece helps to keep the airways open throughout the night.

Surgery

Surgery can sometimes be used to cure sleep apnea. By removing excessive soft tissues from the back of the mouth, the patient can sometimes breathe better at night. The opinions regarding whether surgery for obstructive sleep apnea are mixed, as some patients see their disorder coming back some time after surgery.

If you think you might suffer from OSA, it would be wise to consult with a doctor who will help you diagnose the problem and offer you specific treatments for sleep apnea adapted to your particular situation.

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