Snoring or Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

If you or your partner suspect obstructive sleep apnoea (or can be spelled apnea), it's critically important you receive correct diagnostic tests. 

 

OSA is a condition where breathing stops and starts many times per night, impacting majorly on the cardiovascular system.  Some studies suggest that untreated OSA can reduce life expectancy by 8-18 years.  Although most younger sleep apnea sufferers are male, after menopause women catch up as declining hormones affect the airways by holding them less rigid/open.  OSA affects somewhere between 5-15% of the population with many cases being undiagnosed.

Sleep apnea is dangerous to leave untreated as it can also lead to fertility issues for men, impaired immunity, mood disorders, weight gain which can lead to diabetes and a generally tired and unhappy partner.

Symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • heavy snoring, pauses in breathing, sudden gasps for air or coughing fits when sleeping

  • daytime sleepiness, fatigue and tiredness - leading to road and work accidents

  • poor concentration

  • irritability and mood changes

  • impotence and reduced sex drive

  • need to get up to toilet frequently at night

What causes it?

Sleep apnea has many different causes, the most common being excess weight/obesity.   When reclining during sleep, the throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, which can cause soft tissue to collapse causing the airway to become blocked.  Even a couple of kilos can make a huge difference.  Generally sleep apnea is progressive so you do have warning and can address it before it becomes serious.  Most commonly snoring is the first symptom if excess weight is the issue.

Heavy snoring and OSA can also be as a result of the ageing process whereby throat muscles become lax or it could be due to genetic variations in the shape of the jaw, narrower airways or enlarged tonsils.

 

The correct thing to do is to see your GP. If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, they may refer you to a sleep clinic or a sleep specialist who will perform a sleep study to determine whether you have sleep apnea.

If you live regionally or there is a wait for testing, there are also 'at-home' tests that may be prescribed in the first instance.

These tests measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will be able to prescribe a therapy suitable for your level of OSA which is usually graded as mild, moderate or severe.

Treatments options currently available include:

  • CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure) - currently the gold standard treatment

  • an oral appliance (such as SnoreAssist offers) called a mandibular advancement splint if your level is mild to moderate or you cannot tolerate CPAP therapy

  • bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP)

  • nasal valve therapy

  • lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking

  • surgery to fix an underlying cause of OSA

Tips that may help reduce the severity of OSA are:

  • reduce alcohol intake as it relaxes the muscles of the throat causing the soft palate to collapse further

  • rethink other muscle relaxants which have the same effect, though do check with your GP first

  • avoid eating within 3 hours of lying down

  • avoid full fat dairy and other mucous producing foods

  • exercise

  • lose weight through a good nutritional plan (losing just 10% of your body weight can significantly reduce symptoms and a large weight loss can indeed often cure it

  • do not sleep on your back

  • sleep with some elevation

Further reading:

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep-apnoea

https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/obstructive-sleep-apnea.html

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