What Is Sleep Apnoea?
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is the name given to a condition when the airway collapses while you are asleep. The obstruction can be full or partial and restrict the amount of air that flows into the lungs.
Despite the person’s attempts to breathe, the airway will remain constricted. When this happens the person will change the position of their jaw and tongue, in order to re-open their airway. The person may snort or gasp for air. This is a cycle that may be repeated many times during the night. It may wake the person partially or fully, affecting your quality of sleep.
The effects of sleep apnoea can be harmful because it makes it more difficult to breathe.
An episode that lasts for 10 seconds or longer is considered clinically relevant. In some patients, apnoeaic episodes may last for as long as 30 to 60 seconds.
Why Should Sleep Apnoea Be Treated?
In addition to subjecting you to poor quality sleep, patients who have OSA are more likely to suffer from
- Coronary artery disease
- Cerebrovascular accidents
- Congestive heart failure
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux
Furthermore, it is estimated that a patient with OSA has an expected lifespan of 58 years, compared to the average of 78 years of age for men, and 83 years of age for women.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Sleep Apnoea?
Even though OSA episodes happen at night, patients may present with both daytime and night-time symptoms.
Daytime symptoms of OSA
- Concentration and memory dysfunction
- Sleepiness and fatigue during the day
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux
- Sexual dysfunction
- Irritability and mood dysfunction
Night time symptoms of OSA
- Loud or persistent snoring, may be worse after consuming alcohol or when sleeping in a supine position
- Apnoeaic episodes with limb movement (usually observed by your bed partner)
- Waking suddenly during the night with noisy breathing
- Sweating at night
- Dry mouth on waking
- Epileptic episodes at night
How Is It Treated?
Quality sleep is important for the quality of life. Fortunately once diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options available to patients, without the need for medication.
Oral appliances are mandibular advancement devices that bring the lower jaw downwards and forwards and are used to treat snoring and mild sleep apnoea.
They look like sports mouth guards and are worn at night. They alter the position of the lower jaw when you sleep allowing more oxygen to enter the lung.
Another example of an oral appliance is a tongue retainer, which keeps your tongue in the correct position when you sleep, keeping your airways open.
CPAP Machine therapy
Continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP is one of the most common sleep apnoea treatments.
This machine generates a flow of air to the mouth, opening your airway and ensuring your body gets the amount of oxygen it needs while you are asleep.
Some patients find wearing the machine uncomfortable at night and seek alternative modes of treatment.
In some instances, surgery can be a benefit to patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea.
In most scenarios, surgery is a last resort and most healthcare practitioners should attempt non-invasive treatments before surgery.
What Is Snoring?
When you fall asleep, your tongue falls backwards because the muscles in your throat relax. This means that your tongue becomes narrower and easier to move around. When you inhale and this occurs, it causes the walls of your throat to vibrate. It’s the sounds of these vibrations that causes snoring. It happens primarily when you inhale, but it does happen to a lesser extent when you exhale.
When the walls of your throat collapse completely, it causes an obstruction in your airway. This condition is known as sleep apnoea, and it causes you to stop breathing completely. Sleep apnoea requires medical attention.
When You Should Speak To Your Healthcare Practitioner.
You should speak to your GP or dental practitioner if you snore, and experience any of these symptoms:
- Morning headaches
- Tiredness and excessive fatigue during the day
- Recent or unexplained Weight gain
- Waking up feeling tired
- Difficulties or changes in memory, attention or concentration
- Pauses in breathing during the night (probably observed by your bed partner)