Sleep-related disorders affect many people around the world. One such common sleep disorder is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (also called sleep apnea), a condition that affects at least one in fifteen people. Lots of people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but fewer than twenty percent are ever diagnosed or treated successfully. Sleep apnea left untreated can get worse and sometimes even fatal.
What is obstructive sleep apnea?
Although there are a few types of sleep apnea with different causes, obstructive sleep apnea is the most common among them. This condition is caused when the throat muscles relax and block the passage of the airway, making it difficult to breathe. The most important symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is snoring because breathing stops and starts periodically while the person is asleep. Almost all severe snorers suffer from sleep apnea, but not many are diagnosed.
Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea
There are several symptoms that can help diagnose obstructive sleep apnea. Some of them are:
Loud snoring: Most people snore lightly when they are in a deep sleep, but when it is loud enough to keep everyone else up, it indicates a problem. Loud snoring is a big sign of sleep apnea and needs a proper diagnosis.
Excessive daytime sleepiness: Daytime sleepiness can be caused by several reasons, but is most commonly caused by lack of sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea and a lack of nighttime sleep is a major reason behind excessive daytime sleepiness.
Dry throat: Waking up abruptly at night with a dry throat is a sign of snoring caused by sleep apnea.
Nighttime sweating: Waking up sweating at night, lacking concentration during the day, and getting morning headaches can be sleep apnea symptoms.
Other symptoms can include mood swings, depression, and irritability that result from lack of sleep because of a sleep disorder.
Who are at risk?
Obstructive sleep apnea can affect anybody, but certain people are at a higher risk. They are:
Overweight or obese people: Most people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are overweight or obese. When fat deposits around the airway, it blocks breathing and impairs sleep. This does not mean being thin reduces the risk. Anyone with any kind of weight may be affected by this condition.
People with a narrow airway: Whether you have a naturally narrow airway or have enlarged adenoids or tonsils, this could be a serious factor contributing to the problem. Surgery is usually required to correct this condition.
People with hypertension: High blood pressure causes a rise in diastolic and systolic pressure, contributing to sleep apnea, snoring, and impaired breathing.
Smokers: Those who smoke are at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea because smoking causes fluid retention in the air passage and causes impaired breathing.
Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea
Depending on the seriousness of the condition, there are several treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea. These include:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): Known as the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, CPAP involves wearing a pressurized mask over the mouth and nose while sleeping, to help keep the airway unblocked by forcing air through it.
- Oral mouthpieces: There is dental equipment fitted to the mouth for correcting the tongue, jaw, and soft palate position for clearing the airway.
- Surgery: The process of uvulopalatopharyngoplasty is used to minimize the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. This surgery removes tissue out of the airway but has side effects like pain and bleeding.
- Laser surgery: This is a simple process to shorten the soft palate with the aid of a laser beam.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be completely treated and cured if diagnosed in time. People with the above-mentioned symptoms must consult a healthcare practitioner for a proper diagnosis of the root cause.