Most people will snore occasionally, but for some the problem is more extensive and it could indicate a form of sleep apnea, a condition that can seriously affect general health. The most common type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. If you have this condition then you may cease to breathe while you are asleep, often many times during the night. Breathing can stop for just a few seconds or substantially longer until the body is prompted to restart the process. When this occurs sufferers can often gasp for air and will momentarily awaken, interrupting sleep. People with OSA often feel excessively sleepy during the day, greatly affecting their quality of life and increasing the risk of suffering from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes.
What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the upper airway becoming partially or completely blocked. While you are asleep the muscles can relax allowing the airway to collapse inwards. During an episode of obstructive sleep apnea, the chest muscles and diaphragm have to work harder to reopen the obstructed airway which is why sufferers often gasp or snort for air. These repeated episodes can result in reduced levels of oxygen reaching vital organs and may even cause irregular heart rhythms.
Who Is More at Risk of Getting Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
It’s estimated more than 12 million people in the US have obstructive sleep apnea and out of these numbers around half are overweight. Approximately one in every 25 middle-aged men and one in every 50 middle-aged women also have this condition. If you have a close relative with obstructive sleep apnea then you’re more at risk of developing yourself. Sleep apnea is more likely to develop if you have a larger neck and some people have smaller airways so the condition can be related to the size and shape of the airway, or could because by a medical condition that results and it becoming obstructed. As well as being overweight or older, other risk factors include having high blood pressure or being a smoker.
How Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
If you think you might have obstructive sleep apnea then it’s worth discussing this with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to examine you and can recommend suitable treatments. This might involve undergoing a sleep study where various functions are measured while you are asleep. These include your blood oxygen levels and airflow and your breathing patterns.
How Is OSA Treated?
This will depend on the reason for your obstructive sleep apnea. Sometimes it’s possible to help relieve the condition through losing weight, and even losing 10% of your body weight can make a substantial difference. Other lifestyle changes may include avoiding alcohol or the use of sleeping pills and your dentist to prescribe a custom-made night splint that help hold open the airway. These work by putting the jaw into a position that helps prevent the tongue from blocking the throat so the airway is kept open during sleep. This kind of device can work well for patients with mild sleep apnea. More serious cases of obstructive sleep apnea may require the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP), where patients wear a mask over their nose so a machine can force a continuous supply of air through the nose, preventing the upper airway from collapsing during sleep.