What is Obstructive Sleep Apnoea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a common but potentially serious sleep disorder. The term ‘apnoea’ means to have a temporary disruption of breathing. In OSA, the obstruction is caused when the muscles that support the soft tissue in your throat, such as your tongue, temporarily relax. When these muscles relax, your airway is narrowed or closed, which can cause the episode of apnoea. Most people with OSA do not know they have it.
When you experience an apneic episode, the airway narrows or closes which can cause inadequate breathing for 10-20 seconds. This can cause low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide. When the brain senses impaired breathing, it briefly rouses you so you can open your airway. Most people do not know this is happening. You may make a snoring, choking or gasping sound.
This pattern can repeat itself from five to 30 times (or more) each hour, all night long. This level of breathing and sleep disruption can have significant and often negative health effects.
What are the risk factors for OSA?
- Excess weight: About 50% of people with OSA are overweight. Fat deposits around the neck can contribute to the obstruction of the airway
- Sex: On average, men are twice as likely to develop OSA as women
- Smoking: People who smoke are more likely to have OSA than non-smokers
- Narrowed airway: If you have large tonsils or adenoids, you could have a higher risk for a blocked airway at night
- Diabetes: OSA is more common in people with diabetes
- Family history: If you have family members with OSA, you may be at an increased risk for developing it in the future
What are the symptoms of OSA?
- Noticeable daytime sleepiness despite getting adequate hours of sleep
- Loud snoring or observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep by another person
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
- Morning headaches
- Poor concentration during the day
- Mood changes, such as depression or irritability
- High blood pressure
- Low libido
How is OSA diagnosed?
After discussing your symptoms and concerns with your doctor, your doctor may refer you to have a sleep study. This specific test is called a Polysomnography. This test is typically done in a sleep lab and you are hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity as well as breathing patterns, muscle movements and oxygen levels while you sleep. In some circumstances, sleep studies can be done in your own home.
Why should I be concerned about OSA?
- Heart health: Sudden drops in oxygen levels that occur with OSA can increase blood pressure and put a strain on your heart. The more severe the OSA, the greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and stroke
- Complications after surgery: Medications such as sedatives or pain relievers can relax your upper airway and worsen your OSA. Breathing problems can occur after surgery, especially if you are sedated and lying on your back.
- Cranky and sleep deprived partners: Loud snoring can not only cause you to feel tired, but can also impact your partner’s sleep as well. Some people may choose to sleep in a separate bedroom because their partner’s snoring is so disruptive. This can impact emotional and physical wellness between partners.
How is OSA treated?
- Weight loss and regular exercise
- Reduce alcohol intake (alcohol is a sedative and can worsen OSA)
- Quit smoking
- Avoid sleeping on your back
*Lifestyle changes are inexpensive and will offer widespread health benefits beyond helping reduce symptoms associated with OSA.
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP): a machine worn over the nose to keep the airway from closing. The positive airway pressure prevents snoring and apnoeic episodes. The CPAP machine can take time to adjust to but newer machines are often smaller and less noisy.
- Mouthpiece (oral device): Oral appliances are an alternative for people who cannot tolerate a CPAP machine or with mild OSA. These devices are designed to help keep your airway open by bringing your jaw forward which can relieve snoring.
Sleep is such an important part of our overall health. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is both preventable and treatable. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your risk for OSA or are interested in learning more to protect yourself and improve your health.
Chronic Disease Nurse
360 Health + Community