Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is a condition that involves very shallow or completely stopping of breathing for a short period while you sleep. It can occur several times each night in some people and is caused by a blockage of the upper airway as the muscles in your throat relax.
It currently affects approximately 4% of men and 2% of women who are middle-aged in the United States and the prevalence is growing as the prevalence of obesity, which can cause the condition, continues to rise.
When your airways become partially or completely blocked while you sleep, your diaphragm and chest muscles need to work harder to open the airways and receive air to breathe. This can cause you to make a loud gasp, snort or body jerk that may wake you or your partner up.
As a result of sleep apnea, many affected people sleep poorly. They may find it difficult to wake up and have a dry mouth, sore throat or headache in the morning. It can also affect performance throughout the day and you may feel tired or have problems with concentration, memory and temperament.
Many people with sleep apnea also report night sweats, restlessness when sleeping and sexual dysfunction. It is also linked to irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs because there is something that blocks the airways when the muscles in the throat and neck relax while sleeping. This is more likely for people who are overweight or obese, have a large neck, tongue or tonsils, or have smaller airways.
It is more likely to affect men than women and people with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, are also at a greater risk.
To diagnose obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, you doctor will spend some time talking with your about your sleeping habits and the symptoms you are experiencing.
In some cases, your nighttime sleep may need to be observed to make the diagnosis. This involves monitoring certain characteristics while you sleep, such as breathing, airflow, oxygen levels, electrical activity in the brain, eye movements, muscle movements and heart rate.
A diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome can then be made based on the description of symptoms and observation of sleep.
The treatment of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome will depend on the likely causes of the condition.
If you are overweight, it is a good idea to lose some weight, as this can reduce the pressure on you neck and reduce the likelihood that your airways become blocked while sleeping. If sinus or nasal congestion is an issue, nasal sprays can help to clear the airways and reduce the risk of sleep apnea.
Alcohol and sleeping pills should be avoided before bedtime, as they can increase the likelihood of airway collapse while sleeping and increase the time without breathing.
For some people with mild sleep apnea, the way you sleep can help to reduce the symptoms of the condition. For example, sleeping on your side rather than on your back can be beneficial.
A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine can also help to aid breathing, as it constantly forces air through the nose and mouth via a mask to prevent the upper airway tissues from collapsing while you sleep. A BPAP machine is another option, which has two levels of air pressure to replicate breathing in and out.
For some people, surgery may be the best option to treat sleep apnea. For example, large tonsils or a small lower jaw can contribute to narrow airways that are more likely to become blocked and surgery to correct these can sometimes be beneficial. However, surgery is usually only recommended if other treatments are unsuccessful.
Want to know more?
If you think that you may have symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, you should talk to medical professional about your options to manage the condition.
At Central Arkansas Lung, we will be happy to give you personalized and professional advice about treatment options. Simply call us if you’d like more information or to organize an appointment to discuss your symptoms.